I recently wrote a review of Tea: A Miscellany on this blog in which I stated that I am not a tea drinker. Barely a drop of the stuff touches my lips these days. However, I had a Proustian moment a Kew Gardens recently. I was visiting their Full of Spice exhibition. Whilst I was meandering through the gardens I came across an East India Company (EIC) stall selling iced tea. I remembered that I had rather enjoyed drinking iced tea when I lived in America during my teens. The day was warm and sticky so I thought why not give it a go?
The blend they were serving was Governor Aungier’s Bombay Chai. Now my previous experiences of Chai tea have not been good. It has always been served to me as a luke warm, milky, overly sweet concoction. But this was cool, fragrant and refreshing. A decidedly more pleasant drink all round. So much so that I was compelled to contact the EIC (which was granted a Royal Charter by Queen Elizabeth I in 1600) to find out more about their teas.
EIC’s Oolong range of teas is designed to be served hot or cold. Their exotic blends include Pomegranate & Hibiscus, Yuzu and Orange Blossom. I have to say that I didn’t find the iced Orange Blossom blend quite as enjoyable as the Bombay Chai but it still made for a refreshingly different drink.
What I found more intriguing was EIC’s suggestion that their Lapsang Souchong tea could be transformed into a cocktail. This tea is wonderfully smoky and evokes memories of bonfires and fireworks. Cooled down and mixed with their lightly floral poppy cordial and some whiskey it makes for an interesting drink and would bring a whole new lease of life to the concept of afternoon tea. I haven’t tried cooking with this tea yet but I suspect it could be used to good effect in sweet and savoury recipes too.
So have I become a tea convert? Well, I’ll never give up my morning coffee but I will concede that perhaps I have been a bit hasty in dismissing all teas. Maybe there is a tea out there for me and it could very well be EIC’s Bombay Chai.
Many thanks to The East India Company for sending me samples of their teas for this post.
For more information on Afternoon Tea Week visit afternoontea.co.uk