Which teas to choose for a tea menu: our guiding principles and tips
Whether you are a tearoom, café, restaurant or hotel you might be pondering the thought “which teas should I choose for a tea menu to offer our customers, diners or guests?” There are several approaches to answering this question but I would start with trying to define your customers and, if not your ideal profile, which customers would you like to attract?
There are a bewildering number of tea choices available on the market these days and tea is available in so many formats.
Loose leaf tea?
To deliver the best taste to your diners use loose leaf. The larger leaf means that it doesn’t brew too quickly so there is time for the full flavour profile to be infused. Small leaf teas, by contract, infuse quickly but for black teas the tannins can pass so rapidly that the liquor soon becomes unbearable so brewing has to stop.
For many people loose leaf tea is considered inconvenient and messy. Personally I think this is just group-think which defies some of the realities of preparing tea. Teabags can contain only small leaf teas so the problem of tannins can be acute. For some, at considerably greater expense, the alternative is to use larger leafed teas contained in infusion bags. These can be made from nylon or cellulose and hence the latter is bio-degradable and it is these that we are able to offer our customers. The range is limited however as it is only the best-selling teas that can be packed in this form as there are high minimum production runs for packing these teas. Either way, teabags or infusion bags still produce hot, damp, dripping blobs!
As we only offer large leaf grades of loose leaf tea to our online retail customers it may come as no surprise that it is these teas that we are most enthusiastic about. There is a huge range and these teas will yield the best, most balanced flavours. Being loose leaf, customers can easily appreciate the quality of these handmade teas.
How many teas should I have?
Now that I have got that issue off my chest, I need to address the central point of which teas to choose for your menu or tea list. Naturally, these days, with wider appreciation amongst consumers of good food and drink generally an appropriate range of options needs to be offered. It is important not to offer a bewildering choice, especially if that creates the unfortunate impression of unpopular teas sitting in a dusty box at the back!
For a café that mostly serves coffee a choice of four teas would be a good general choice. Possibly English Breakfast, Good Afternoon! blend, a malty Assam and Pinhead Gunpowder China green tea. English Breakfast, being so very popular needs a little explanation: ours is somewhat lighter than many, containing a little Darjeeling. To satisfy those who enjoy a more robust tea our Good Morning! blend contains no Darjeeling and contains rich, tangy Kenyan tea.
Classic teas that customers ask for
Tearooms, almost by definition, are expected to offer a much more comprehensive choice of teas encompassing blends as well as single-origin unblended teas. As a general rule I would expect about a dozen choices which might include less well-known blends such as Russian Caravan, so moreish because of the oolong teas it contains and even our Diamond Jubilee blend which contains a classic combination of Darjeeling and China black teas. Green teas such as Yunnan Green or Japanese Sencha Fukujyu can prove popular. Ceylon, Assam, Darjeeling and China Keemun have long proved popular and I would recommend to have a good example of these teas such as our Ceylon Kenilworth, Assam Dikom, Darjeeling Margaret’s Hope and Keemun Peony. For customers that know their teas staple speciality teas such as these would be expected on your list!
Flavoured teas – where do I start?
Whilst these are so many flavoured teas and flower infusions available now we tend to focus upon teas which will not have a faddish following and leave you with a lot of teas once requested but then all too easily forgotten. We do however offer a good range of classic flavoured black and green teas and even a devine flavoured oolong tea. White teas are however very subtle and we believe that these teas should not be flavoured as these expensive teas can be totally overwhelmed by other flavours. Flavoured black teas such as mango and blackcurrant have proved popular and flavoured green teas such as rose or vanilla always prove to be in demand. Orange Blossom Oolong ads a little element of surprise which will undoubtedly go down well.
Should I charge extra for loose leaf teas?
Some establishments charge a premium for loose leaf teas. I think this is a mistake. A decision needs to be made as to your stance on tea quality. It sets the tone for the quality of your food and drink. Loose leaf tea need not be expensive and can present much better value than infusion bags. There are however a few important points that need to be considered before deciding whether you can successfully serve loose leaf tea. Can your staff devote a little more time to preparing tea? A certain attention to detail is important: can they use freshly boiled water from a kettle? Do not use an urn maintained at a constant temperature and at below boiling point and too often lacking in oxygen. Do you have ceramic teapots with a ’cage’ at the base of the spout to retain the leaf when poured? Many modern pots are made more cheaply, all-in-one without this. The leaf then has the unfortunate consequence of blocking the spout and passing to the cup. Can staff ask the customer to wait a few minutes whilst their tea infuses? Can you afford not to be too mean with the tea – conventionally black tea needs one teaspoon for the pot plus one per cup. There is nothing worse than an insipid, weak cup of premium tea to cause manic disillusionment when a fabulous cup of speciality tea is anticipated.
Pairing teas with food dishes
For restaurants and hotels the question of what teas to offer with food dishes on the various menus is a highly relevant question. Too often in Britain we think of cakes, biscuits, scones and sandwiches. Consider the wonderful China green teas, oolongs and even black teas that can transform the experience of eating some more subtly flavoured dishes. I am thinking here of teas without milk. Jasmine teas would be the most obvious example of a tea which we commonly think of accompanying savoury foods but there are many other green and oolong teas worth pairing with savoury foods. They can be delightfully refreshing and complex to complement the food’s character.
We make our teas available in 1kilo bags or even 2.5 kilos for the most popular. For less frequently served teas we can offer these in 125 gram and 250 gram packets so that there is the opportunity to offer real choice without the danger of some, such as green or white teas passing their best.
Use suitable teapots
Returning to the common attitude amongst many in food service that loose tea is messy I would like to stress the cleanliness and simplicity offered by glass infusion teapots with integral, removable stainless-steel infusers. These make superb tea to just the right strength, the infuser can be removed and placed on a saucer if desired and the leaf can later be simply tapped into a bin – no mess! And think of the choices you can offer, at great value to you and your customers. If you plan to serve tea from more conventional china and ceramic teapots remember to make sure these have a cage at the base of the spout.
We have over one hundred and fifty loose leaf teas in stock including all China’s famous (Tribute) teas so there are many we have not mentioned here. We would be eager to hear your dining and tea-drinking ideas and would be delighted to advise on suitable teas to put on your tea list or menu. We can also explain how these teas can be best prepared so that there character can be most appreciated. So it’s over to you – do get in touch with us!