Expand your Whisky Palate with Tea

The more I have tasted and the more I have learnt, the better I enjoy and appreciate whisky. I have always tried different spirits; bourbon, rye, cognac, armagnac, tequila. The same applies to my morning coffee. I have tasted coffee from around the world.

My guilty secret is that having disliked tea most of my life, I decided that by drinking tea without milk and sugar I might expand my tasting abilities. Initially, I tasted Lapsang Souchong to better identify a note frequently identified in Scotch. I enjoyed it and spent some time learning more about tea. Could I regularly enjoy the world’s second most popular drink?

I tasted a couple my wife had in the cupboard as she is a big gin – sorry tea drinker. I tried an Assam and I loved it and bought more varieties. I began to enjoy the breadth of aromas and tastes. The citrus, caramel, butterscotch, chocolate, floral and tannin notes plus earthy, sometimes smoky, honeyed and nutty. I realised quickly if I was going to extend my palate it would be by buying and brewing loose leaf tea rather than tea bags!

I realised that almost all of the taste groups found in whisky, except peat and medicinal notes, were present somewhere in the world of tea. A key constituent in the flavour of tea comes from the polyphenols generated in withering and oxidisation teas version of fermentation. In whisky these polyphenols from the barley and particularly the cask are the congeners again responsible for much of the aroma and taste. As with scotch you can buy aged varieties of tea, more expensive than standard offerings but in general for a 30 year old nothing like the price of their whisky equivalent!

Different countries produce tea notably India, China, Japan, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Tibet, South Africa, Kenya, Paraguay and Brazil, even Scotland and probably any more countries besides with blends from almost anywhere but given anyone can theoretically blend tea most countries in the world will make their own blends. Many do but change the ingredients – the Arab world drinks a lot of tea but mainly cardamon and other herbal teas although black tea is widely consumed.

There are direct equivalents to blended and single malt scotch in the form of blended teas the most famous of which are English Breakfast and Earl Grey. Every supplier has their own recipe most have several. The old family grocers in Scotland I seem to remember blended their own tea and whisky of course. A single estate single picking , first or second flush would equate to a single malt.

You can buy named plantation loose leaf teas – and there are tea regions Darjeeling and Assam being well known. There are of course many different types of tea, black, green, white, Oolong, Puerh, Sencha and numerous others. These can be first or second flush depending on the time of year picked. The new vintage of the most common of these is eagerly awaited.

Familiar debates rage on how best to enjoy tea. Straight or with milk and sugar. Ironically we increasingly find green tea being recommended as a mixer with whisky.

It was a Archibald Campbell a Scottish doctor an Illeach (born in Islay) who anecdotally is said to have brought tea plants from China to India in the first place to break the monopoly of China in the tea market. Tea has in fact always grown in these areas of India and Sri Lanka.

Given the vast numbers of tea drinkers it is consumed in many different ways. In western brewing the amount of tea leaves used in relation to water is commonly 3 grams to 200ml. Filtered water is recommended but in Scotland our soft water makes excellent tea usually heated to 100 degrees but for some more delicate teas such as green and white 80 degrees is preferred. The tea is given between 3-5 minutes to infuse.
There is also a Chinese brewing method called GongFu where more leaves and seconds of infusion creates more intense flavours. Quality tea leaves allow for several infusions.

Tea similarly to whisky has its own preferred glassware. I enjoy glass borosilicate teapots and glasses to see my tea infuse and see the glorious colour of the final product. Double walled glasses are the tea trades Glencairn equivalent. I am accumulating a supply of tea making and drinking equipment which must sound familiar to any whisky follower.

There are many similarities with whisky tasting. A sense of terroir, an agricultural product with links to place and time. The rituals of serving with dedicated glassware, the technicalities of water type, temperature and the length of time to settle before drink. Even the niceties of preparation and tasting. Most of all the complex aromas and variety of tastes.

Tea has benefits as well. Healthy qualities providing anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. It is gentle on your liver. It does not suffer badly under the heavy hand of the taxman. It can be tasted any time of day without feelings of guilt or embarrassment.

Here are my tasting notes of my first 4 purchases from the Tea Maker’s of London a growing force in the Tea retail trade headed by Sam Sameen, a former tea estate manager from Sri Lanka.

First Flush Darjeeling House Blend 0% ABV!

Image courtesy of the Teamakers of London

First flush is the first picking in the spring.

Darjeeling, the Glen Livet of teas, is one of the most revered and best-loved tea districts in India. Tea farmers in this area have been passing down expert tea knowledge from generation to generation for almost 200 years.
The succulent, silvery leaves of this Darjeeling loose leaf tea offer a both sweetness and a refreshingly astringent flavour.
Darjeeling is technically a black tea. However, the processing of the tea is more similar to that of green tea – opting for minimal oxidisation – before being rolled in order to preserve the natural flavours. The tea is much sweeter than most black and green teas. It is lightly coloured and has a strong, sweet scent.
Darjeeling First Flush loose-leaf tea delicately combines the fresh, crisp grassy qualities of the revered spring flush tea leaves.

This is a blend and given unlike whisky there are no rules. We need to look closely at the leaves to identify quality and possible constituents.

Image courtesy of the Teamakers of London

Leaf: Even size rolled leaves with plenty of silvery and tender green tips.

Liquid: Light amber

Nose; shrubs, grassy sweet boiled blackcurrant sweet aromas rather lovely

Palate; fruity tangerine, muscatel and a butterscotch sweet note

Conclusion: First flush Darjeeling is lovely delicate and refreshing. This is a great value daily drink. A great start for trying Darjeeling tea. Lots of subtle nuanced aromas and flavours. A combination of flavour and price makes this a favourite of mine. It also can do a second infusion.

Price: at £4 for 50g a well priced foray into first flush Darjeeling. although it might need more leaf to extract the maximum flavour. It works well using the Gong Fu brewing method. I ended up opting for 250g in a caddy as the best starting point.

I love this tea, it is my goto already but of course I will try more.

Supreme Earl Grey Tea – number 07

Loose leaf Earl Grey tea is arguably the most revered tea in the world and its origin represents a pivotal tipping point in the history of tea in Britain. What constitutes the best Earl Grey tea is a matter of personal preference.

Image courtesy of the Teamakers of London

This 2019 Great Taste award-winning, loose leaf tea is made from a blend of the finest orthodox Ceylon black teas, sourced with the utmost care and expertise. Each tea is individually selected from the most highly revered tea-growing estates in the Nuwara Eliya and Dimbulla regions of Sri Lanka.
The premium Ceylon tea, leaves are delicately scented with the essential oil of bergamot fruit and then mixed with purple/blue cornflowers. Earl Grey is known to be the earliest scented tea to ever have been brewed, dating back to the early 1800’s.
Earl Grey tea can help aid digestion and deter any inflammation in the gut. With regular consumption, the tea is also known to help reduce cholesterol levels and boost the immune system.
Earl Grey tea (like most black teas) is packed full of antioxidants that can help ward off infections or diseases.It takes its name from the Second Earl of Grey, Charles Grey. He was an important figure in British history and in the history of tea consumption in Britain. Several British tea companies claim to have invented the recipe for Earl Grey tea as a gift or tribute to the Prime Minister.
Leaf: Nice consistent evenly rolled leaf with splashes of purple cornflour leaves.
Liquid: A copper amber hue.

Nose: No doubt that this is Earl Grey and a good one at that. Herbal grassy Bergamot hit. A fragrant perfumed tea with plenty of aroma.

Palate: There bergamot note is prevalent, the rest of the blend balances it out with floral and citrus notes then a dry tannic note.

Conclusion: If you want the tannins note tempered it is a perfect blend for drinking with lemon or even honey and would be perfect with milk and with or without sugar.

Price: £4 for 50g a value daily drinking tea for the frequent drinker.

English Breakfast Tea – 01

Image courtesy of the Teamakers of London

To create an unrivalled taste experience, London Teamakers carefully select the most superior Ceylon BOP (Broken Orange Pekoe) and larger FBOP (Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe) grade loose leaf teas, which originate from the celebrated Sri Lankan, Dimbula and Nuwara Eliya tea regions.  chosing 100% pure orthodox (term referred to traditionally made teas) Ceylon teas for this blend because of its robust and full bodied strength and well-rounded rich flavours.           
Premium loose leaf version of the well-loved classic imparts a beautifully smooth yet reviving flavour. Made using a blend of teas from three different high-grown tea gardens in Ceylon (Sri Lanka), this loose leaf tea provides an exceptionally rich taste as well as a beautiful and distinctive aroma.

Leaf: Consistently sized full leaf

Liquid: Bright Amber

Nose; Powerful inviting nose, fruity slightly smoky, caramel

Palate; light fresh grassy citrus note with a toast flavour and chocolate notes emerging nicely. Distinctively Ceylon. Imagine Earl Grey at its best without the bergamot and cornflower but the same delicacy in a balanced tasty blend. Plenty of strength.

Conclusion: Easy pleasant drinking tea. A long enduring flavour. Perfect for milk and sugar or by itself. This is what a black tea breakfast blend is expected to taste like at its best.

Price: £7.45 for 125g.

As this quickly became my wife’s favourite I am drinking this a lot. I enjoy these Ceylonese teas a lot, light and flavourful.

Assam FBOP Second Flush Manjushree – No 19

Image courtesy of the Teamakers of London

The acclaimed Manjushree tea estate is nestled in the lush green mountains of Southern India. The high heat and humidity of this region, gives rise to the beautifully bold and characterful taste of this small leaf tea.

Exceptionally strong brew, with the uniquely delicious, malty flavour of Assam teas. Offering a bold, bright liquor this is the perfect flavoursome breakfast tea. It will go well with milk and has enough sweetness to stand on its own.

Leaf: Small rolled leaves with gold tips

Liquid: producing a bright amber colour.

Nose; strong earthy tea, great deep distinctive Assam aromas

Palate; Malt and nutty caramel notes a hint of plum, good sweetness. Powerful tannins with just a hint of the ginger Edinburgh rock.

Conclusion: A very typical strong tanic Assam. Great value, tasty with a long enjoyable finish. Good for second flush but for me a tad woody.

Price: Certainly great value at £4 for 50g.

I bough these in Caddies to store them and allow me to purchase refill sizes in future.

I purchased these from The London Teamakers
https://www.theteamakers.co.uk/. from whom they are available on their on line store. By buying from independents you will access quality teas which provide the most flavour and although more expensive it is a matter of quality. A balance all whisky fans are more than familiar with.

I am able to enjoy the pleasures of practicing tasting all say leaving my whisky samples for later. The tea industry is as committed and expert as the whisky community. It is an equally pleasant and supportive one. Give tea a try expand your palate experience. Enjoy and let me know how you get on.