Monday, March 3, 2014

Judgement and Earl Grey

The ultimate tea shop reviewed: part 2.
One thing I would like to speak out about is the ubiquity of certain types of tea and the complete absence of others. I've already whinged comprehensively about Earl Grey blends and how the expensive brands have waaaay too much bergamot. The other thing I've been whingeing about, but not here, is that there are only five teas in most cafes. I feel entitled to whinge about it now because Hannah, the owner of the ultimate tea shop, was similarly unhappy.
There are only five teas. If you go into most cafes and order a cup of tea, your options are Earl Grey, English Breakfast, Green, Peppermint and Chamomile. If that. Seriously, where are the interesting ones there? Where is the genmai cha and the ceylon single origin and the roasted dandelion with licorice, ginger, chili and honey?
And why do frou frou little tea brands insist on putting so much bergamot in their Earl Greys? Well, I found the answer. Some answers.
This is Hannah's tea logic I'm about to repeat and I can't take credit for any of it, except the mistakes, which are mine.
Earl Grey tea originally had bergamot added to it because it was crap tea. Like a lot of things, it was developed when someone said, 'Dear God! Add something, anything!'
And they added bergamot. But the thing is, it wasn't the first time. Most tea cultures have some form of flavour balance for the stronger, earthier parts of the tea plant.
Lapsang souchong, which I've previously translated as 'crap tea for export only,' was originally smoked over pine roots because the smoke flavour was held to balance out the strong taste of the lesser bits of tea plant that made it to the bottom of the grading pile.
Genmai cha has roasted rice added similarly because in Japan, the tea part was the stems and veins and twigs of the tea bush.
And the English added bergamot to Earl Grey to balance out their tea, which may have been old or off after its long sea voyage. If you want to wiki it, it's here:
I think it's interesting that some of our favourite teas were originally made to hide or balance imperfections or to make a cheap tea taste like a more expensive one. We're all guilty of the same thing in one way or another. Working harder when the boss is looking. Making excuses. It's tempting to want to be entirely honest about everything all of the time, but I like the approach of 'balancing the strong flavours' instead of 'hiding the crapness.'
May your justifications or excuses for the stronger or earthier tones in your life be just as acceptable, when it comes down to it.