A faithful constant of British society since the 18th century, tea seemed until recently to be something we took for granted. It fuels the British workforce, soothes stress and – perhaps most importantly – facilitates the eating of cake, but for so long so many were content with a bog standard brew. With the craft beer and gin movements celebrated with festivals and themed pubs, and the cost of quality coffee creeping up with every slow-dripped cup, happily it is now the turn of high quality and rare teas to enjoy a renaissance.
From dedicated tea houses to artists such as Lars Holdhus incorporating rare teas into their practice, there is an undeniable surge of interest in high-quality blends and teas of unusual origin. Restaurants and premium hotels are increasingly offering a separate menu devoted to tea, and in-house tea experts – known, fittingly, as tea sommeliers – are growing in numbers in restaurants across Europe and America.
This increased awareness and demand for premium tea suggests that tea pairing and flights could become more common in the world of fine dining. Yauatcha, for example, is admired for its selection of unusual Chinese teas, and the restaurant offers pairing suggestions for its dual specialities of tea and dim sum – think Silver Needle with king crab dumplings, or Tian Hong black tea with their Jasmine smoked pork ribs. While the practice of drinking tea throughout a meal is, of course, an ingrained part of the culture in China, Japan and other parts of Asia, this is an exciting development in the UK where most of us would only think to pair our tea with dunkable biscuits or a bacon sandwich.
This movement is in part driven by specialist producers and suppliers, who open up both industry and domestic kitchens to the dizzying range of teas available around the world. One such supplier is Newby of London, a company who initially set out to improve the quality of tea within the premium hospitality industry and have now branched into retail – a clear sign that the market for rare teas is growing in the UK.