The joy of writing this blog is the people we get to meet. From readers, to contributors, to the people we are lucky enough to interview, it continues to be a wonderful way of connecting with fascinating women.
Last week I was invited – by the nice people at The Perfume Society- to meet Henrietta Lovell, founder of Rare Tea Company, generally known around the patch as the’ Tea Lady’. As well as her extensive range of extraordinary teas, Henrietta collaborates with many top end restaurants such as Noma, The Fat Duck, Claridges, St John, to name a few. I expected an afternoon of genteel sipping and perhaps a scone or two, instead I got a life-changing, caffeine-charged rush into tea-inspired cocktails, intensely addictive flavours and kettles. My life – always tea-heavy -will never be the same.
Henrietta is a whirlwind of tea-knowledge, talking ten to the dozen (she usually stops drinking tea after 4.00pm and moves ‘to herbs’ to bring her down off her caffeine high) she dispelled a number of myths about tea, berating the current tea-bagger companies as terrible employers (worse than fashion in how they treat their estate employees, it seems), too free with their use of artificial flavourings and chemicals (your favourite Earl Grey tea has been no where near a bergamot fruit) and rubbish tasting tea. ‘Your average tea bag is full of chemically treated leaves, bleached to make it presentable and glued together, do you really want to be drinking stewed bleach and glue?’ she said, not unreasonably.
We only drink tea with milk because during the War, the government was so concerned the British were not able to keep going without a good supply of tea (U Boats were stopping supplies) that it took over manufacture, rationing supplies of hideous quality stuff that needed to be stewed to get any taste out of the miserable leaves and then softened with milk to make it drinkable. Films were made to instruct people how to make it.
Warm the pot before brewing? Only done for the serving pot back in the 18th and 19th century when tea was more valuable than gold and many brews were made from the same leaves. Tea was made in a brewing pot in the kitchen, then transferred to a warmed serving pot – whisked upstairs by staff to serve to visitors- which needed to be warmed so it was still hottish tea once it got to the drinker.
You may scoff at me and think ‘I’m very happy with my mug of builders, thank you Amanda, sod off with your fancy ways’. But that’s EXACTLY how I felt before I tasted the Silver Tip Jasmine, or the Speedy Breakfast, or Oolong. These teas are swoon-worthy in their deliciousness. They are aromatic, rich, delicately scented and a whole new ball game. I regularly drink 6-8 cups of bog-standard tea a day. Not any more.
Now I have on order a new Bosch kettle that heats to the perfect temperature for tea infusion (not boiling, tea flavours dissolve from 70-90 degrees but those teeth-sticking tannins need 100 degrees) and shallow cups to sip from rather than gulp. Henrietta serves tea after dinner in wine glasses, as 80 degrees wont break the glasses and the scents and aromas make people gasp with amazement.
Perhaps my favourite new tea-fact is you can make a beautiful tea version of Red Bull. Iced tea can be made by soaking 15 grams of Earl Grey or Lapsang (or any tea you fancy really) for twelve hours in tap water in the fridge. But, Henrietta warned, by leaving tea to soak this long, you are ensuring “F**k loads of caffeine is extracted”. Tea has just as much caffeine as coffee (and green tea has as much as black tea, health fans). As well as giving you an excellent and delicious mid afternoon pep-up, this ice tea rocket fuel can be added to a Negroni (one part gin, Martini Rosso, Campari and iced tea) to lengthen and add flavour to the drink, as well as adding quite a boost. A hit at parties, Henrietta claims. More tea recipes here
Ms Lovell spends a lot of time with bar tenders creating specialist cocktails (you can see why I warmed to her, right?) and recommended a couple of good bars, The Zetter Townhouse (not the Zetter hotel, whole different ball game) for a date night, booking essential. She rates White Lyan due to the innovative Mr Ryan Chetiyawardana (we wrote about him here) and the bar with no name, 69 Colebrooke Row.
You can buy Rare Tea Company teas from Waitrose, or from its website. But I’m warning you, once tried, there’s no going back. Thanks to The Perfume Society for a lovely afternoon.