Friday, 23 April 2010

Love Tea, Loving Lahloo

Lahloo Tea is forever twinned in my mind with a quilted lady with chicken legs between her thighs.

No, Lahloo haven't launched a (bizarre and raunchy) marketing campaign – I'm talking about the surreal and funky window displays at Liberty, where I met Kate Gover, founder of Lahloo, for a tea tasting, along with a handful of other tea lovers. Always paranoid about being late, I arrived before Liberty opened and the collection of strange tableaux kept me entertained until I the doors opened!

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arriving and wandering around

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those window displays!

Lahloo Tea is part of the wonderful tea revolution that's finally gathering momentum in the UK. As someone absolutely devoted to tea (but a bit meh about coffee) the proliferation of high quality tea suppliers is good news all the way.


So what's the Lahloo story?

As a child, Kate was convinced she hated tea. Her Yorkshire grandmother made real tea strongly brewed and milky and Kate wasn't a fan.

And yet, she had a historical connection to tea through her great-great grandfather who worked aboard one of the many tea clippers plying the seas during the 19th century.

Kate didn't discover that there is more to tea than her grandmother's cuppa until she was all grown up. After discovering she liked good coffee (and focusing pretty single-mindedly on learning and experience more) she started to think about whether there might also be more to tea than she knew of it. She says, "if I don't like something I like to try and find out why I don't like it."

Her first positive experience with tea was with a Japanese green tea. In her own words, this very intense gyokoro tea "opened my eyes and blew me away!" After that it didn't take long for a fixation to develop - "an obsession with finding tea that made me want to drink it".

Her inquisitive nature saw her embarking on a sensory journey that soon saw her travelling regularly to Paris (a hub of the serious tea trade) and further afield just to find great tea and her newly found enthusiasm meant she couldn't resist introducing others to the riches she had found.

From there it was just a small step to establishing her own business, less than two years ago.

And why Lahloo? Because it was the name of an iconic 19th century tea clipper – the very same one her great-great grandfather sailed aboard and which brought high quality teas back to an appreciative and excited customer base, just as Kate aims to do today.

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the tea tasting begins

Once all four tasters are assembled the tasting begins. The session is a wonderful mix of chatting about our love for tea and, of course, tasting Lahloo Teas while Kate talks us through them, teaches us all kinds of interesting tea facts and tells us about how she came to start the business (see above).


Snow Jewel

A translation of the Chinese name for this white tea, Snow Jewels is a subtle brew. Only the tiniest buds are picked from wild tea plants making it essentially a silver needle tea. Such spring bud teas have a very very brief window for picking, just as the buds shoot through. The window lasts just a couple of weeks, and the buds need to be picked within a day of two of emerging. As it's a white tea, there's no processing – the leaves are simply left to wither in the sun for just a couple of days.

Kate recommends brewing this tea in water that's at about 80 degrees, for about 3 minutes. (Handily, her advice for optimum water temperatures and brewing time is provided with each tea). Smelling the leaves before infusion, I can detect a distinct peachy aroma but it doesn't carry through to the tasting for me, until the second infusion, when suddenly, that peachy fruitiness comes through to the palate.

It's always worth remembering that, whilst good quality teas seem expensive on first glance, they can be re-infused several times over the period of a day, making the price per cuppa much more reasonable.

I can understand exactly why some people love the delicate, refreshing nature of this tea, however, for my palate, it's simply too light and subtle. As white teas can be infused for longer, up to 10 minutes without becoming too strong or acrid, I'm going to see if the flavours come through more for me with a longer brewing time, though I'll need to balance that with the tea being too cold by the time it's ready.

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Mr Aoki's

Tea farmer Mr Aoki and his son produce this energising green tea on a small farm in Kyushu, Japan. The tea plants are surrounded by mikan (small satsuma) trees; the soil enriched by a natural, organic fertiliser. Although Mr Aoki steams his green tea (Japanese style) rather than pan frying it (in the Chinese way) he diverges from Japanese sencha by retaining the whole leaf, veins and all.

The first taste, as one sips, is a vividly grassy and mildly acidic flavour; the quintessential characteristic of green tea, in my mind. But the aftertaste, that builds upon the tongue after the tea has been swallowed, is a completely unexpected and surprisingly robust taste of mango – really fruity, wonderful mango! This is new to me, in green tea, and very welcome indeed.

Smelling the leaves, a few minutes after the tea has been poured, gives something else yet again – an intensely meaty, deep umami odour. I'm not disappointed that this doesn't come through in the taste, I have to admit!

This tea gives a caffeine kick that can be very welcome to combat that flagging feeling during the day. If you prefer less caffeine, discard the first infusion, which should absorb much of the caffeine from the leaves.

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Orchid Oolong

This beautifully aromatic, honey-coloured mi lan xiang oolong tea is from Phoenix Mountain in China's Guandong province. Oolongs range from lightly oxidised, like green tea, to more heavily so, like black. This one is in the middle and has a complex, mildly smoky flavour that I absolutely adore.

This is one I have been enjoying for a while and remains my favourite of the Lahloo Teas I've tried.

For a more lightly oxidised oolong, try Amber, a tie guan yin oolong from Nantou county in Taiwan.


Darjeeling Second Flush

This tea has won best Darjeeling in the World Tea Championship for three years in a row; no mean feat in such a competitive industry. Made in the Himalayas this beautiful tea delivers the complex, full flavours of black tea with a subtlety and delicacy many blacks lack.

it's a perfect choice for those who'd like a top quality traditional afternoon tea.


Sobacha

Soba means buckwheat and cha means tea. This isn't a real tea but an infusion of roasted buckwheat nibs from the Japanese mountains. It originated as a peasant tea during a time when real tea was the preserve of emperors only.

Fiona Beckett describes sobacha as "a bacon sandwich in a cup" and that's the perfect label for this oddly umami cereal water!

I don't care for it at all, but others at the tasting are much keener.

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Cake

During the tasting we're treated to fruit loaf and lemon loaf cakes. The lemon was good but, oh my, oh my, the fruit loaf was incredibly good! I really can't put into words just how good it was. It was soft, moist, dense... the crust was crunchy... it had a light but rich flavour that wasn't too sweet. Really, really, really good!

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All to soon, our lovely tea tasting comes to an end. A lovely few hours indeed.

Thanks Kate!

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Lahloo Tea @ Liberty's ground floor cafe

6 comments:

Josordoni said...

As one of the four tasters I second this post.. it was a lovely morning, thoroughly enjoyed, and so interesting to put faces to Twitter ids as well.

Thanks Kate for a brilliant intro to teas I hadn't tasted before.

Sarah, Maison Cupcake said...

Heh, you keep writing about people who have followed me on Twitter and then unfollowed me quickly afterwards. Lahloo put up with me for ooh about a week. No idea what I did to offend them. I'm sure their tea is delightful but naturally I'm suspicious since I became convinced they hate me.

Kavey said...

On that one I have no idea! :) Did you see my response to your comment on the BBR post?

lahlootea said...

A wonderful post Kavey. Thank you. I'm so glad everyone enjoyed it.
Sarah, maybe it's something you keep tweeting! No, seriously, I do keep coming across people that I thought I already follow on Twitter only to find that I don't! I'm sure you could love Lahloo too despite us not following you - I hope so anyway!

Sweet Couture said...

What a lovely review! We bake the loafs, cakes and cupcakes for Liberty! Thank you! Sweet Couture x
www.sweetcouture.co.uk

Anonymous said...

HI there,

Are there any more tea tasting events coming up? PLease let me know as my partner would love this. Thanks Karen (sweetiepie1666@hotmail.com)