I’ve been a big fan of Jing Tea since I first encountered them at the first Real Food Festival in Earl’s Court back in 2008. With a very striking (and apparently heavy) wooden table/water tray, they had a most impressive stand where I parked myself for about half an hour, sampling various high quality teas. I walked away with a few teas to drink later. I’ve always liked teas (my mother used to pack green tea for me to bring back to London) but I reckon it was that visit that really piqued my interest in high quality teas. In a way, perhaps this interest is similar to that of a budding oenophile. As I’m not fond of alcoholic beverages (partially due to the fact that my body cannot process alcohol very well), my drink interests turn to teas, coffees and various fruity concoctions. In general, when it comes to teas, I don’t like flavoured teas (with the exception of Earl Grey and jasmine and perhaps a slice of lemon in black tea) and never add sugar or milk.
Quick background: Jing Tea was founded by Edward Eisler in 2005 and the team sources some of the finest teas in the world. Their teas are all available online through their website or also at various hotels and restaurants. I love the way they give lots of information on their site, from explaining how the teas are processed to showing the best way to enjoy your tea.
Thanks to David at Jing Tea (we made contact on Twitter), I met him in The Botanist in Sloane Square (they stock their teas) for a tea tasting at their invitation. It was clear from the outset that David is very passionate about tea and I was quite excited to learn all I could from him. The restaurant knew we were coming and so reserved a large table for us in their quietest corner and very kindly emptied teapots and brought freshly boiled hot water over from time to time throughout the afternoon.
David had brought a few teas to sample as well as one of their Gong Fu teasets with a bamboo water tray (envy! want!). As he unpacked everything, we realised how odd we must have appeared with all sorts of paraphernalia strewn on the table! All the bits and bobs did have a function. Tea was brewed in the teapot and after David deemed the tea done, it would be strained into the pitcher from which the tea was poured into the tiny tasting cups. This prevents the tea from oversteeping as you enjoy it. When the tea is of this quality and price and the teapot so small, it may seem like this is a particularly expensive habit but the tea can be resteeped up to 4-5 times and so it’s not as bad as it seems.
Now, I’m not an expert in teas; I’ll leave the descriptions and full reviews to the proper tea blogs. But I’m going to take a stab at it here anyway!
The first tea David brought out was a Lishan Oolong Tea (Taiwan Lishan Wu Long). As someone used to fresher green teas, this oolong was quite a revelation. It was…creamy. Not creamy like milk obviously but it did coat the throat in a rather soothing way. After brewing, the leaves unwrap and look to me like spring greens…so much so that I wanted to shove a few into my mouth. I held back; it wouldn’t have made a good impression.
We moved on to a Jun Shan Silver Needle (Jun Shan Yin Zhen) Yellow Tea. This was my favourite that day. The tea is made up of just the buds, making it quite expensive (I feel guilty for drinking it!). The full process of its preparation is documented in that link above but very briefly, this is a wok-fired and baked tea – quite a lot of work goes into it. The flavour was quite exquisite – very smooth and fresh and not at all bitter.
His final tea sample was of Organic White Peony (Fuding Bai Mu Dan). If I had to judge tea on its beauty, this one would be quite high in the competition. The bud, still covered in fuzzy white down, and its closest two leaves are picked together, giving it a very close-to-nature appearance. The words melon and cucumber are bandied about when describing its flavour and I can see where that comes from – there’s a refreshing and crisp aspect to the tea. In terms of favourites, this was tied with the oolong in my opinion. They’re two entirely different teas but I enjoyed them equally.
The final tea was ordered off the Botanist’s menu. The Organic Bohea Lapsang Black Tea (Wuyi Bohea Hong Cha) was chosen mainly because I’d had a lapsang souchong in the past (I think I was about 19) and took an instant dislike to the strong smokiness of that tea. This lapsang was an entirely different beast. There was a light smokiness, reminiscent of roasting chestnuts, but it was entirely drinkable. But while I didn’t dislike it, it was still my least favourite of the four we drank that day. That said, it definitely changed my opinion of lapsang teas.
We did have a bite to eat at the Botanist too. I had the double eggs benedict, which weren’t bad at all – the eggs were a bit small but the ham was generous and I liked their not-overly-tangy hollandaise. David had the salmon fish cake which he pronounced just the thing he wanted – and it did look good. The restaurant itself was very busy and so booking is probably essential. I just might return to try more of their menu.
Thanks again to David and Jing Tea for the invitation. It really was an eye-opening tasting for me – in particular with the lapsang. David’s still looking for a new venue to hold their tea tastings (previously at their office near Oval) so watch their blog and website for updates.
7 Sloane Square
London SW1W 8EE