Last week I was invited by Ahmad Tea to attend an exclusive tea discovery experience and a lovely afternoon tea to launch their new collection in collaboration with Kew Gardens, “Beyond the Leaf”.
The event took place at the Nash Conservatory at Kew Gardens, a perfect setting, especially on a such sunny day. The autumn colours in the Royal Gardens were shining beautifully through the large panoramic windows of the conservatory.
We were greeted with fruity iced tea, which was perfect to cool down with after walking from the tube to Kew Garden’s Elizabeth Gate.
The event started with a presentation of Ahmad Tea, continued with a tea testing workshop where we learned about the new Beyond the Leaf Collection, and ended with a delightful afternoon tea.
The Story of Ahmad Tea
Ahmad Tea was launched 35 years ago as a small tea boutique in Hampshire. The founder of Ahmad Tea, Mr Rahim Afshar, who is the current Chairman of the company, knew where to find high quality leaves around the world, due to his family’s background in the tea businesses.
He grew the brand and started to export it around the world and it is now popular in over 80 different countries. The mission of the company is not only to produce the highest quality blends, but to also support the local tea growers and to inspire kindness. They are focusing on sustainable sourcing of the tea, responsible business practices and the minimal impact on the environment.
Beyond the Leaf Luxury Tea Collection
The Beyond the Leaf collection includes four carefully crafted blends of the most popular classic teas, one for each time of the day: Majestic Breakfast, Splendid Ceylon, Garden Afternoon and Elegant Earl Gray. The collection can be bought either as loose tea in gorgeous caddies, or as a collection of teabags which contains all four varieties in a luxurious box.
Majestic Breakfast is a great blend to start the day with. It is a blend of Kenyan and Ceylon teas, with Assam leaves, a bold tea which is strong enough to wake you up in the morning. It is best served with milk.
Splendid Ceylon reminded me of my trip to Sri Lanka and my visit to the tea plantations in the Highlands. The Ceylon tea grows at high altitudes in a cold and rainy climate, which not only makes the brew refreshing, it also gives it a deep, full-bodied flavour. Blended with leaves grown at medium altitudes, the tea becomes milder, citrusy, and fresh. For the best tasting experience, it is recommended to add a slice of lemon to the cup.
Garden Afternoon is a blend of Assam, Kenyan and Ceylon teas, with a touch of Bergamot. This is an extremely delicate tea, with a lovely floral finish. It was my choice for the afternoon tea, and it was such a beautiful complement for the cakes.
Elegant Earl Gray is an uplifting blend of Ceylon and teas from India, perfectly balanced and enhanced with bergamot for a touch of exoticness. It’s a fresh, citrusy tea, served with either a slice of lemon or a splash of milk.
The Tea Tasting
To begin with, I was surprised to learn that there are six types of tea that come from one single plant. It doesn’t matter if you are drinking black, green or white tea, they all come from the same plant: Camellia Sinensis. What makes them different is how the tea is processed. Different methods of processing lead to different levels of oxidation and fermentation, which lead to different types of tea. Camellia Sinensis only grows between the two tropics.
There are of course other types of brews which are called tea, but are not really tea, such as herbals, fruity, or floral infusions. These can be made from up to 400 different plants, which grow all over the globe, and are known among the tea connoisseurs as tisanes.
In the UK we drink around 1.5 kilograms of tea each year and we are in 3rd position when it comes to tea consumption per capita. In second position is Ireland, with just over 2 kilograms a year, whilst first position goes to Turkey, with 3 kilograms a year. That is a lot of tea!
Tasting tea is an entire process, which was shown to us by Ahmad Tea’s Master Tea Tester Dominique Marriott. It was really interesting to see how the various types of tea look so different once they have been brewed. A master tea tester can tell how the tea leaves were processed and what parts of the plant have gone into the mix, just by looking at the dry leaf.
Just like in every other type of tasting, the sense needed to “taste” the tea first is smell. Then, the tea is slurped rather than sipped, so that all the taste buds are reached by the brew. A master tea tester tastes around 500 cups of tea every day! That’s pretty insane!
The Afternoon Tea
The Afternoon Tea is a British tradition that everyone must try at least once in their lifetime. It’s always a competition among the London Hotels as to who can offer the most luxurious, intriguing, or unique afternoon tea. We have the Peter Pan themed tea at Aqua Shard, which is served on a ship surrounded by fog (aka dry ice), we have the Mad Hatter at the Sanderson, which comes with chocolate pink flamingos and drink me potions, and let’s not forget about the Harry Potter at Cutter & Squidge, where you can make your own magical potions.
The afternoon tea however has quite a history and comes with its own etiquette. Around 1840 The 7th Duchess of Bedford Anne Russell wasn’t feeling well, so she requested a pot of Darjeeling tea and a light snack to be brought to her chamber. She loved this so much, that it became a tradition to invite her friends over for an afternoon tea to discuss the latest news. Over the years, the food evolved from basic bread with butter and some biscuits, to finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam, cakes, and pastries. As the Duchess was the Lady in Waiting to Queen Victoria, she introduced her to this new idea. And the rest is history, the afternoon tea became an English tradition.
The etiquette of having high tea is quite complex, with so many different rules. Firstly, you should stir the tea with back-and-forth movements, not in a circular way. Do not clink the sides of the cup with the teaspoon. Holding the cup should be by pinching the handle between the thumb and index finger, with the rest of the fingers placed underneath the handle. Pinkie down, always! You can always take the saucer off the table if you are standing up.
When it comes to eating the scone, tear it apart with your fingers, in a circular motion. It doesn’t matter which you add first, clothed cream or jam – it’s personal preference. However, never “stick back together” the two parts of the scone, as they are meant to be eaten separately.
You should always eat the finger sandwiches first, then the scones, and only lastly should the cakes and the sweet pastries be eaten.
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