Blog as told to Becca Grey by Johnny…..
Tea is one of life’s pure pleasures. It’s even good for you. Becca and I start the day with a shared pot of tea every day we are at home. Our favourite variety is Chinese Keemun, sometimes known as Russian Caravan. There is nothing so wonderful as the first cup of the day, a natural gently aromatic brew that comforts and stimulates (mildly) the happy drinker. Late afternoon, whether at home or on the road, is another point in the day for a ritual and extremely welcome pot of tea. Accessing good brew outside of home is not nearly as easy as it should be though in a country famous for its love of tea.
We prefer China to Indian, clearly swimming against the tide since the most popular teabag tea, ‘builders’’, is Indian. (I like this label but find ‘lesbian’ for herbal teas a bit Clarkson, though hard to resist at certain moments like the end of a dinner party.) The discovery of a proper tea merchant with a large range of loose-leaf teas is always a relief then as well as a pleasure. Cardew’s in the Covered Market in Oxford is one of these, another favourite the excellent stall in Cambridge market. Imagine our delight when taking a walk through the old centre of York this month we came across Hebden Teas. In a medieval shop in the Shambles, Okan Ok the proprietor has a truly amazing range, including special cakes of aged compacted tea that you gouge leaves off with a small knife. The first thing we noticed was a couple of steaming pots for passers-by to sample displayed on the broad wooden shelf that once fronted all the old shops under their windows onto the street. Inside we found an oriental treasure house, a revelation and education in the human relationship with camellia sinensis in all its varieties. You can visit the shop online at www.hebdentea.com. Nothing beats going to York though and talking tea with Okan. His collection of teapots and cups and glasses is impossible to resist, but why try: isn’t it an innocent pleasure to drink tea out of a new cup made of china or fine glass, maybe decorated with some hand-drawn cherry blossom, maybe elegantly plain?
Tea is of course the ultimate sociable drink, sharing a cuppa at the kitchen table a timeless expression of friendliness and homeliness. Tea comforts and revives us, even possibly protecting against cancer. It is herbal and also ordinary, democratic. You can enjoy it with food or on its own, with milk and/or sugar or without, milk in first or last (an important issue in the past for people exercised about social status). A global product with a fascinating history, it also provides another precious connection for me, with Fu- Tung Cheng, an architect colleague who runs Teance, a teahouse in Berkeley, California. Fu-Tung, who has written a book on concrete and designed specialized furniture for tea making and serving, draws a parallel between tea and wine. The Chinese, he told me, drink tea just like the French their wine. Terroir is crucial, then cultivation, artisanal production and the culture and practices around tea’s preparation and serving. Just like the grape, the tea leaf is a plant product from which we create one of the blessings of life.