Drinking tea with imagination

Posted by in July's Magazine

When teas first came to this part of the world they were exotic, luxurious and, like treasure, kept carefully under lock and key. Over time this status evolved into an inseparable part of our everyday identity, something comfortably homely to be drunk without thought, something that is a bit ordinary and shouldn’t cost more than a couple of pence. This is now changing again and we are catching up on a worldwide phenomenon of loose tea drinking in which people are ditching their tea bags for the more interesting flavours and unusual varieties of quality loose-leaf tea. Tea is an excitingly versatile plant and there is a whole world outside the classics like breakfast and earl grey, from rhubarb and chocolate flavours to Japan’s powdered matcha, roasted green tea, wonderfully aromatic black teas and recent innovations like bubble tea.

Starbuck’s recently bought Teavana for $620million (its biggest acquisition to date) expanding the tea culture for US customers. Meanwhile David’s Tea in Canada, Unilever’s T2Tea in Australia, Mariage Frères tea and others in Europe have been getting more good teas to growing numbers of enthusiastic drinkers. Much like the coffee revolution of a few years ago – when coffee went from freeze-dried and instant to crafted and artisan – changes in perception are occurring in the world of tea. There is constant innovation, better provision and rapidly increasing numbers of tea lovers.


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In the last 12 months Edinburgh has seen, 7 new tea shops open their doors to complement the city’s existing tea retailers. These include Rosevear Tea shops on Bruntsfield Place and Broughton Street (I declare an interest), Eteaket’s second shop on Rose Street, Cup Tea Lounge on South Charlotte Street, The East India Company on George Street, The Tea House on Nicolson Street and Tempo Bar for bubble tea at the Arches by Waverley. This in addition to Anteaques, Pekoe Tea, Eteaket’s first store and Whittard. At the same time, more and more cafes and restaurants are offering loose leaf teas instead of teabags. Baba Budan – the new café, doughnut and live music venue – is including earl grey blue flower and matcha as ingredients in their food offerings.

But why are people drinking more loose-leaf tea? One quite straightforward answer is that it simply tastes better. Some people also wish to avoid the artificial polymers and nylons (types of plastic) found in teabags. The tea inside teabags is a blend of the lower fannings and dust grade making for a harsher tasting cup with a sharper tannin content. This contrasts with loose leaf teas which have better quality leaves, allowing the sweeter and softer tastes to prevail as these teas are more likely to contain a greater number of ‘tips’ (the topmost leaves of the plant) creating richer, more pleasing, flavours.

Equally important to many people are the health benefits. Many switch to tea and herbal infusions in order to reduce their caffeine intake. While tea does contain caffeine the average cup contains considerably less than the average cup of coffee, and herbal infusions do not contain any at all. Edinburgh’s new tea retailers are meeting these demands with extensive offerings of caffeine-free herbal and rooibos infusions blended with interesting new flavours such as mango, blood orange, coconut and cocoa nibs. This is proving one of the most popular and rapidly growing categories for tea sales.

As well as being lower in caffeine, tea has a long history in Chinese medicine and a, recently recognised, high antioxidant content. This is particularly true of green teas, another area in which new tea drinkers are interested. Many people will have tried green tea before, quite often finding it to be unpleasantly bitter but bearing it for the health benefits.

One of the most common questions I’m asked as a tea seller is ‘why is green tea so bitter’? The answer is that it has probably been brewed in boiling water. The same tea when brewed at a lower temperature won’t be bitter, rather pleasantly sweet, with delicious savoury flavours. Better guidance on tea packets, more information online and more green tea offerings on café menus will make it easier for people to find and start drinking nicer tasting green tea.

Slowly edging its way onto the tea scene here is Japanese matcha. Previously the preserve of serious tea jennies and superfood junkies, this finely ground green tea powder is whisked until suspended in hot water and then drunk short like an espresso. With matcha the plant itself is wholly ingested meaning that you get all the good stuff, not just
the water-soluble benefits. It has a much higher antioxidant content than regular green tea and makes for a greater and more gently sustained caffeine hit than shots of coffee.

If you wish to explore the ever growing tea scene in Edinburgh just call into your local tea store, ask them questions and let them help you find something different to try, who knows, you might even join the tea revolution yourself!

Info: The author is available for consultation at such venues as Rosevear Tea in Bruntsfield Place and Broughton Street

One response to “Drinking tea with imagination”

  1. jacob says:

    Tea is right for your body, and green tea can help prevent cancer.

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