For anyone wanting to learn more about tea, our tea tasting workshops are just the ticket

Here at Cup of Tea, we're lucky enough to have spent many years working in the tea industry. During this time, we have developed an appreciation of the huge variety of teas on offer. We have also garnered a wealth of knowledge from some of the world's leading tea experts. Nothing gives us greater pleasure than sharing this knowledge with others - in fact, we think it's a waste to keep it to ourselves. Which is why we are running a series of tea tasting workshops from our base in the south west of England.

In this blog, one of our recent workshop attendees shares her experience...

"It's fair to say that, until very recently, I was something of a tea novice. For me, tea was just a generic brown liquid, made from generic supermarket teabags. If I felt particularly daring, I might buy a box of Earl Grey or a flavoured green tea - but never would I venture away from those familiar supermarket shelves. Why would I need to, when they are so many varieties to choose from?

Well, now I can tell you exactly why. Because, a fortnight ago, I travelled to Cup of Tea's Somerset headquarters to take part in a tea tasting workshop.

The venue is a converted barn, set amid idyllic countryside. I arrive to a buzz of conversation: people sharing their experiences of tea, and their reasons for coming to the workshop. One participant has noticed teahouses springing up on the streets of Soho, and is intrigued to know more. Another is carrying out a university project on the culture of tea drinking. And others - like me - simply have a vague perception that there is more to this drink than meets the eye.

A table is lined with pristine white crockery: teacups, saucers, bowls, and lidded tea-tasting pots. A samovar bubbles away quietly in the corner, in readiness for the impending tea tasting. 

First, though, Christine gives us an introduction to tea: its origins, where it is grown and how it is produced. We are surprised to learn that only 20 per cent of the world's tea is produced using orthodox methods - and none of this makes it to our supermarket shelves. We learn the difference between green tea and black tea, white tea and oolong. We learn that, much like wine, tea is far from generic. Its characteristics vary greatly - from the strong, malty taste of an Assam, to the mild, sweet flavour of a Chinese green tea.

Then, we reach the moment we've all been waiting for: the chance to taste a selection of teas. First, we try some black teas: a couple of Darjeelings, an Assam, an Earl Grey blend and a Lapsang Souchong. Then we move on to an oolong, followed by a Chinese and a Japanese green tea. By way of contrast, we try a supermarket-sold green tea - and a contrast it is. Even to my untrained palate, the difference is immediately obvious. Finally, we taste a flavoured green tea, followed by a fruit and a herbal infusion.

In each case, Christine shows us the appearance of the leaves before and after brewing. We're amazed that some of the leaves, once they have been infused with moisture, revert to their original size and shape: proof, if any were needed, of the quality of these teas.

Once we finish the tasting session, two things strike me.

First: in what other context would it be possible to try so many different teas alongside each other? To buy a packet of each would be prohibitively expensive, and it would prove a waste.

Second: peoples' tastes are far from uniform. My personal favourite was the Chinese green tea - its light, refreshing flavour appealed to my palate much in the way of a glass of white wine. Another participant had her eyes opened to the qualities of the Earl Grey, and others preferred the smoky flavour of the Lapsang Souchong, or the mellow taste of the second flush Darjeeling. Which makes me think that Christine's analogy to wine was spot-on. Peoples' tastes may be different - but, when it comes to quality, it's usually worth paying that little bit extra."

4th February 2011

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