Take me to the Yorkshire Tea Gardens

Over the last forty years the UK has seen a massive improvement in the quality of the food and drink that sits on our supermarket shelves. But tea, our national drink is still a national disgrace.

Almost unthinkable now, but up to the early nineties, London was the hub of the tea world, with most of the finest teas traded there. Tea was associated with Britain, and ‘English Breakfast’ and ‘Yorkshire Tea’ became very strong brands around the world. So much so that it wasn’t unusual for American tourists to walk into the London Tea Auctions at East India House and ask to be taken to the Yorkshire Tea Gardens!

No Tea Estates in Yorkshire, but British companies still own many of the best tea gardens in India. Unfortunately, for UK tea-drinkers, their best teas go anywhere other than Britain, with Japan and Germany being the main players. A tea estate manager in Darjeeling told me that even Harrods does not buy the very best quality.

So what went wrong? The problem, it seems, is our impatience. The British tea-drinker requires an instant cuppa, browning quickly and colouring well with milk. The mechanical production process of tea unfortunately results in many different sizes or grades of broken leaf, and only a small percentage of the full leaf, which is the best quality – and the most expensive. The other grades go down to mere dust – the lowest and the worst.

The smaller the leaf, the more the fine nuances of flavour disappear, until all that leaches into the drink are the harsh, bitter oils. It is these tiny broken leaves, which infuse quickly, that go into our tea bags. The worst contain mere powder integrated with fine strips of wood, to help retain the contents in the bag.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with tea bags. The Germans use them for the very best quality leaves. The disadvantage is that these take up to six minutes to infuse, and UK’s dunk-and-drink types can’t wait that long.

Unless drinkers go back to ‘Loose Leaf’ or ‘Slow Tea’ their tea will be second rate at best! So take your time, buy a packet of loose leaf tea, a teapot if you don’t have one and you’ll be rewarded with a cuppa that tastes ‘OO’! 


Samabeong Estate, First Flush Spring Darjeeling, Loose Leaf Tea, India, 100g £31.00
Hot or cold this whisky coloured tea presents herbaceous and peppery notes that tantalise the tastebuds from sip to swallow. Once tasted, you’ll never want to dunk your dust-filled tannic teabag again.
Score 9/10
Available from Postcard Teas

Soom, First Flush Darjeeling, Loose Leaf Tea, India, 125g £12.40  
This First Flush Darjeeling is made from the first picked new leaves of the tea bush. Often referred to as the champagne of teas, it is drunk without milk.  It delivers elegant notes of freshly mown grass that linger right through to the swallow. 
Score 8/10
Available from Monteas

Mineral Spring Family First Flush Darjeeling, Loose Leaf Tea, India, 50g £6.95 
Compared to the elegant flavours of Soom and the Samabeong the Mineral Spring is third division First Flush. Not a tea for the Darjeeling aficionado, but well worth a punt if your on budget. 
Score 6/10
Available from Postcard Teas

Margaret’s Hope, Second Flush Darjeeling, Loose Leaf Tea, India, 125g £7.80 
This Second Flush Darjeeling is made from the second flush of the new leaves of the tea bush. Like the first flush it is referred to as the champagne of teas, it is drunk without milk.  Some drinkers prefer the Second Flush as it delivers more flavour than the first flush. Expect flavours of freshly harvested straw and fruited twist.
Score 7/10
Available from Monteas

Mineral Spring Second Flush Summer Darjeeling, Loose Leaf Tea, India, 50g £6.95
If you are looking for a moreish Second Flush that’s flavoursome and smooth? The Mineral Spring ticks box.
Score 7/10
Available from Postcard Teas

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