time for tea

Time for Tea – Sushi & Robata Grill and Canton Tea Co

What is the strangest thing that you have smuggled across Customs and Border Protection? Chewing gum into Singapore? Sobrasada from Majorca? Well, let me tell you about the time that my mother smuggled three Camellia Sinensis tea saplings all the way from China. These were to supposed to keep the family in ready tea supply for perpetuity but sadly the British weather had other plans.

Clearly we are quite obsessed with tea, but the beautiful thing about tea is the obsession it inspires across the world. Widely believed to have originated in China, it comes as no surprise that its status in Chinese culture is particularly significant. Owing to its bitter taste, discoverers took it for medicine, along with other “bitter vegetables” such as chicory and sowthistle. “Big Red Robe”, a type of Oolong tea, was even christened after its healing properties – when the Empress Dowager was cured with brew from its leaves, the emperor decorated the bushes with his red robes. Over time, tea usage changed from medicinal, to ceremonial, to pedestrian. Today, it is both a drink for officious and ordinary times.

Oolong

Da Hong Pao. Photo credit: A Lux

It was only until the 17th century that tea hit British shores, initially peddled under the dubious name of “China-water”. Hard now to imagine this island nation without it – is there anything more quintessentially British than Builders’ Brew? These days, you can even buy tea grown in Scotland.

In recent years, interest in other varieties has developed, perhaps stoked by a combination of scientific evidence and clever marketing. Now elevated to the halcyon heights of a “super food”, tea is commonly pitched as a stress-relieving, fat busting, anti-oxidant super brew. Aside from the 6 official types of tea (white, yellow, green, oolong, black and pu-er), retailers have unleashed their creativity to bring us everything from Opium Smoke to Pandan Chiffon and a whole host of similarly Willy Wonka-esque blends in between. The proliferation of choice has also been stoked by the emergence of artisan tea boutiques, who work hard to source more obscure teas and support small scale farmers from around the world.

Canton Tea Co is one such tea boutique, focusing on artisan, small and ethical tea growers based in China and Taiwan.

canton tea co

 

On 22 November, they partnered with the newly opened Sushi and Robata Grill at the Kensington branch of Wholefoods to host a 7 course supper featuring Japanese food paired and (mostly) Chinese tea. Each dish was served with a specially selected tea, and the tea was also incorporated as a base ingredient in each dish. Yes it’s true – the pairing menu concept shows no sign of abating…Having said that, experiencing a foreign interpretation of traditional Chinese tea culture was educational and refreshing.  Any destressing/ cholesterol inhibiting/ antioxidant properties obviously provided added peace of mind.

time for tea

Canton Jasmine Pearls, rich and gold.

time for tea

The Menu

Our menu for the evening was prepared by Masa Tanaka, Executive Chef at Sushi and Robata:

7 Tasting Plates Matched with Canton Teas

English Breakfast Jelly in Tomato & Tomato Carpaccio with Japanese Green Tea Dressing and Alfalfa Sprout

Canton Jasmine Pearls

Mackerel Sashimi cured with Genmaicha

Canton Hojicha

Jasmine Cha Wan Mu Shi (steamed savory custard)

Canton Dragon Well

Prawn and Broccoli Tempura in Green Tea Batter and with Matcha Sea Salt

Canton Triple Mint

Salt Baked Hojicha Duck Leg

Canton Chocolate Tea

Sencha Smoked Scallops

Canton Big Red Robe

Ice Cream Tempura with Earl Grey Ice Cream

Shochu

 

time for tea

English Breakfast Jelly in Tomato and Tomato Carpaccio

Highlights

time for tea

Mackerel sashimi

time for tea

Prawn tempura with matcha sea salt

Needless to say, the food was oishii. Pairing food with tea was also a bit of a revelation – there is nothing like finishing a 7 course meal still feeling light as air.

Chocolate Tea

All of the teas we tasted were familiar to me, excepting the Chocolate tea. I later learned that this blend was specially created for the Chesterfield Hotel (who put on a Willy Wonka themed afternoon tea, go figure), using a combination of Yunnan black tea and Indian Assam. The gourmand notes came from the addition of Madagascan vanilla and Peruvian Cocao Nibs.  An utter olfactory marvel, one could happily inhale its scent all day…and more marvelous still that the chocolate matched excellently with the smoky brined duck. Douze points!

time for tea

Brined duck in preparation

time for tea

time for tea

Sencha smoked scallops, masquerading as pearl nuggets

Purists would perhaps find this free-handedness with tea drinking a little insulting – why dilute your enjoyment of prize tea by mixing it with food, and rushing back and forth between so many different types? Greedy.

Then again, they are missing out on the marvellous way in which culture and traditions are continually reinvented over time. This constant re-inventing of cultures is a wonderful thing, and what ultimately preserves it. In this case, tea culture traveled from East to West, and is now returning under a new guise.

The tension between the need to innovate and a desire to preserve is perpetual, but isn’t it exciting when we make waves?

And to end with some wisdom –

Top tips for tea brewing:

  • Tea bags are easy, but please don’t deprive yourself of the deliciousness of loose leaf
  • Once you’ve chosen your preferred loose leaf blend, such as this, you can reuse your loose leaf tea 2-3 times
  • Don’t use boiling water. I usually turn the kettle off before it reaches the rolling boil. This saves energy and also saves your tea from being destroyed by heat and from turning too bitter
  • Use a tea pot with a removable tea leaf holder, so you can remove the leaves after about 3 minutes. Any longer and you’re making tannin soup.

And what about sake? Want to chat about that?

time for tea

About Canton Tea Co

Canton Tea was founded in 2007 in London by Jennifer Wood. For years she had been unwittingly drinking some of the most expensive green tea in the world, a Pouchong given to her each spring by a tea-farmer friend in Taiwan.

It was the love of this tea that inspired the business. After a career as a copywriter in brand design, she wanted to create a company around the authentic pleasure of handmade tea.

Edgar Thoemmes, a natural entrepreneur with a gift for technology and a highly developed taste for fine tea, soon joined Jennifer. They set out to source the very best teas in the world, travelling to tea farms, meeting the producers and learning about tea. The learning never stops.

Over the years Canton Tea has developed partnerships with the best, most experienced artisans and tea professionals. From Jennifer’s kitchen table, we’ve grown to become one of the UK’s top specialist tea companies with over 120 teas. We now supply Five Star hotels, Michelin-starred restaurants, cool cafes, high-end delis, John Lewis, Harrods and thousands of discerning web customers worldwide.

 

 

Sake no Hana

Sake Class at Sake no Hana

I hardly drink (it’s true). And I certainly don’t drink in the morning. However, accepting that great sacrifices are often made in the name of academic research, I bravely set off to the West End one Saturday to face a long alcoholic morning ahead. “Unwise!” I hear you cry, but no ordinary Alcoholics Anonymous was this. Rather, I had heard tell of a sake class that takes place on a mysteriously irregular selection of Saturdays during the year, at one of my favourite establishments in London. This was the Sake Class at Sake no Hana.

Sake Class at Sake no Hana

The class has been running for some time now. According to Christine Parkinson, Head Wine Buyer for the Hakksan Group, it began with the boom in London’s Japanese dining scene. The Hakkasan Group run several Asian fine dining spots across the city (also, the world), and as interest in the cuisine picked up, so did an interest in pairing the food with alcohol of appropriate provenance – sake. With sake being so unfamiliar to Western sommeliers, it soon became evident that some training was needed to help with the curation of more authentic and well informed food-alcohol parings. This was the genesis of the Sake no Hana sake class.

Although initially developed expressly for the group’s sommeliers, the course was eventually extended to the general public. Now the opportunity to receive all the training of the Hakkasan sommeliers – with none of the exams at the end – is open to all who book onto Sake no Hana’s Saturday Sake Class.

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The class takes place in Sake no Hana’s downstairs bar. I was lucky enough to attend while the Sakura at Sake no Hana display was still on. In my experience, frothy boughs of cherry blossom and occasional wafts of Floris’ Cherry Blossom scent are highly conducive to pleasurable sake experiences.

Sakura at Sake no Hana
Square Meal

The Content:

As the instructors take a “blank page” approach, the course is truly suitable for anyone. The breadth is wide, but Christine and Anthony have taken a thoughtful approach to curriculum design. During the class, we learnt about the production, the history, the culture, the physical taste – and fundamentally, the art of sake appreciation.

Sake Students

 

The information was relayed in a conversational, engaging style and crucially, interspersed with regular tasting. The class ended with a five course flourish, which guests were able to order from the Taste of Sake no Hana menu. Each course came paired with more sake, naturally.

 

Sake Glass

 

All in all, we tasted five different sakes over the course of the morning. Lunch came accompanied by another three, one of which was served at two different temperatures. (They say that there are three drinks in every sake bottle: one cold, one hot and one at room temperature). I am amazed to say that I still made it on time to collect my mother for our afternoon engagements afterwards.

 

Lunch

 

From sparkling to cloudy, traditional to modern, in a couple of hours we leapfrogged centuries of sake innovation. Whether you are a veteran or a novice, tasting eight sakes in close proximity will induce awe at the spectrum of flavour that can be coaxed out of such humble raw materials.

 

Two Sakes

 

 

Cloudy and Ginjo

But no more spoilers! You will want to try the course for yourselves. Just make sure you haven’t planned too much for the rest of the day – the sake deserves your full and undivided attention.

A special mention to James, our very diligent and excellent sommelier, who attentively filled everyone’s glasses throughout the day. Eight sakes and a room full of guests…that’s a lot of patient pouring.

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In a nutshell:

Location:

The bar at Sake no Hana, Green Park

Timing and Dates:

Select Saturdays, 10.15am – 3pm

Course content:

Learn to appreciate sake, its production process, history and culture. Try sake alone and paired with food, hot, chilled and room temperature.

Your sake instructors Christine Parkinson (Wine Buyer for the Hakkasan Group) and Anthony Rose (of The Independent and The Wine Gang) will make sure you leave well-watered, and well fed. Students will walk away with the confidence to choose their own sake and a generous goody bag of sake treats.

Price:

£60 per person, including sake class and 5 course lunch from the Taste of Sake no Hana menu.

Future Dates and Bookings:

Class runs around 3-4 times per year. Check on the website or email [email protected]