A Nice Cuppa Tea

We all know that a cup of tea is the cure for everything – no Scot would welcome a visitor without offering the traditional cuppa, and a cup of sweet tea is the perennial prescription for someone who has had a shock. No wonder then, that the Edinburgh Tea and Coffee Company blend tea specially to suit Scottish water.

Edinburgh Tea and Coffee Company’s history dates back to 1812 when sailing ships brought delicacies from the New World directly into Leith. The company was the subject of a management buyout in 1991 after which it moved to new premised in Portobello.

The story of tea goes back thousands of years and there are various legends surrounding its origins. Perhaps the most famous is the Chinese story of Shen Nung, the emperor and renowned herbalist, who was boiling his drinking water when leaves from a nearby tea shrub blew into the cauldron. He tasted the resulting brew, and the beverage of tea was born. By the 3rd Century AD a new chinese character, ch’a, was developed to refer specifically to tea. This suggests that tea had become such a popular drink that it needed its own character.

Tea Transport
How tea was prepared for tea drinkers has changed over the years too. In the 10th century moulded tea bricks that were easily transportable were the main way of preparing tea for market. By the 17th Century, as Portuguese traders started bringing tea back from the Far East, tea manufacture had evolved into curing loose leaves for boiling water. The types of tea we know and love today – black, green, white and oolong had all been developed.

Edinburgh Tea and Coffee Company have always sourced their products from the very best estates and co-operatives and blend their teas specially for softer Scottish waters. Tea taster and blender John Thompson explains.

“Tea grows best in warm, slightly humid regions where it likes deep, acidic and well-drained soil. As a general rule those teas grown at higher altitude, up to 6000 feet above sea level, have the potential to produce a better brew than those grown at sea level. To get the best possible quality tea, only the top two leaves and a bud from the bush are hand plucked every 7-14 days. It’s very labour intensive.

john-thompson-tasting-tea“I particularly like the character of teas grown on the east side of the rift valley rather than the west rift in Kenya. The east rift has bright, yellow golden teas suited to soft water but the west rift tend to offer teas which are thicker and redder in colour and more suited to harder water.”

Once produced, tea is most commonly sold at auctions and The Edinburgh Tea and Coffee Company have a number of intermediaries they work with. Tea is affected by different seasons and John’s job is to select teas that will make your cup of tea taste exactly the same throughout the year. This involves slurping a lot of tea, especially at the moment, as the Assam season is in full swing.

“Assam teas are very important to us,” John explained. “They add body to teas brewed in Scottish waters and have a fantastic rich, malty character, perfect for breakfast teas. The quality season is very short in Assam too, so at the minute a lot of my time is spent making sure I select the very best teas that will then last until 2010. These Assam teas will be carefully blended to a secret recipe at our factory in Edinburgh before being packed for you to drink.

The Brew
It’s then over to you, the tea drinker. The traditional method of making a cup of tea is to place loose tea leaves, either directly, or in a tea infuser, into a tea pot or teacup and pour hot water over the leaves. Brewing time makes a huge difference. John brews every batch he tastes for exactly five and a half minutes to extract all the flavour components. He recommends a five minute brew if you’re drinking black tea, and a little less at 3-4 minutes if your cuppa is green or white tea. If you like a strong or weak cup of tea, you should use more or fewer leaves, not alter the time taken for the flavour to develop.

In China, tea is divided into a number of infusions. The first infusion is immediately poured away to wash the tea, and then the rest are drunk. The third, fourth and fifth are generally considered the best but if you keep asking for more, the brew is diluted increasingly and by the end, you are almost drinking pure hot water. It is not done, however, to ask for more tea leaves!

Try this! Make a pot of tea and, after about 30 seconds, taste the tea. Then take a drink of hot water, to cleanse the palate. Fill the teapot with boiling water again and taste the second infusion. This should be much nicer. Keep refilling the pot with hot water and tasting again. As the tea leaves unfold (known as “The Agony of the Leaves”) the taste evolves.

Herbal tea is made from flowers, fruit, herbs or other plant material but not Camellia sinensis. The most popular floral flavours are jasmine and chrysanthemum while peppermint tea is well known for its digestive qualities. Edinburgh Tea and Coffee Company produce Scottish Breakfast tea, Highland Blend tea, Heather tea, Thistle tea and there’s even a Whisky tea.
tea-tastingTasting Notes
A classic blend of high grown Ceylon, Assam and African teas. This full, refreshing tea with strength and briskness is an ideal start to the day.
A brisk and refreshing brew of the world’s finest teas. Bright and golden in colour, it has been blended as a lighter, delicate tea.
Real Heather blossoms blended into a blend of quality East African and Assam teas. A lively and bright tea with a delicate sweetness on the aftertaste
Actual flowers from the head of the thistle are blended to Ceylon and African teas. The pleasing sharpness of the thistle blossom is complimented by the long piquant finish of the Ceylon teas.
Marinated into large leaf Black China tea, the flavour used smells and tastes like malt whisky.

Tea for Health
The health benefits of the humble cup of tea have been well documented over recent years. As well as being calorie free, if drunk without milk, it is also one of the major sources of flavonoids, a type of anti-oxidant that can protect against certain medical conditions, in the UK diet. If you prefer your brew with milk then four cups of tea a day can provide you with a little of your recommended Zinc, folic acid, calcium and vitamins B1, B2 and B6. The caffeine also helps with stimulation, and thanks to the help of L-Theanine which also occurs in tea, you remain relaxed and have increased Alpha wave activity in your brain.

Fascinating Facts
*Today in China, traditional tea tasting is taken very seriously and teas found in small gardens produce unique sought-after teas which may only produce a few pounds of tea, costing hundreds of pounds each.

* The art of high-altitude pouring is used principally by people in Northern Africa (e.g. Morocco), but also in West Africa (e.g. Guinea, Mali, Senegal) and can positively alter the flavour of the tea, but it is more done to cool the beverage so that it can be drunk immediately. In certain cultures the tea is given different names depending on the height it is poured from.

*Marco Polo was amongst the travellers to bring tea to the west, along the Silk Route. While the Portuguese were the first Europeans to import tea, in the 17th century, the Dutch East India Company was responsible for the spread of its popularity. The Portuguese Princess Catherine of Braganza, who married King Charles II, brought tea to Britain. In those days, trade was controlled by the Chinese Hongs (trading companies) and the British East India Company. Trade was rather one-sided, however, as China had little need of any British goods and the tea had to be paid for with silver bullion. By the 19th century, tea had become so popular both at home and as a component of British trade, that Britain had hardly any bullion left. Britain began producing opium in India and forced China to trade tea for opium, despite the latter’s Drug Laws. A consequence of this was, of course, the Opium Wars and the opening of additional ports for trade, during which process, Britain acquired Hong Kong.

* The Tea Bag was born in 1907, invented by the American tea merchant Thomas Sullivan. In 1953 Tetley introduced the first tea bag to the UK. However, many people regard the flavour as inferior as the tea used in tea bags is the waste from the sorting of higher quality loose leaf tea. Some people say they can even taste the paper from the bag! The “pyramid tea bag”, introduced by Lipton and PG Tips in 1996 addresses one of the criticisms of paper tea bags, because its tetrahedron shape allows the tea leaves to expand while steeping but has been criticized as being environmentally unfriendly, since their synthetic material does not break down in landfills.

* The British English slang word “char” for “tea” arose from its Mandarin Chinese pronunciation “cha”.

* Other popular additives to tea by the tea-brewer or drinker include sugar, honey, lemon (traditional in Russia and Italy), fruit jams, and mint. In colder regions such as Mongolia, Tibet and Nepal, butter is added to provide calories.

* Instant tea was developed in the 1930s but is only recently becoming popular. It can come with added flavours and/or powdered milk. Sweet, iced tea is an increasingly popular drink too.

Published by

Suse Coon

Suse Coon started life training to be an architect but ended up as a fashion buyer then civil servant. After some time out to bring up her family of three, she returned to what had been a hobby and entered the field of freelance journalism. After becoming regional correspondent, then editor of the orienteering magazine CompassSport, she formed Pages Editorial & Publishing Services. In this guise, West Lothian Life was launched, while Suse maintained a level of freelancing and wrote the award winning children's novel Richard's Castle. In 1999, Suse bought over CompassSport and found her time taken up pretty well exclusively with the two magazines. In 2004, West Lothian Life was expanded to form Lothian Life, however, the workload was too great. In 2006, CompassSport was sold and Suse concentrated on the web version of Lothian Life. Her hobbies include gardening, orienteering, sea kayaking and Tai Chi.

3 thoughts on “A Nice Cuppa Tea”

  1. what a delicous blend of tea,,,,,
    A special treat
    to be repeated from now on
    i.e. highland blend tea

    N.B. which range of mountains are photographed

    one word describes both tea and photo.
    “SPECTACULAR” thank you

  2. Hi there.

    Just to say thank you for the rather generous prize that I won of the Tea/Coffee Collection – Im looking forward to tasting some of the teas and coffees. I was surprised to see a little cafetiere in there too.

    With many thanks.


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