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Tea and Terroir: what gives tea its unique characteristics? Topography?

11 Apr

Wow! Where did the last week go? Sometimes in a small business there just aren’t enough hands on deck, hours in the day or days in the week! Well, this week was one of those so apologies for my delay in posting the next part of the Tea and Terroir blog. A little delayed, but here you go…

So we’ve already learnt that climate plays a huge part in the magic of a tea’s unique characteristics, but what else plays a part?

Topography (the relief of the land) – in a nutshell this takes into account how the altitude and latitude (the degree of the slope of the mountain) of a particular place determine the tea garden’s exposure to wind, rain, frost, sunshine, shade and drainage.

Having recently been to Sri Lanka I have been lucky enough to experience the diverse climate and topography and therefore flavour and characteristics of its tea, first hand. I loved chatting to the wonderful Herman, owner of the tropical Handunugoda tea estate, about Sri Lanka’s unique topography and how it determines how their tea is grown and therefore, how it tastes.

IMG_0173

 

Herman explained that Sri Lankan teas are not classified by season or climate but instead by elevations: low, mid and high-grown tea. Each elevation lends itself to unique flavours and characteristics – mellow and rich low-grown, aromatic citrusy mid-grown and intense high-grown – and even price point!

In the high mountain tea growing areas, the native China tea bush, the Camellia Sinensis, flourishes even on incredibly steep slopes as high as almost 8000 feet. At this height the thin air slows the leaf growth. This growth is focused around an optimum picking period so their yield is half that of the tea bushes grown in the much lower tropical tea gardens.

Sri Lanka tea

In the tropical Southern tea growing parts of the island where Herman’s beautiful estate is, the tea bush flourishes more consistently all year round and produces a more mellow and rich flavour and the teas are easier to harvest.

The lower yields, coupled with the difficulty in harvesting the tea in the highlands lead to a more intense flavour and a much higher price point for the high elevation teas.

Next time, the final focus will be on geology and terroir.

Tea and terroir: what gives a tea its unique characteristics? Climate.

28 Mar

Last time we looked at what term terroir means. Despite having a broad understanding of terroir and how it affects tea, this series is giving me a whole load of fascinating new information. I have a naturally inquisitive nature and I love learning! So here’s what I have discovered…

So, what factors contribute to terroir? There are various trains of thought on what exactly makes up terroir, but there  is a general consensus that the following elements determine a tea’s unique flavour, aroma, health benefits and even its cost:

Climate: everything about a places’ unique climate – the temperature, how much the sun shines, how much it rains and how windy it is – affect how well and when tea grows.

Take the beautiful tropical island of Sri Lanka, I was lucky enough to visit recently, for example. Despite being small it has a really varied climate. This means that the island can produce an array of different teas in abundance all year round,  making it the fourth largest tea producer in the World!

Sri Lanka tea

In places like Uva in the eastern highlands of Sri Lanka there have very hot and dry Cachan winds from July to September that cause the tea trees’ leaves to curl up to protect them from the draught. This encourages the cells of the leaves to replace lost moisture, so the teas made in Uva at this time of year are really juicy and full fo flavour. Nowhere else in the world experiences this windy climate, it’s unique. Therefore these Uva teas are – understandably – very pricey!

Tomorrow, how topography affects a tea’s unique characteristics.

Tea and Terroir: what does it mean?

17 Mar
Tea leaves

Camellia Sinensis (tea plant)

You may or may not already know, that all tea – black tea, oolong tea, green tea, white tea, yellow tea and puerh tea- comes from just one plant, the Camellia Sinensis. The Camellia Sinensis grows all over the world so why, even when considering different production methods, does a tea grown in similar conditions in India and Nepal, which is just a stone’s throw away, taste completely different?

The secret lies in terroir. Terroir is a French term that comes from the word terre, meaning land. We don’t have a direct translation in English but in one word terroir perfectly describes the impact that geology, geography and climate and the variety and age of the plant has on the flavour of food and drink.

The easiest way to describe it is ‘the sense of a place’ where the magic qualities of that specific place and plant come together to produce the finest aromas and flavours. When terroir is applied to tea, wine, chocolate, tomatoes, coffee, spices, olive oil (and much more) you can really begin to explore the desirable nuances of each country.

I hope that helps a little. I’ll look a little more into why and how terroir changes a tea’s character in the next post.

 

Have you met our tea hunter?

11 Mar

At the end of last year, I had a lovely visit from Jess Salter, a journalist for The Telegraph. Over afternoon tea and a pot or three of Mr Shao’s green tea we nattered about all kinds of things: growing up – unknowingly down the road from each other – in Yorkshire, tea, business, my love of flavour and aroma and more! And it was fantastic to read Jess’ article recently featured in The Telegraph’s weekend magazine regular Word of Mouth feature. Read more here >>>

Kate Gover: tea hunter

Kate Gover: tea hunter

 

A fantastic start to 2013: Sri Lankan tea travels

8 Jan

I hope you new year has got off to a cracking start! I love starting the year by reflecting on the last.

2012 was fun-filled and jam-packed to say the least! As a business, we grew by more than a whopping 200%! It was a year of fun, a little stress, not a lot of sleep, steep learning curves and quick thinking! This didn’t give me much time to enjoy some of the things I used to have plenty of time to do – traveling, tasting, discovering, relaxing!

But after a relaxing, friends and family filled Christmas break, I have enjoyed a lovely steady, slow paced venture back into the world of tea and fuelled by pots of nutty buckwheat tea Sobacha, as part of Lahloo’s herbal therapy month, I have been planning for what is going to be an exciting year ahead!

With a brilliant team helping me at both Lahloo Tea and at our tea store, Lahloo Pantry, I’m taking advantage of some space to rediscover those things that make me tick. And I’m starting with an exciting trip to southern Sri Lanka.

I’ve been flicking through my go-to (and fellow South West company) travel companion, i-escapes, for tips and I can’t wait! I’m so looking forward to the colours – the turquoise sea, blue sky, green tea hills, golden beaches, vibrant food markets and saris – the people, their culture, the tastes and the aromas!  A feast for the senses!

Sri Lanka

The people (courtesy of http://www.i-escape.com/sri-lanka)

Sri Lanka

The tea (courtesy of http://www.i-escape.com/sri-lanka)

Not only will I experience Sri Lanka’s gems, I will be visiting the garden who make our’s and Tom Herbert’s favourite cinnamon-smoked version of lapsang souchong tea – Smoky – and other amazing artisans to hunt out new herbal infusions and maybe another tea to bring back.

Now, that’s what I call a cracking start to 2013,  here’s to more to come! What about you, I’d love to hear what you’re looking forward to this year?

Kate

Ranting about why green tea is not bitter at Abergavenny Food Festival, September 2012

3 Oct

Lahloo goes for a wild swim! by Kate

31 Aug

Don’t the late summer days inspire you to do something fun! At this time of year, I get a sudden urge to enjoy the outdoors and breath the last breaths of balmy summer air. And I love the feeling of being a little bit closer to nature.

Summer evening

Not one to do things by halves, last week I went wild swimming! I’ve always been a bit of a water baby, given the opportunity you will find me splashing about in water – puddles, rivers, lakes, the sea. As a kid I was always the first to run down the beach to dip my toe in, no matter what time of year! And that hasn’t changed – we nearly missed a flight home a few years ago because I wanted to have one last dip!

Since moving to Bath, I’ve really missed my alfresco dips at the Lido and when a friend told me about a new river swimming spot he’d discovered, I just had to go. So, after a rather long and busy Monday, rather than spending my evening cooped up in an indoor swimming pool or gym I decided to go and hunt out this new and go for a spot of evening wild swimming.

Wild Swimming

Part of the fun of wild swimming is the discovery of the best spots. The very best places are the most tucked away! Just outside Bath, on the Warminster Road you go down a little windy dead-end road, cross the canal and the train tracks and you’ll find a clearing. Next to the clearing, a weir. The river above the weir is like a natural pool. Just gorgeous!

The evening we went there were half a dozen or so couples relaxing for an alfresco post-swim supper. Knowing you’ve arrived at a hidden but carefully shared spot is really wonderful! The smell of bbq’s wafted in the evening air, hot air balloons drifted over head and the late evening sun gradually fell making beautiful tree-shaped silhouettes on the horizon. It couldn’t get more idyllic.

Kate swimming

Getting into the water was, shall we say, bracing! But, with the last of the sunshine on my face, so revitalising. I’d thoroughly recommend it – there’s no better way to clear a foggy head. I just wish I’d taken a thermos of warm oolong tea to sip after my dip.

Now, I’m not sure you’ll find me there in January (no matter how much tea you promise me afterwards) but I am definitely going to make it a regular spot to visit.

Why don’t you let me know your favourite wild swimming spots. I’d love to hear where you go.

Kate x

Founder, Lahloo Tea

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