Cut England, and it bleeds tea.
Tea has been a part of the country’s cultural landscape for so long, and is so deeply engrained in the nation’s sense of self, that the years prior to the introduction of the sacred leaf seem as remote and distant as the time when dinosaurs were stomping around on what would one day become Kent.
And yet this icon of Britishness, along with that other benchmark of la vie anglaise, the Chicken Tikka Masala, has its origins elsewhere. The overwhelming majority of tea consumed on that scepter’d isle comes from tea plants located far, far to the East of Norfolk.
But not all of it.
In May last year I was celebrating a landmark birthday with my wife and daughter at the beautiful coastal town of St. Ives, located in the fair county of Cornwall, which for the uninitiated lies in the bottom left hand corner of mainland Britain.
During my time there I was perusing the goods in a store when I happened to notice a collection of tea for sale. Not just any old tea, mind. This was a collection of teas from the Tregothnan estate, home to Britain’s only tea garden.
I first became aware of Tregothnan the previous year, when we took a boat trip on the river Fal, and the on-board commentary pointed out the grounds adjacent to the water.
I later learned that because of its location on the river estuary the estate has a micro-climate all of its own, very similar to that of Darjeeling. Combined with their centuries old knowledge regarding all things botanical, this made Tregothnan a shoo-in for a tea plantation.
This was Tregothnan’s “Classic” collection – 60 sachets (not bags, if you please) containing their Classic, Green, Earl Grey, and Afternoon blends. If I remember right, I paid somewhere in the vicinity of £20.
Yes, I know, not exactly PG-Tips prices. Consider this, however – you’re getting a fairly exclusive, low volume, quality product from a small independent producer, who won’t have the economies of scale of some huge factory with a plantation the size of Nebraska.
You can also factor in the shop’s location on one of England’s hottest tourist streets into the price, too.
But, when all was said and done, it was my birthday. Hey, I’m worth it….!
This collection screams “quality” from the word go. The packaging is well designed and supremely well put together, it has to be said. After nearly a year of less than gentle handling it still has its shape and integrity.
Those aspects of quality and design extend down to the sachets themselves. The attractive, foil lined outers are practical as well as nice to look at, and the actual tea sachet itself has a somewhat “twee-but-in-a-nice-way” Union Jack motif tag to help with the messy business of getting the leaves in and out of hot water.
Seeing as it was halfway between lunch and dinner, I sensibly opted for the “Afternoon” blend. Horses for courses, and all that.
I steeped 2 sachets in a 500ml pot for 2 minutes, with water just off the boil.
The steeped tea produced a very nice colour, but what did it taste like?
The concept of “terroir“ as understood in the world of wine is equally applicable here, I believe – the notion that the soil and climate of diverse locations will yield different tastes from the same plant.
As with all the other teas in the collection, the resulting tea is like a milder, more refined version of the more typical examples of the type.
The Classic, for example, is like a traditional “Breakfast” blend, but with any rough edges sandpapered down, and then coated with several layers of lacquer and polished to a mirror like finish. Smooth it may be, but it still packs a nice amount of bite, too.
It’s not always the case that British-style tea blends can be drunk without milk, but these teas most certainly can. The Earl Grey in particular has a very nice, subtle flavour that might be overwhelmed by dairy produce.
In conclusion, then, this is a wonderful collection of very good teas, that presents a new and unique twist on something so quintessentially British.