TeaSmith’s trip around the world…
Book afternoon tea at Spitalfields’ TeaSmith in London and you’re in for a brisk trip around the world – or at least the tea world. As well as a quick lesson in the art of tea-making, you’ll taste teas from a host of Asian countries and be treated to some delicious pastries and cakes to boot.
I’d just been listening to Neil McGregor’s ‘History of the World in 100 Objects’. Through his description of a Chinese lacquer wine cup, I learn how the Han Dynasty used their great skill in lacquer production to encourage loyalty. Luxury gifts of immense beauty would be bestowed upon subjects or guests to inspire awe. I’m now convinced that TeaSmith’s lovely long bar where I sat was supposed to resemble lacquerware.
White, green, black
Whatever… the ‘teasmiths’ who serve the tea here are skilled enough to convince you that their knowledge and passion about their subject is the real deal. My personal teasmith first describes the different teas: white, green, black and oolong, and explains the process involved to create each tea – white being the lightest, black the strongest – and the reason why longer infusions obviously intensify the flavour. She also tells me how the temperature of the water is specific to individual teas, and can be determined by the size of the water bubbles: it’s small bubbles for green tea (too hot ruins the flavour), ‘fish eye’ bubbles for oolong, and a fierce bubbling for black tea.
So we set off on our trip, with the first stop, naturally enough, being China. I’m offered a white peony tea – I’ve never had a white before and I’m told it’s made from the first tea buds. Its delicate flavour is thought to be palate-cleansing and it’s served with a deliciously flaky cinnamon palmier biscuit. Three infusions later and the flavour intensifies, but only slightly.
Next we head to Korea for a perky green tea known as Sparrow’s Tongue. Again, the first infusion is quite gentle but it still has the distinctive grassy notes of green tea, and with an added bit of nuttiness. It’s served with a miso and walnut biscuit with matcha honey, which is frankly sensational. The honey has been mixed with ground dried green tea leaves, giving it an exquisite depth.
Then it’s off to Taiwan for an oolong tea – somewhere between a green and black tea in flavour – that is made from cultivars grown 200 metres up a mountain, which gives it a fresh taste and a wonderfully grassy scent. The lovely cake/biscuit that it’s served with has a chocolatey paste filling that counters the grassiness perfectly.
We couldn’t come all this way without stopping off in Japan. Matcha – that ground tea again – is used in the famous Japanese ‘tea ceremony’ and is served in big bowl that would traditionally be passed around the guests. The tea is whisked until it’s frothy and is a wonderful pea green colour. It’s also highly flavoured with a slight seaweed taste, and that’s paired nicely with a chunk of rich, dark chocolate.
After all this ‘travel’ (not to mention infusions of tea and sugary confections) I’m almost relieved to be told that we’re on the final lapsang (sorry) and the last tea is a smoky oolong that’s been roasted to counterbalance the high caffeine content of the green tea. It’s served with three lovely chunks of chocolate, one with sea salt and caramel and another with sesame. Delicious. And, as with all the best travel experiences, I’ve learnt a lot, and there’s plenty of tea paraphernalia here too so, if I need to pick up a few souvenirs…
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