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No two teas are the same: Stephen Twining

Tea maestro Stephen H B Twining talks about the passion he has had for the drink since childhood, and tells us what makes a perfect cup of tea. Twining, 10th generation member of the famed Twining tea family is the director, corporate relations of Twinings, the famous 300-year-old tea company that pioneered tea culture in Britain.

india Updated: Mar 22, 2012 13:23 IST
Hindustan Times

Stephen H B Twining, 10th generation member of the famed Twining tea family is the director, corporate relations of Twinings, the famous 300-year-old tea company that pioneered tea culture in Britain. (Queen Victoria honoured the company in 1837 appointing Twinings as a supplier of tea to the Queen and every successive British Monarch). Twining got hooked to the family business at the age of eight, and would host tea-tasting sessions for his friends. Twining made his first official trip to India recently.

Stephen Twining drinks 10 cups of tea a day. For the 10th generation Twining, tea is not just one drink or a flavour. “You can’t be drinking the same tea throughout the day”, says Stephen, who grew up in a house where tea was always a part of the conversation.

“I love the diversity of taste that different teas offer. That’s why I drink different teas at different times of the day. A mellow Darjeeling is a very different cup to a big bold malty Assam, and each comes with wonderful health benefits,” he says.

Stephen’s earliest memories of the drink are about the enthusiasm his parents had for the ‘wonderful gift of nature’. “I remember my parents waking up to a cup of revitalising English Breakfast, and the pleasure that each cup gave them,” he says.

His ‘tea chart’ features “an invigorating cup of English Breakfast, the original Earl Grey for lunch, a delicate green tea with lemon on a hot sunny afternoon and infusions such as Chamomile or Peppermint for the perfect evening experience”.

But to make that perfect cup of tea, you must know how to make tea the right way. What ruins your tea completely is under brewing the tea bag.

“This is the most common mistake people make,” he says. If you make a cup of tea in a mug (which is not wrong) you can watch the process. After 30 seconds, the colour washes off the tea leaves, and makes the cup of tea appear ready. However, colour in tea is not the flavour, explains Stephen. It takes a full three minutes to get the flavour and the antioxidants off the tea leaves. “So, please be patient while making a cup of tea. As a tea bag is a convenient way of making tea, but not an instant one,” he says.

Talking about tea culture in India, Stephen says, “Tea in India, like in the UK, is part of the fabric of life. I love the local, traditional way of drinking tea in India, but I also see more tea drinkers seeking different taste experiences and being more adventurous.” While the traditional cup will always be part of people's lives, the addition of a special tea for the right moment in the day is a trend that is emerging in India, says the tea master.

Twining gives us a glimpse of tea tasting and Twinings blending process. “ Our tea tasters and blender specialise in one of the world’s growing areas, so over time build up a huge wealth of knowledge about the teas they are buying.”

Twining lets them buy the teas of the right quality that they need for the blends that they are in charge of. “It is a great skill, thus at least five years training is required, and with their refined set of taste buds they can not only mix (blend) different teas together, but also ensure that the mouth feel of the tea is the same, as is the colour.” All these elements are variables and so need to be carefully assessed for each individual tea that is going to be mixed together to reproduce the flavour of the blend of that name.

Get that perfect cup of tea
Use clean equipment. Tea pots should be cleaned with bicarbonate of soda (baking soda), and not detergent.
Use fresh cold water.
Warm the pot. Tea requires full heat to brew properly.
Select the correct amount of tea. The greater the ratio of tea to water, the more intense the flavour will be. One tea bag is perfect of
a cup or small mug.
Use the water just as it comes to the boil. Do not let the water reach a rolling boil. That would spoil the tea.
Note the exception for green teas. Allow the water to boil, and then it cool for 3 to 4 minutes. If you use boiling water, then the
green tea will produce a bitter taste.
Allow it to brew and then stir. Tea bags need at least three minutes to release the antioxidants and full flavour. Loose leaf teas
take longer.
Serve the tea and leave it up to the drinker to choose if they like milk or lemon in their tea.
Rinse the pot and store the tea leaves in an air tight box to keep them fresh. Never store tea in the fridge or freezer.

First Published: Mar 21, 2012 16:15 IST