A refreshing and calming evening of tea tasting in the swirling midst of London’s Soho at My Cup of Tea.
It had been a long week and I needed a Thursday night drink with a ‘put the world to rights’ catch up with my friend. I wasn’t convinced that an evening of tea tasting at My Cup of Tea would really do the trick – I’m English, I have tea all the time, it’s nothing special. Well, I was wrong. We spent an evening more relaxed that I would have been with a glass (ok, bottle) of wine and learnt more than I thought there was to know about tea.
My Cup of Tea is in the middle of the theatres, bars, hotels and restaurants that make up Soho, the huge windows allowing people to stare in from the dark London evening at what was brewing inside. Tea is recognised as the second most consumed drink in the world behind water, and after an evening of tasting teas from across Asia, it’s clear to see why – there’s a tea for everyone.
The evening started at 7pm and over the next hour and a half the small group of us were gently taken through the five types of tea on offer that evening: black, green, oolong, white and pu-erh (pronounced ‘poo-air’). With the tasting came details of how the tea leaves are processed and brewed to release specific flavours, as well as information about the tea drinking cultures around the world. We were shown the dry leaves first then drank from tiny tea bowls which the brewed tea was delicately spooned into, before breathing in the aroma of the wet leaves.
Cleansing our mouths with apricots between each tasting, we watched Fiona prepare the next round of tea, getting the temperature just right for each batch of leaves. Among the many things she told us while we were waiting, we learnt that the first brew of an oolong tea is just a wash to awaken the leaves, the second is drinkable but you can brew up to four cups from the same leaves.
There are 50 teas in the shop and we tried 14 throughout the evening, all derived from the same plant, Camellia Sinensis. All teas are made from the same top few leaves and sometimes a bud, but depending on how they are processed and brewed, when they are picked, what time of year, and where the plant is growing, alters the taste dramatically. As an earl grey with milk fan, my eyes were opened to the options out there and I’m rather ashamed it has taken me so long.
We were right in the middle of Soho, streams of people walking past on their way to dinner, drinks, the theatre, or whatever mission they were on. Hoods and umbrellas walked by, eyes peering through the glass intrigued by the private gathering. When a curious couple opened the door to find out what was going on, the dull bass of bar music, laughter and the sound of sirens seeped into the room. The door shut with a suction, like the air tight containers the teas are kept in, the outside noise a mere ripple in our quiet oasis of calm.
I still got my Thursday night drink but it came in the shape of a Darjeeling tea, the champagne of teas. In order for the tea to be recognised as a Darjeeling, it must come from a specific region, just like champagne from the champagne region of France. It has four flushes of new shoots – first, second, monsoon and autumnal – each with subtle taste differences. We tried a first flush Darjeeling and it was one of my favourite teas of the evening.
Fiona knows her tea. She smoothly took us through the 14 teas and expertly, without overwhelming us, gave us a huge amount of information about each tea. Her love of tea started with earl grey too and although she seems an expert to me, she says she has so much more to learn. I expect as she learns, she’ll be passing that knowledge on to her customers.
One of the group explained that he’s been teetotal for a few years and wanted to find a drink to help him wind down after a day at work and explained that Fiona and the team have been so helpful in educating him about what flavours are out there and giving him the knowledge to work out what he likes for himself. Every now and then throughout the evening, he and Fiona mentioned a tea he’d previously tried and it really showed how much care and attention goes into helping customers.
In fact, it was him who recommended the tea I bought at the end of the evening, a herbal chai tea in muslin tea bags. Teaware is available to buy to enrich your tea experience, beautifully laid out in the shop. The shop itself is compact but classy, the display of the teas and the prints on the wall very artfully done – lots in there but the feng shui of the shop made it feel very calm.
A few tea notes for us all – if you like fresh tea, store the leaves in air-tight containers, preferably not glass as light can affect the leaves. Also, don’t store them near other smells as tea will soak it up. Temperature is very important when brewing tea – too hot for green tea and it makes the tea taste bitter, not hot enough for other means it doesn’t awaken the leaves.
An evening of tea tasting is definitely a great alternative to cocktails. I mean, it’s basically the same as wine tasting but without the hangover, right?! Calming venue, friendly and knowledgeable staff, large number of teas available – a thoroughly recommended evening.
My Cup of Tea – tea tasting selection, in order:
- 2nd flush Assam
- 1st flush Darjeeling
- Japanese black tea
- Hunan black tea
Oolong Teas all from Taiwan:
- Organic oolong
- ‘Puchong’ oolong – means ‘wrapped’ how it used to be packaged
- Mao Jian – Chinese green tea which means ‘top tip’, literally top leaves of the plant
- Sencha – means brewing tea, best brewed at 60 degrees for 1 minute
- Hojicha – served as a welcome drink
- Silver needle
- White peony
- Pu-erh, cooked
- Pu-erh, fresh
My Cup of Tea
Location: 5 Denham Place, Soho, London, W1D 7AH.
Nearest tube is Piccadilly Circus.
Bookings via the My Cup of Tea website
T +44 (0) 20 7287 2255