The drinker | tea
Sunday 23 April 2000
You think tea is a hot drink dispensed in times of emotional need. You're right, of course. But there's tea and there's tea, with a world of quality separating the good, the bad and the ugly. Just to make things trickier, there's water and there's water. You can take the greatest tea in the world and ruin it with bad water.
The Tea Council assures us that "All the brand-leading blends are blended to cope with the varying types of water in Britain, be they soft, hard or middle of the road." But impartial sources tell a different story. One said: "The water is important, and the big blenders have trouble pitching their blends to make them perform well in every area of the country. They end up with something that's middle-of-the-road."
Generalities are off the menu, however, at Taylor's of Harrogate. It has just brought out a version of its renowned Yorkshire Tea designed for use in hard-water areas. And the result, I can tell you after a blind tasting, is a pleasant surprise: in a hard-water area, the new brew shone by comparison with its ordinary stablemate. The flavours were fuller, richer, brighter. And my Yorkshire-resident sister-in-law, who drinks the old stuff every day, agreed. (So I must be right.)
Taylor's initiative might seem like modern technological fine-tuning. In fact, says Keith Writer, a tea buyer for Taylor's, the company is reviving a Victorian practice. "The Yorkshire tradition is of tailor-blending teas to particular areas. With supermarket distribution, we lose control over where it's going." The hard-water tea, he says, is "a way of giving consumers the choice".
Do you live in a hard-water area? To find out, ring Taylor's (tel: 0500 418898) and they'll send you a free testing kit. The results should make you think about all the tea you drink.
The easy way to eliminate water variations is to substitute your own. A water filter is one option, buying bottled is the other. Adarsh Sethia, of Newby Teas, prefers Volvic. Giles Hilton of Whittard of Chelsea was sent a bottle from Japan which produced "tremendous" results - "beautiful colour even after an hour in the cup". But the label was in Japanese, so he doesn't know what it is.
With bog-standard tea bags, bottled water may be more expensive than the tea. The picture changes with my new favourite: Newby Exclusive Estate Second Flush Darjeeling, from the Ging Estate (tel: 0800 136662 for information). At £99 for 100g - around 50p a cup - this may be the most expensive tea in the country, so bottled water makes sense. But try it with tap water first, because you never can tell.
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