Go into any house in Britain and you’ll likely be offered one of the oldest, most popular drinks in the world: tea. Indeed, while endless horizons of tea plantations may conjure visions of India, China, Sri Lanka or Kenya, its consumption is an altogether more British affair. To find out more about the art of making tea, its tasting notes and characteristics, we sent Food & Beverage Manager of The Milestone Hotel, Fabrizio Russo, to Sri Lanka to meet tea connoisseurs, PMD
What is the different between black and white tea?
“The difference is that white tea (or “silver tips”) is produced from a specific type of tea bush. To planters it is known as the 2043 plant. The leaves on this plant have a dark green and reddish character. This tea does not go through any manufacturing process. It is hand-picked and sun-dried. No oxidisation; very little handling.”
What is the best way to make a cup of tea?
“Always use loose leaves in my opinion and use the method “1 teaspoon for the pot and 1 for the cup” depending on the tea. Let it brew for 2-5 minutes before straining and serving.”
What’s best to avoid?
“Never boil the water as it ruins the tea leaves, burning them and producing a bitter brew.”
Why are teas blended?
“Blending tea is commonly used to bulk up good teas. This sometimes means increasing flavours but can also ensure a tea simply behaves differently. A good Broken Orange Pekoe, for example, would usually be blended with either Fanning or Dust (the smallest particles of the tea process), the use of which produces a faster and stronger brew.”
Why does the Milestone serve single estate teas as opposed to blends?
“As well as a knowledge of the tea’s provenance, the advantage of serving single estate teas is the guarantee of being in possession of the highest grade tea instead of mainstream blended teas, which often (because of the processes) include tea particles from across the tea spectrum (from BOP at the top end to Dust at the bottom). Single estate teas also offer a unique drinking experience because of the basic differences in soil, sun exposure, moisture, surrounding trees and other factors that affect a tea’s flavour.”
What influences the quality of a tea crop?
“Weather and altitude, as well as the compatibility of the plants and soil.”
Does tea contain antioxidants and, if it does, are they a good thing?
“Yes, tea contains antioxidants. These attack radicals and toxins, with detoxifying effects.”
What sets PMD apart from its competitors?
“The passion of a family-run company; its direct contact with tea plantations in Sri Lanka; its competitive pricing; and its on-going training of staff.”
What’s the most interesting thing you learnt out in the Sri Lankan tea fields?
“It’s not just a cup of tea anymore, at least for me. The energy and art that’s required to produce tea astounded me, as did the knowledge people had. I have a firm belief these people will not be replaced by machines – there’s too much art involved.”
Does the Milestone’s tea menu focus on any particular styles or sets of teas?
“It’s the provenance of the teas – mostly Ceylon teas – that is most important to The Milestone. This means focusing on single estates that produce very specific types of tea. Very few other hotels in London can, for certain, ascertain the provenance of their teas, whereas The Milestone can.”
Why are teas manufactured at night and not during the day?
“To manufacture tea you need cooler temperatures to better control its environment. Higher temperatures result in much faster fermentation and alter the tea’s flavour. The optimal temperature for processing tea after “withering” (14-18 hours of blown hot/cold air to reduce moisture in the leaves) is around 5-15 degrees Celsius.”
Images Courtesy of Red Carnation Hotels & PMD.