If you’re British, then the chances are that you’re at some point in your life drunk a cup of tea. More likely, you do so on a regular basis. You might even be sipping a cup of the stuff right now! We here in Britain enjoy a very narrow band of the total spectrum of teas available – typically a blend of the inexpensive black stuff. But there are thousands of different varieties out there, each of which offers their own slightly distinct flavour profile. Let’s take a look at some of the more famous of them.
This particularly famous variety of tea is created using a blend of black tea with oil of bergamot, a cold-pressed oil derived from the rind of bergamot orange, a sort of citrus fruit that grows in the Mediterranean. This variety first came about in order to imitate the more expensive varieties from china, and became popular during the tenure of Charles Grey, who was British prime minister during the 1830s. The name isn’t a registered trademark, however, and so tea manufacturers fall over themselves to produce a version of the classic formula.
Lady Grey, unlike its near-namesake, is a fairly recent invention. It came to be in the 1990s, thanks to the Twinings Company, who needed a variety of tea that was weaker than Earl Grey in order to appeal to the Nordic market. It incorporates orange and lemon peel as well as bergamot oil, which helps to lend it that distinctive fruity flavour.
Unlike the two we’ve already mentioned, Assam is a variety of unprocessed tea, named after the region in which it’s grown: Assam. The tea is known for its body and brightness, which stems from the elevation at which it’s grown (near sea-level). The region borders Bangladesh and Myanmar, and is the largest tea-producer in the world. It experiences extremely high rainfall, especially during monsoon season, and this helps to generate a malty flavour that sets the tea apart from its peers.
This is another tea that’s named after the region in India in which it’s grown. It yields a drink with a thin body and a markedly floral aroma, along with a musky spicy quality. It’s distinct from other varieties of Indian tea in that it’s made from a small-leaved variety of Chinese plant. The brand ‘Darjeeling tea’ is protected by the Tea Board of India, and can only originate from specific areas of Bengal.
This special sort of tea is created by blending black tea with a range of spices and herbs, including cardamom pods, cinnamon, cloves and ginger. When the British sought to break up the Chinese monopoly on tea during the 1830s, they did so principally by expanding tea production in India. But to the locals, the drink was perceived as a medicinal one all the way up until the early 20th century. Factories and mines in the country were persuaded by the Indian Tea Association to provide their workers with tea breaks in order to boost consumption – and this move would prompt the creation of a new sort of tea. Indian vendors would greatly increase the proportions of milk, sugar and spice – and which this move was initially frowned upon by those providing the tea, it was ultimately embraced by the public and the drink is now entrenched as part of Indian drinking culture.
This variety of smoked tea originates in China. It’s distinct form the other teas you might find in China in that it’s been smoke-dried over pinewood fires, which lends it that unmistakably powerful smoky flavour. The name ‘souchong’ refers to the courser leaves of the plant, which aren’t as valuable as those closer to the bud. Smoking the leaf was seen as a way to inject some flavour into these less valuable leaves, and thus enhance their saleability. The process typically occurs in a bamboo basket, which is rotated over the top of a pinewood fire.
The result is a divisive one – particularly among westerners. The drink is one that most of us either strongly dislike, or strongly like. In a quality batch, you’ll get notes of pine smoke, whiskey and dried longan.
Where can I drink tea?
Tea is so ubiquitous in the United Kingdom that it can and should be enjoyed almost anywhere – from your kitchen table to the middle of the countryside. You can even enjoy a pot while on a Thames cruise. A London afternoon tea cruise makes a great way to see the sights of the capital while enjoying its favourite drink – what more British way could there be to spend the day?