by Danielle Woodward - Friday April 3, 2015 3:04 pm
Danielle Woodward takes a break for a cuppa, and discovers the delicious range of teas from organic tea company Hampstead Tea.
Britain is a nation of tea-lovers. Since colonial days when the fragrant leaves from India and China were brought back to Blighty's shores, we've been enjoying our daily cuppas, and have even created a sit-down occasion – afternoon tea – to celebrate it – and our sweet tooth. After all, what goes better with a glug of tea than a bite of Battenberg?
These days, we've come a long way from our grandparents’ generation when the only tea available to buy was standard black tea and most Brits drank it strong with milk and sugar (aka 'builder's brew'). These days, there is an abundance of choice on the supermarket shelves, from black, green and white tea, to South African redbush (rooibos) and fruit tisanes. Plus, there's an amazing array of flavours, the combinations of which constantly surprise me (salted caramel tea, anyone?).
As well as choice, there's also the ethics. While sipping on your fresh brew, do you wonder if the tea company gives its plantation workers a fair deal? And if there are pesticides swimming around in your mug, too?
Discerning tea-drinkers may have found it difficult to indulge their passions in years gone by, but no longer, as the number of organic, ethical and high-quality tea companies emerging is growing. Leading the way is Hampstead Tea, founded by Kiran Tawadey after a chance meeting in 1987 with Rajah Banerjee, owner of the Makaibari tea estate. Tawadey named her company after the north London town where she met Banerjee and where she was inspired to set up a new type of tea company, supplying high-quality, organic tea, all hand-picked and from a single estate (most mainstream tea comes from different estates).
I asked Tawadey how she maintains the high quality. "We pay a premium for our tea direct to the estate, so we contribute directly to the quality of life of the people on the plantation,” she says. “As a result, we are able maintain the fine quality of our tea and source our range of award-winning whole leaf teas – white, green, oolong and black – from one single estate, which is a rarity among tea brands."
And unlike many other brands, Hampstead Tea is 100% organic, Demeter-certified. Tawadey says: "By using biodynamic agriculture, and natural and vegetative waste as fertilisers, as well as locally produced herbs (neem) as insect deterrents, the Makaibari estate can sustain itself without the need for harmful pesticides. Pesticides in tea never go away. Tea is rarely washed from the time it is picked until it is in your cup, so it is important to drink clean, carefully nurtured, organic tea."
Everyone takes their tea a particular way and I admit, I am fussy. I usually go for green tea or rooibos, or, if I do drink black tea, I like Darjeeling, and I like it weak and black – just a few dunks of the bag, or swishes of the tea strainer, then out. I often find, when I follow brewing instructions on packets, that it ends up too strong and bitter, so I usually adapt them to suit.
I was looking forward to trying a selection of Hampstead teas: first was the Earl Grey and the scent of bergamot is almost overwhelming when you open the box but in a good way – it’s uplifting and sunny. With a slice of lemon, the tea was zesty and fragrant – exactly how it is described on the packaging. There was no powdery aftertaste either, as can sometimes occur with teabags.
The English Breakfast tea is a blend of Assam and Darjeeling, and it was a bit strong for me. But my husband, who likes his brews bold and brown, rated it highly. The flavour was strong and robust and a good accompaniment to his morning toast and Marmite, he claimed.
Next came a selection of green teas: plain, ginger and mint. I'm a big fan of green tea – it is a good source of antioxidants and I find the flavour fresher and lighter than most black teas. I also love the flavours of ginger and mint. The ginger was delicate and comforting and I made it even more gingery by dunking in a ginger biscuit for a double hit of warmth. The green mint tea was a perfect after-dinner cuppa, when I'd eaten just a little too much and felt a bit bloated. The scent is fresh and head-clearing, too. The plain, loose-leaf green tea was also refreshing – I brewed it for the time recommended on the packet (3 minutes), and it was just a little too strong for me, so I tried it again, brewing it for a minute less, and it was just right. When it comes to the nation’s favourite beverage, everyone’s tastes are different, but you’re bound to find a tea to suit from Hampstead Tea’s extensive range.
Prices from £2.29 for a box of 25 sealed teabags. For more information and to buy, visit hampsteadtea.com