Amazingly, despite many trips to London over the years, we had never “done” Fortnum and Mason’s tea department.
During our Easter 2018 trip to England it was decided that this had to be put right.
Although they had a few teas that piqued my interest, we thought that it would be nice to pick one of those that came complete with a caddy, for “souvenir” purposes. After a bit of sample sniffing, I opted for the Yunnan, thinking it could work well as a mid-afternoon tea.
The 125 grams of tea plus caddy retailed for £10.95. The same amount of tea sans caddy retails for £6.88, a difference of £4.07.
The caddy is very decorative, with a simple screw locking lid. In lieu of an inner lid the caddy has a lightweight plastic insert. A cheaper option, to be sure, but better than nothing, to be fair.
The dry leaf had a nice malty, dark chocolate aroma, and had a few golden buds in the mix, as well as the odd bit of twig.
After playing around for a while, I found that when steeping Western style 4 teaspoons per 400ml, boiling water, and a 2 minute infusion worked best. A second steeping didn’t really work for me.
This tea also performs perfectly well when gong-fu-ed. I used 7 grams in a 150 ml gaiwan with boiling water. I didn’t rinse, and started off with a 5 second steeping, bumping the infusion time by 5 seconds for each new round. Even allowing for variations in personal taste the leaves should be good for at least 6 rounds, perhaps as many as 10.
Taste-wise there was no real surprise here – the liquor was sweet and malty with that hint of dark chocolate, and just a wee, refreshing nip of astringency.
To be perfectly frank if we were discussing just the leaves then there’s nothing here that you couldn’t find at any decent tea shop in your home town – I know for a fact that I could get a similar style tea to an equal or indeed better quality at three shops a short bike ride from this very abode, but that’s not the point here.
Part of this tea’s appeal is the glamour associated with the name of the institution behind it. Fortnum & Mason’s have played a key role in the history of tea in England, and as a consequence in the history of tea in general.
A visit to their famous store on Piccadilly is part and parcel of this tea’s charm, like it or not, and is something that stays with it long after you get it home and into a pot or gaiwan. Every time you drink it, you can’t help but remember that damp, rainy, and otherwise forgettable Sunday afternoon that you bought the leaves from their charming, supremely well mannered, elegantly dressed, multilingual salespersons.
You find yourself thinking that once the last of the leaves are done infusing you’ll be left with an empty caddy and a memory of a visit to that sumptuous tea-temple that will soon start to fade away as surely as the last faint traces of malt and chocolate will slowly vanish from the inside of the tin. Just in case, you should hang on to those last 5 grams, or….
Or maybe make a dedicated trip back to top up the caddy, grab some of their Tie Guan Yin and Silver Needles while you’re at it. You might even rashly begin to think about a lunatic dash from Copenhagen airport, starting out stupidly early, blitzing around London, and making the return trip ridiculously late on the same day…
Hmmm. Where’s my passport…?