One thing tea has in common with all other agricultural products is that each season produces a crop that is subtly different from all others.
In most agricultural settings, variance is to be avoided. Supermarkets demand tomatoes or apples that are a certain size and shape, unblemished, and that will sit in a cold store for weeks on end. Beans that stand to attention. Parsnips that don’t look like the crude anatomical scrimshaw of a coarse sailor. Lettuces that that look they were hand-carved from jade and never once went near anything as messy as soil.
And so with tea. It varies.
The big blenders try to make their product consistent from here to eternity. That taste you get from a supermarket teab*g from a huge conglomerate. They intend to deliver EXACTLY the same taste –reminiscent of a mangy kangaroo who was rolled in cheap tea and then the results combed into a bag using a toilet brush by a diesel mechanic on his day off, and before his weekly bath – forever.
While I often have a crack at people who think wine is something more than mere grape juice that has gone off, at least those guys know how to celebrate diversity of agricultural result. They’ll spend hours arguing about whether a Chateau d’Cobblers ’79 has more muscatel than the ’82.
We use mostly tea from small tea plantations, and yes, they vary from year to year. We tend to keep the formula the same, so for example, if this year’s Assam is a little peatier, then so is our Finbarr’s Revenge.
I don’t often hear tea people argue about whether this year’s product X is better or worse than last year. Mention it, yes, but not argue.
I suspect it’s because another vital component in the argument scenario is being drunk.
But I’d love to hear that argument, because what we boutique blenders do is art and craft and skill. It’s designed to invoke and provoke.
And it’s personal. Praise our craft and the sun comes out. Dislike one of our blends and it’s like you’ve beaten up Bambi and left her behind a dumpster.
But talk about it with interest, intelligence and taste and it spurs us on to new things. New ideas, new tastes. New blends, new pairings.
Over to you.