From builders brew to elegant Earl Grey Brits are known for their love of tea, but how about a curiosi-tea produced from special buds whose flavour is influenced by the bite of a tiny aphid?
One Battersea specialist tea company aims to bring rare leaves to London to satisfy punters who are thirsty for more than a basic breakfast blend.
Tea aficionado and Curious Tea founder Alex Minakov, originally from Moscow but now Battersea-based, is passionate about bringing exotic oolongs and pu’erhs to London.
Alex founded Curious Tea with his partner Scott Haydn, 32, a year ago and as the business reaches its first birthday this month the pair are reinvigorating their specialist subscription service to bring tea to the timid.
“We can open people’s eyes to new flavours they didn’t know existed,” Alex explained.
“The UK is still quite basic in tea tastes so we try not to shock our subscribers with teas that may not be completely to their liking.
“For example nine out of ten customers who have approached us at food festivals haven’t heard of, let alone tasted, oolong teas – even fewer know what pu’erh is.”
For those tired of Christmas parties already and who long for a warming cuppa after a day trudging through seasonal shopping lists, Alex recommends vibrant green tea to lift spirits, Darjeeling oolong for a seasonal fruity taste or a classic warming jasmine.
These are just some of the options found in the high quality tea subscriptions he and Scott provide to discerning customers, who receive a box each month containing two different varieties to try.
The UK Tea & Infusions Association estimates that Brits drink 165 million cups of tea every day or 60.2 billion cups each year, making the UK second only to the Republic of Ireland in world tea consumption.
But our relative indifference to exotic beverages contrasts with the adventurousness in countries such as Russia, France and the United States, where tea businesses are thriving.
The pair travel regularly to the Far East to source their products, brokering deals with suppliers from Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Each tea is stringently assessed for quality, compliance with organic food standards and of course how well it will satisfy clients’ palettes.
The strangest field trip so far has been staying in Nantou Province in Taiwan, according to Scott, an Ealing native.
“The extremely friendly lady that owned the beautiful house we stayed in overnight did not speak any English and our Mandarin was rather basic.
“We had to work out communication through sign language and with the help of Google Translate,” he said.
“We had a fantastic time there and had to pose for a lot of photos with her, as well as the rest of her family. The setting was truly stunning, surrounded by tea fields as far as you could see.”
Scott is in favour of the most popular tea in China – green tea, so called because it is made with fresh leaves and quick-dried to retain the green shade and maximum antioxidants.
Both stress the benefits of tea drinking, whatever the location and whatever the weather.
“Green tea especially has high levels of antioxidants and polyphenols which may have cancer preventing effects. Black tea contains theaflavins which have a similar effect and may also reduce cholesterol,” said Alex.
“Finally, all teas contain theanine which has been studied and found to have the ability to reduce mental and physical stress, improve cognition and boost mood!”
As for his current tipple of choice, Alex says he is in love with Gui Fei oolong.
“It’s from a category of Taiwanese teas that have a naturally honey and flowery taste to them that occurs due to the leaves being bitten by a tiny aphid. The leaves react to the presence of the insect and produce this unique flavour that can be also found in Oriental Beauty teas,” he adds.
“The Gui Fei oolong is a type of tea that is less oxidised than a traditional Oriental Beauty and therefore a little lighter in character.”
The company plans to expand in the New Year with a full online shop stocking teas and teaware, in addition to the main subscription product.