On being a tea connoisseur


London's teadrinking commuters are rushing to BIROCO.COM as we speak, after reading the article in today's Metro, wherein my masterly way of making a pot of tea is described. My site search is buzzing with searches on the word 'tea' from bored office-workers across the metropolis, and here's me with no time at all to write about tea! But seeing this interest I thought I'd just plonk myself down and scribble a few notes.

Lately I have been drinking some very fine and very expensive hand-rolled Chinese so-called 'white teas'. While green teas with the exception of jasmine can so often merely be variations on the theme of boiled cabbage water these white teas, some of which have recently been introduced to the line of The Drury Tea and Coffee Co. as 'Handcrafted China Teas', are quite wonderful connoisseur's teas and are strangely refreshing and subtle in their taste. They have beautiful names like Snow Dragon, Jade Pillar, Jasmine Pearl, and Jade Butterfly.

Jade Pillar looks like miniature cigars, each one individually shaped by someone's fingers in China. Throw a handful in the pot, the concept of one teaspoon per person and one for the pot falls down here. Snow Dragon looks like greyish corkscrew wood shavings and a handful of it is extremely light, light like popcorn. It feels good in the hand, like something a bit special. Snow Dragon adds just a slight taste to boiled water, but is quite wonderful and hard to describe, it is almost not there, but so not there it has become a personal favourite. With Jade Butterfly the tea is tied into individual butterfly-like bows. And Jasmine Pearl must be the Emperor of jasmine teas, it looks like rabbit droppings, the tea is shaped into individual pearl-like silvery balls.

I'm just about to make a pot of Qian Ri Hong, which comes as a ball made from the Qian Ri Hong flower and tea. It's a beautiful object, in size and appearance rather like a roast chestnut after you've broken away the brittle outer shell but before you've made it to the edible inside, with a red base, the flower itself (the kind of red of the old watercolour pigment 'rose madder genuine'). You pop it in the pot, the warmed pot, and it expands after you pour the boiling water in. It's a different way to make tea, dropping a hand-made conker in the pot, it even goes cluunk! on the china. Be sure to take the lid off the pot after it's brewed and look inside because the ball unfurls into a splendid flower with a red centre staring back up at you. The green 'petals' are tea leaves, the red centre is the actual Qian Ri Hong flower. The tea is so refreshing there's a tendency to think 'this must have something in it'. The Qian Ri Hong flower is indeed used in Chinese medicine, its English name is globe amaranth [Gomphrena globosa]. You can replenish the pot with more boiling water a few times. I think Qian Ri Hong is one of the most magnificent teas I've tried of the handcrafted variety. The tea is kept together for quite a while in the pot by the thin white string it's tied with. I believe that Drury will be introducing this tea in the future, I was fortunate to source an advance supply.