It began with a beautiful cup of tea… Worth $3,000 dollars a kilo. Jennifer Wood is truly a connoisseur of cuppas. She teaches us this week how the bog-standard English Breakfast tea is not only one of the most boring cuppas, but how it didn’t actually originate in England! You’ll also learn this week the science behind a good cup of tea… did you know that you shouldn’t actually put boiling water straight onto the leaves, but perhaps put a few ice cubes in first? Me neither.
00:00:00 Marks introduction
00:02:16 Meeting Jennifer, setting the scene in headquarters of the UK Tea Academy
00:02:51 Where it all began – drinking good tea when working at the Body Shop
- 00:04:09 “I really wanted to do something a little bit ‘more’, and just thought – that tea we’ve been drinking for about ten years… wouldn’t it be great if we could just get that out there.”
- 00:05:04 “And he said: ‘The tea that you have been drinking, that I have been sending you, would cost about $3,000 a kilo from the garden. It’s a very special tea, made in very small amounts from special bushes from a special area, made by a very famous tea master… And we only give it to our close friends, family and government ministers.”
00:07:36 Flying out to China to do some tea-search!
- 00:08:13 “We were so excited by the whole thing… And I think also, I had spent 10 years working for this woman, Anita Roddick, who was a stunning entrepreneur. Everything was always very black and white with her, it was never ‘ooh, well maybe…’, it was always – if it’s a good idea: do it.”
00:09:08 How easy is it to find Tea in China?
00:10:42 What was the motivation in deep diving into where the tea was coming from and what went into producing it?
- 00:10:55 “We started with half a dozen teas, and we just want to know all about them. Where they came from, how they were made, how to get the best out of the leaf.”
00:11:20 The History of Pu’erh tea and the science behind it
- 00:12:05 “It’s a compressed tea, it gets better and better as it ages generally as long as it’s been made well and been stored correctly. A Pu’erh tea has to come from Yunnan, South West China. It has to come from the broad leaf varietal of tea plant. And it has to be sun-dried.”
00:14:07 What is Yunnan like? Wild tea bushes and trees up to 1,000 years old…
- 00:15:07 “They own the right to pick and look after the trees and pick the leaves… It’s the wild, it’s the mountains.”
- 00:15:33 Very little tea comes from wild bushes…
00:16:41 Is the tea just for the wealthier part of society? The value that tea really has
00:17:57 How to know when tea is ready to pick
- 00:18:16 “An Oolong tea is in-between a black tea and a green tea, so it’s semi oxidised. A green tea is not oxidised at all, so the leaf is picked and heated quickly after picking in China – generally in a hot dry wok to kill the enzymes in the leaf to prevent further oxidation. And a black tea is fully oxidised.”
- 00:19:38 “The tea bushes, when they are ready to be harvested, the farmer knows because a little tea jassid comes out and nibbles the edges of the leaf. So that’s the time the tea bush knows it’s under attack so it releases some kind of enzyme which lends a different characteristic to the eventual picker. And also, where the tea jassid just nibbled the edges of the leaf – that begins the eventual oxidation process.”
00:22:30 The tea industry, and how hard it is to compete with the ‘big boys’
- 00:23:34 “[Jennifer]: For a single serve of a really decent green, black or oolong tea… It could be anything from 20-25 pence to 60 pence. [Mark]: Which is phenomenal value really, considering the journey it’s been on.”
00:24:47 Does Jennifer feel like the attitudes towards tea are changing?
- 00:24:54 “Compared to where we were 11 years ago – we were still in the wilderness. The struggle it was to get anyone to take this.”
00:25:47 How has Britain wound up being known as the greatest tea drinkers in the world?
- 00:27:46 “Then of course they could grow their own tea, and they could also grow opium and East Indian company, an evil empire in those days, they were growing opium and dumping that on the coastal region of China… Trading that – even though it was completely illegal.”
00:29:00 Canton limited edition – what’s the difference between limited edition and other Canton teas?
- 00:30:20 “You can have an exclusive little limited edition that very few people in the UK would have tasted or come across.”
00:31:00 We hear all the stories behind our food, coffee, wines etc… why not tea?
00:31:20 How did Jennifer transfer all this beautiful tea from China to the UK without damaging it?
- 00:32:15 “The tea farms, they generally have a fridge/freezer at around 2 degrees that they keep their tea at – really cold. But actually, as long as it’s not exposed to extreme temperatures (and in shipping containers it generally isn’t) then it’s fairly straightforward.”
00:32:41 Lessons and mistakes made in the early days of Canton Tea
- 00:33:12 “It took years. Absolute years – we struggled.”
00:34:54 Why the shift from selling B2C, to B2B
- 00:35:59 “Doing a rebrand – it wasn’t just changing the logo and look and feel. It was also looking at what do we do best, who do we serve best and it was absolutely…. Buying these teas direct, and everyone in the company just having a focus on one partner.”
00:37:23 Is there a shift in how many people know about higher quality tea?
- 00:38:49 “If you just pour boiling water on a really sensitive Japanese leaf for instance, Japanese green tea, it’s going to taste bitter, astringent, over steeped and it’ll be ruined.”
- 00:39:12 “Any green tea you have in your cupboard is going to taste better if you brew it cooler.”
00:40:37 Are people willing to pay more for premium tea?
- 00:40:48 “People don’t complain generally about bad tea, it’s kind of what they expect when they’re in cafés and things. BUT, they really notice good teas.”
00:41:29 Does the extra money that’s paid for these more premium teas go back to the farmers and tea masters?
- 00:43:12 “The best farmers don’t need that accreditation – as you say the domestic market is so strong that tea is going to sell out anyway.”
00:43:24 Finding farmers that share your ethos & why organic might not really be organic
00:45:01 Is Tea part of China’s culture? Tea festivals, tiny cups and a lot of leaf
- 00:46:30 “It was raining, we were waiting for the harvest but they couldn’t pick the leaves while it was raining so days, evenings, nights went by waiting for the rain to stop before he could actually harvest the leaves. So that was drinking tea solidly all day, I mean I didn’t sleep.”
00:46:58 China make their tea differently – and how they make the best cuppa
- 00:47:12 “There is no tea that I would put boiling water on. Even a black tea. Just leave it a little bit, then pour it on.”
- 00:48:30 “… And he called it English Breakfast. He told all the New Yorkers: this is what they’re drinking back in the UK and it obviously took off and became this incredibly popular tea.”
00:50:00 Jennifer’s opinion on the growth of herbal & fruit teas
- 00:50:50 “So if it’s mint, camomile, berry teas… They are herbal tisanes, whatever they are, not true teas.”
- 00:52:26 “Natural flavourings can come from bark or mushroom, be rendered through a laboratory and made to taste like a strawberry! And that is your natural flavouring in your strawberry and blackcurrant tea. BUT, it doesn’t taste that good.”
00:54:44 So tea has a better caffeine hit that coffee – but will it keep you awake all night?
00:56:20 Chatting about the UK Tea Academy & motivation behind it
- 00:59:05 “The first course is a tea champion course which is two days – very intense… over those two days I think they taste something like 48 different teas and they learn all about where they come from, how they’re made…”
01:00:29 Does Jennifer eventually want to see good tea in cafes around her? The answer is yes, but there’s also so much more you could do with tea…
- 01:02:26 “But what I haven’t done is made you a cocktail with a beautiful infused gin from these amazing leaves.”
- 01:03:04 Tea pairing – and not just with cake!
- 01:03:22 “Cooking with tea is a really, really big deal.”
01:03:58 Are lots of people jumping into the tea market now?
02:05:07 What’s next for Canton?
- 01:07:18 “You can’t be a big conglomerate and actually still get the same sort of level as quality.”
01:08:28 What is Jennifer’s favourite part of her day to day role now?
- 01:08:45 “It’s actually just tasting with people who really don’t expect the amazing characteristics coming out from different teas, and they taste that and they’re just like ‘Wow.’.
01:10:39 Is there anything the government could do better to support Jennifer’s sector?
01:16:18 Where can you go to find out more about Canton Tea and Jennifer’s adventures?
01:18:11 Marks final thoughts & sign off
If you’d like to learn a little bit more about Canton Tea, Jennifer or the UK Tea Academy, check out the websites and social channels below… Or listen to the full episode here.
UK Tea Academy Website: https://www.ukteaacademy.co.uk/