Tea and our tea taster
Our Tea Taster
Louise is our tea taster. A genuine "got the t-shirt, badge and apron" trained master of tea.
Fully-trained tea tasters are few and far between, so we are super-proud to be able to say that teapigs teas have been tasted and selected by an expert with over 10 years' experience. Louise has tasted thousands and thousands of cups of teas over the years. After starting her training, which involved slurping and spitting at a rate of over 200 cups a day, she then took off around the world visiting tea estates high and low.
What is tea?
Whether black, green, white or oolong, all tea comes from the leaves of the camellia sinensis plant.
But that's just the start. Like wine, tea is divided into regional varieties and manufacturing styles. For example you will only find the very best Darjeeling black tea growing in the foothills of the Himalayas. Alternatively, the traditional fermentation and drying methods uniquely used in Taiwan produces the special flavour of Tung Ting oolong.
Where does tea come from?
Tea usually grows between the tropic of Cancer and the tropic of Capricorn, predominantly in warm, wet climates. The big players in the world of tea-growing are India, China, Sri Lanka and Kenya but this is by no means an exhaustive list: tea can be grown in any area with the right climate and conditions. There is even a tea-growing area in Cornwall - yes, Cornwall, England!
Good tea vs bad tea?
A good tea is a well-made tea - one that has been looked after and finely crafted. Generally tea estates have to choose between making large volumes of ok tea or a smaller amount of something really top-quality. If they choose the latter they will only pick the best leaves (the freshest shoots from the top of the bush) and process them very delicately ensuring that they don't damage the leaf.
We always say, "The best tea is the one you love the best". And if you're anything like us, that will change depending on the time, the occasion, even your mood. We love all our teas, at different times - asking us to pick one would be like a parent choosing a favourite child! What you can be sure of is that teapigs teas will always be of the finest quality.
More about tea
We think it is amazing that one plant can produce so many unique flavours and tastes. The taste variation starts in the growing of the plant - the location, the soil, the altitude, the weather pattern. The way the leaves are treated after plucking changes the final flavour of the tea, we have tried to sum this up in non-tea-geek speak below.
The leaf is plucked from the bush and then either roasted (in something resembling a giant wok) or steamed like your veggies (in a big cylinder.) The leaf is then dried, sealing in the greenness. Steamed green teas tend to have a more delicate taste than the roasted version. (buy our green tea here)
Oolong tea (sometimes called blue)
The leaf is plucked from the bush and allowed to wither. It's then twisted and allowed to part-ferment; that is, it's allowed to turn slightly from green to brown but not completely. The leaf is then dried in a giant oven. Oolong or blue tea is said to be between green and black – having the flavour of a green tea and some of the strength of a black tea. (buy our oolong here)
Black tea is plucked from the bush and withered in the open air. When the leaf becomes soft it is twisted and then fermented. The fermentation is the most important and skilled stage; this is when the leaf oxidizes. Finally the leaf is cooked in a giant oven to seal in the flavour.(buy our black tea here)
More about herbals
The rule is a simple one: if it's tea, it must come from the camellia sinensis plant. So what of peppermint tea or chamomile tea? Well, strictly speaking, they're not tea at all, but infusions or, for the truly pretentious, tisanes.
Our view is they make a great cuppa in their own right, and so are worthy of the tea title. They also have their own unique health boosting properties.
Chamomile is one of the old favourites amongst the garden herbs and is well known for it's sleep promoting and soothing properties. The fresh plant has a lovely scent, with a distinct 'appley' smell – not lost on the Greeks, who named it 'ground-apple' (Khamai-melon).
Peppermint is native to Europe and The Middle East but is widely grown all over the world. We all know that a mug of peppermint tea helps digestion - so it is the perfectly refreshing, palate-cleansing, after-dinner drink! (buy our peppermint here)
Yerba mate is a small evergreen tree or shrub of the holly family, native to the subtropical highlands of northern Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and southern Brazil. It is actually pronounced "yerba-mat-hey"' but we don't mind if you call it mate – old buddy, old chum.
The word yerba is a variant of "hierba", the Spanish for "herb", and "mate" is from a Quecha Indian word "mati" meaning "cup". Therefore yerba mate is "cup of herbs". And it also has a few other aliases: South American Holly, Paraguay Tea, Jesuit Tea and St Bartholomew's Tea.
Yerba mate is nutrient rich and it thought to increase alertness and concentration because of its natural caffeine content (it contains less caffeine than a cup of freshly brewed coffee but more than an average cup of black tea). How does it taste? Yerba Mate has a soft smokey bitterness to it which we often say make it a love-it-or-hate-it brew.
Although it can be drunk as an infusion (a teabag in a cup – a "cocido"), mate is traditionally drunk from a gourd (also called a mate) via a straw called a "bombilla". The bombilla is used to stir the brew and also acts like a sieve to keep the leaves in the gourd.
In the mate drinking ritual, the host fills the gourd two-thirds with yerba mate, places the bombilla on the leaves and pours on hot – not boiling – water. The gourd is then passed around, each drinker adding fresh water to top it up. (buy our yerba mate)
Rooibos tea, (pronounced "roy boss") which is also known as red tea or Redbush tea is a soothing drink, sweet and nutty in taste, naturally caffeine free and low in tannin. It comes from the leaves of the Rooibos plant, which only grows in the Cedar Valley, deep in the heart of South Africa.
Rooibos is not a true tea, as it comes from the plant aspalathus linearis. It's a small shrubby bush that has very thin, needle-like green leaves that turn their characteristic red after fermentation.
Rooibos is packed full of nutrients and makes a great caffeine free alternative to regular tea because - although it's technically a "herbal" tea - you can still drink it with milk.
Like rooibos, this is another South African wonder bush, although slightly sweeter in taste. The name comes from its scented yellow flowers which emit a distinctly honey scent. According to tradition, the best tea is harvested during the flowering period.
Honeybush tea is packed with vitamin C, potassium, calcium and magnesium. It has a very low tannin content and contains no caffeine.
Lemongrass is a perennial tufted grass with long, sharp-edged blades, and grows in dense clumps in tropical or subtropical climates. The plants last three to four years and are harvested every three to five months. Lemongrass is grown throughout Southeast Asia, Southern India, Sri Lanka, Central Africa, Brazil, Guatemala, the US and the West Indies.
It has been used for centuries in Indonesia and Malaysia in cooking but also by herbalists... it makes for a very light, fragrant and slightly sweet tea - lovely after a meal. (buy our lemongrass)
Liquorice, or sweet root as it is known, is grown throught Europe and Asia. The roots of the small liquorice plant extend to 30ft in length. It is this root which is used to make our tea.
Whilst a plateful of pontefract cakes or liquorice allsorts won't cure the common cold, our liquorice and mint brew may well help. Pure liquorice root is thought to ease coughs and respiratory problems.
A perenial plant, it is, again, the root which holds the flavour.
The spicy, stong flavour of ginger is thought to help with heart conditions, arthritis and nausea. In the teapigs office, lemon and ginger is a favourite cure for man flu (according to Nick and Reggie).