Pink grapefruit, bergamot, lemon – they’re flavours you’re familiar with from some of the world’s most beautiful gins (like the 58 Gin in November's Gin of the Month box), but these brilliant botanicals are also the key to Whittard of Chelsea’s world-famous teas.
“Tea leaves and herbs are all used to balance blends, to ensure they aren’t too sweet or floral, but the aim is that the key flavour comes through,” says Bethan Thomas, Whittard’s Tea Product Manager. “It’s an experimental mix that works – like many a craft gin.”
Bethan grew up in Wales, where tea drinking was the order of every day, but it wasn’t until she was working on a graduate scheme in China that she discovered the true wonder of this incredible leaf.
“I was amazed when I saw the bus drivers in Shanghai drinking whole leaf tea from flasks,” she says, “and builders topping up their leaves with hot water from the tap. I fell in love with it there, and knew I wanted to work in the tea trade.”
So, Bethan sacked in her graduate scheme, and got a job with an independent tea company. “Some of my friends thought I was nuts, but it was the best decision I’ve ever made,” she says.
These days, Bethan is in charge of buying tea for Whittard of Chelsea, the stalwart of the British tea world. For over 130 years, Whittard has been buying and blending tea for the British public with a single aim: to buy the best.
Devoted to quality, creative connoisseurship and boundless exploration, Whittard’s approach to tea isn’t dissimilar to a craft distiller like Mark’s, making endless tweaks until the perfect blend emerges. And the tools are very much the same.
Take, for example, the bergamot in 58 Gin. It’s this very same botanical that gives the Whittard Earl Grey Tea in November's Gin of the Month box its beguiling fragrance and luminous citrus flavour. And, while they echo one another, there’s just enough difference that the comparison is endlessly fascinating; and gin lovers already have the skills to explore the variances.
“An appreciation of the complex mix of botanicals in gin is really well suited to tasting tea,” says Bethan. “Being able to identify multiple layers of flavour is completely translatable.”
From the chamomile in Whittard’s Dreamtime to the lavender in their Lavender Yerba Mate, the liquorice in their Liquorice Mint and the elderflower in their Elderflower Earl Grey, the botanical blends in Whittard Teas – which you can now discover month-by-month, courtesy of Whittard of Chelsea’s Tea Tasting Club – are as complex a construction as those that make up your favourite tipples.
As Bethan explains, “Botanicals come through more strongly than in comparison to most gins, but in a very similar way.”
So when you enjoy your next cuppa, savour the flavours - they're gin-tastic!