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A truly excellent tea can be as layered and complex as a fine wine, and with a bit of practice you can learn to discern the exact origin...
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Some people count sheep to get to sleep. With 100 different teas to choose from, we’ve found a much better solution. True, our collection is huge. But you can choose to track down your tea by taste, by origin and even by number.
In 1886 our founder Walter Whittard set up his very first shop, filled floor-to-ceiling with the world’s finest tea, coffee and cocoa. Those brave new brews are now time-honoured classics and we’re still following our nose for the new…
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Last week, five tiny packs of Darjeeling samples arrived at Whittard HQ for Bethan, our resident tea-taster. Fresh from Margaret’s Hope and Badamtam tea estates, these samples contained the very first production of Spring tea, or ‘first flushes’ as they are more commonly known. Here, Bethan tells us all about the amazing experience of picking, tasting and making crucial decisions on the most anticipated tea of the year:
"There is nothing quite like opening a packet of spring-grown Darjeeling and inhaling the incredibly sweet, floral aromas. That moment is the culmination of months of anticipation – throughout the winter we’ve been checking the weather and rainfall counts, keeping in constant contact with our suppliers to see how the crop is coming along.
At the end of February I received the news that the tea bushes at the lower altitudes were beginning to ‘flush’ – in other words, leaves were starting to emerge from the new spring buds. The news came earlier than usual, a sign that the weather had been good this year. Sure enough, the tea bushes at the higher altitudes were ready for harvesting around Easter.
You may have noticed that some First Flush Darjeelings have already arrived in the UK, but these teas would have been picked from the lower altitude bushes. The best Darjeelings are always gown at higher altitudes, where the buds take longer to mature in a cooler climate; as a result, the leaves contain a higher percentage of amino acids which gives them their unique sweetness. By waiting just a couple of weeks longer I knew I could source a sweeter and more complex type of tea – when the samples arrived, it turned out to be well worth the wait.
Last year I would probably say that the Margaret’s Hope First Flush was my favourite, and this year it’s the Badamtam – though it’s a close call. The Badamtam has an amazing apricot sweetness, absolutely no bitterness and creates a light, peachy infusion after a couple of minutes steeping. I eventually selected the fifth and final sample of Badamtam, clearly harvested from bushes which were in their prime.
Margaret’s Hope brews to a slightly darker colour, and I was surprised to taste subtle herby notes alongside its characteristic sweetness. Judging from my recent visit to the tea garden, I think this is probably due to the fact that moss and wild flowers are growing around the tea bushes at the higher altitudes, causing a slight variation in the minerals in the soil. That ever-so-slight savoury quality makes the tea especially delicious with cucumber or smoked salmon sandwiches. For the Badamtam, I would suggest a slice of apricot or Bakewell Tart.
So, after much consideration and several days of sampling, we finally placed our first order for 2016 First Flush. At the moment they’re packing the tea into the chests, and we hope to have it on the shelves within a couple of weeks… If those samples tell the truth, we’re in for a serious treat!"
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