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Loose leaf tea

I've decided to branch out from my usual teabags and try some decent loose-leaf stuff - no point in having beautiful teapots if they're never used properly!

I've seen Limster's lovely thread on Postcard Teas, which I will visit soon, but I wondered if anyone else can recommend places in London to buy good-quality tea, or anywhere online? I'm interested more in black teas for everyday drinking than green/white etc.

I've seen in Waitrose that Twinings have started doing £7 bags of loose tea, but I'm not convinced.

Also if anyone knows a good brand of masala chai, bagged or otherwise, I'd be very grateful for that, too. The bags I got from the Indian section in Tesco are like bathwater.

Thanks :)

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  1. The best masala chai mix I've had is from Orange Pekoe in Barnes. It's spicy enough that I like to mix it 50/50 with a good English Breakfast. Orange Pekoe is, in general, my favourite place to buy black tea, as well as taste and get a feel for the different types. If you go there, try to snag the Kiwi gentleman: he's consistently the best informed of the staff. The teas are great, and they do a mean cream tea as well.

    When I'm not feeling that flush, however, I get the giant bags of Ceylon by Ahmad Tea, from the Lebanese shops on Edgeware Road.

    2 Replies
    1. re: tavegyl

      Good tip, thanks; will have to find a free afternoon and try their cream tea :)

      1. re: tavegyl

        By happy coincidence the bf was playing rugby at Chiswick RFC on Saturday so I had lunch at Orange Pekoe. A lovely goats cheese and fig salad, followed by a pot of delicate-tasting earl grey. Completely overwhelmed by the amount of milk and sugar I would usually put in so clearly there's a lot to learn about good tea! Unfortunately with the bf's stroppy little brother in tow there was no time to browse the teas to buy but I'll definitely be returning to have a look. And to eat cake! Thanks for the recc :)

      2. Hi there - I buy my spiced masala teabags, £1.50 for 40 (chai express brand) from an Asian supermarket in Green st upton park. don't know the name but may be going this weekend so will be able to post exact address. Nearer into town you may be able to get them from the supermarkets in brick lane

        1 Reply
        1. re: DietStartsTomorrow

          Thanks for that, will keep an eye out for that brand in the indian places near me. The one I have is Palanquin.

        2. If not Postcard Teas then Essence of Tea in Falmouth do some teas that the former doesn't stock so much of - particularly some stunning young and aged raw pu-erh. They do some exceptional black and oolongs as well (a sweet, slightly blackcurranty Sun Moon Lake black tea and the handmade roasted yanchas are my favourite) and you can order online by the gram, so you don't need to spend a lot of money to try them out.

          For a masala chai, Postcard Teas's is actually very good but I don't drink chai that much so I don't know how it compares to other brands.

          1. Can you really ever get a good masala chai in a bag? Isn't the essence of the drink that you boil cheap (CTC) tea with condensed milk and spices etc to get a strong brew. Isn't a tea bag dunked in hot water is always going to be a poor substitute? It also intrigues me that refined tea shops sell versions of it - it's analogous to selling bags to make "English builders tea" it's a street tea that doesn't benefit from being taken upmarket.

            6 Replies
            1. re: PhilD

              Bags have their pluses I think Phil, e.g. they can be removed from the teapot to regulate strength. A single Earl Grey bag removed after no more than 1 1/2 minutes in the pot gives me 3 cups of equal strength non stewed tea over the next 45 minutes. You need a good cosy of course.

              1. re: Robin Joy

                Robin - I was being specific about Masala chai not tea in general.

                Limiter - agree it isn't "thoughtlessly boiled to death" but wouldn't you say that boiling the tea, spices, milk etc together is the essence of the brew. I just can't see how a bag is a shortcut to the real deal. And because of alll the other highly flavoured ingredients masala chai isn't about the quality of the tea.

                1. re: PhilD

                  Indeed, and I can certainly follow instructions to make masala chai the proper way with whole spices. I'm not looking for a bag to be a shortcut to the real deal, just to a quick version that tastes nice. Which is the point of all tea bags, I think. However as I know from the bags of dust we have at work, and the flavourless chai I bought, not all bags are created equal!

                  1. re: PhilD

                    There's nothing fundamental that excludes one from putting the proper type of tea and spices into a bag -- it's possible to boil a bag containing all the tea and spices etc i milk or water. Nor is one limited to the what's in the bag, in Moti Mahal's example, they use tea bags and add ginger slices among other things.

                    The quality (as in goodness or bad) of the tea is relative, not absolute, and depends on the context in which it is used. A good tea is one that makes the brew tastes better. For masala chai, the properties of the tea is important, and it should be robust enough, for balance against the other ingredients.

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                    Moti Mahal
                    45 Great Queen Street, London WC2B 5AA, GB

                    1. re: limster

                      No nothing to prevent you putting appropriate ingredients in a bag but I suspect few "boil the bag" with the milk and water and instead simply dip the bag in boiled water much like a standard tea - thus the result is far from the real deal as the boiling is required to get the right

                      I would have though "quality" has to be relative to another tea not to the purpose it is used for. I do agree you need to choose the appropriate quality of tea for the purpose, And thus it is a waste to use high quality tea for masala chai as the delicate flavors will be lost, far better to save that for a simple brew where the qualities of the tea stand alone. That is why Masala Chai is made from CTC a cheap industrial/processed tea that has a very robust flavor that stands up to the spices, the high quality (Darjeeling) teas from India would be wasted as their subtle complex flavors would be lost.

                      1. re: PhilD

                        But there's nothing to stop people from boiling the tea bag either -- that's how Moti Mahal does it. If the water or milk are hot enough and the teapot prewarmed, it becomes less of an issue; besides, one can get a more robust tea flavour by simply using more tea, which is often a slightly better approach as it reduces the astringency.

                        Sounds like we'll have to disagree on our definitions of quality.

                        But masala chai does not necessarily have to made from cheap industrial processed tea; there are varieties of Assam or Sri Lankan teas that can synergise with various spices and could work better in this scenario. The issue is choosing a tea with the suitable flavour profile.

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                        Moti Mahal
                        45 Great Queen Street, London WC2B 5AA, GB

              2. For bagged masala chai, might be worth trying those from Mighty Leaf. I haven't had their masala chai, but have liked other teas of theirs over the years. Masala chai is not a thoughtlessly boiled to death beverage and it's not just about the tea, the spices et al also play an important role in the ensemble. In the hands of resourceful chowhounds, it provides an opportunity for thoughtful customisation. Add judicious amounts of whole spices or slices of raw ginger to the tea when brewing or sweeten with various types of sugar (I remember particularly enjoying the jaggery with the masala chai at Moti Mahal).

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                Moti Mahal
                45 Great Queen Street, London WC2B 5AA, GB