It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Jing Tea. I’m always greatly pleased when I see their tea at a cafe or a restaurant as then an excellent cup of tea is guaranteed. I also don’t quite shut up about it and now one of my colleagues has started nibbling on the dried tea leaves I keep at work. I had met David of Jing Tea previously at The Botanist and had a fabulous afternoon then learning about various Chinese teas. When David contacted me again recently with the possibility of doing a matcha tasting, I jumped at the idea; matcha hadn’t really been my thing as I hadn’t enjoyed what I’d tasted in the past but I was keen to learn about matcha and how it is made and possibly even learn to enjoy it. And so last week one evening, I and Jen of DashiDashi joined David at Tsuru Bankside for a matcha tea tasting. To my surprise, David was there with a whole selection of amazing Japanese teas.

Tea Tools

David started us off with, not a Japanese tea, a potful of Jasmine pearls, one of their bestsellers. I do have a soft spot for jasmine tea and this one is one of the most delicious I’ve tried; the jasmine scent was gentle and not at all overpowering, which I find other brands can be.

Brewing Jasmine Pearls

The was swiftly followed by a potful of Japanese Genmaicha Green Tea with its toasted rice grains that impart a lovely toasty flavour to the tea.

Genmaicha

Apart from tea, there was also the very important business of dinner. This was my first time at Tsuru, which is very well known for their fantastic Japanese lunch offerings – I wish one existed near my workplace. I had no idea they were located here behind the Tate Modern though nor that they served dinner too. The choice of venue was, of course, not an accident; Tsuru serve Jing Teas though this isn’t noted on the menu. For the main part of our meal, we all ordered Tsuru’s Sashimi Moriawase, a platter of tuna, salmon, mackerel and another white fish that I cannot recall. The sashimi was very generously cut, very fresh and quite good for the price.

Sashimi Moriawase

As one cannot survive on fish alone (well, I could but then again I cannot when I see a bit of deep fried on the menu), I also ordered one of their Chili Rice Bowls (steamed rice with their homemade chili paste) and a dish of Free-range Chicken Kara-age. Strangely, these took a very long time in coming but the chicken in particular was well worth the wait. The kara-age was a generous portion of piping hot, crispy crusted fried dark chicken marinated with garlic and ginger which went down a treat with the rice.

When our plates and bowls were cleared, we got to what we’d been looking forward to all night; we were going to learn how to prepare matcha tea! Now, I’ll be honest with you – I never used to like matcha tea, the tea most commonly known as that used for the Japanese tea ceremony. I remember tasting it first as a child when we learned about the tea ceremony in school and someone came in to give us a demonstration. I tasted a faint seaweed like flavour in the tea that didn’t appeal; I still remember that today. Anyway, David demonstrated how to prepare matcha tea and then we were given the opportunity to make our own bowlfuls.

Whisking

We used their Matcha Supreme, which was a whole other animal to the cheaper teas I must have sampled. This tea tasted of…. tea. A very fresh green tea. As the entire leaf is consumed here, all ground up, I guess quality really does make a difference. I loved the frothy head formed when it was properly made and the delicious fresh flavour; it must be delicious first thing in the morning (if uh… I could be called on to be so active as to make a bowl at that time). I’m a convert!

Scooping Matcha

I Prepared Matcha Tea!

An unexpected treat soon followed the bowls of matcha. David had brought along some Handmade Gyokuro Supreme, a tea from Japan of which they only have 2 kilograms worth. With so little to hand, they’ve divided it up into 10g packets so that as many people as possible can have a taste. Needless to say, it is not cheap. However, it was the most remarkable un-tea-like tea that I’ve ever tasted.

Brewing the Gyokuro

I’m not saying that it didn’t taste of tea – it is indeed tea and yes, it tastes of it. But unlike regular teas, it had a bit extra to it. It tasted amazingly vegetal, almost like a spinach soup (and not in a bad way!), and so full of umami. It was rich and coated the mouth and felt quite filling. My description isn’t doing it any justice but really, what an experience!

Gyokuro Supreme Tea

For dessert, Jen had kindly brought along her scrumptious homemade matcha profiteroles, absolutely packed full of a brilliant green matcha cream. To go with them, David brewed some Hoji Cha Supreme, a toasted green tea with an almost smokey flavour, the perfect final tea in the tasting as I found it to be quite strong in flavour and apparently, it’s also quite low in caffeine.

Profiteroles

Inside the Matcha Profiterole

What a fabulous evening; thank you again to Jing Tea for the invitation. I’ve now got a long shopping list of teas to purchase! (Is there space in my tiny flat for a matcha bowl?!)

Tsuru
4 Canvey St
Camberwell
London SE1 9AN
(it’s behind the Tate Modern)

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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.

Making Tea

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.

Straining Tea

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.

Oolong

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.

Organic White Peony Tea

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.

Eggs Benedict

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.

Jing Tea

The Botanist
7 Sloane Square
London SW1W 8EE

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