By Lauren Jade Hill
“People are engaging with fine tea like they once did a couple of hundred years ago and the way we do with fine wine,” Jameel Lalani, founder of fine tea purveyor Lalani & Co enthuses. We’re in Thomas’s Café at Burberry London where dishes on the menu are paired with Lalani & Co tea. Dedicated to finding the best single batch teas from around the world, Lalani & Co supply the teas fresh and after aging them, then introduce them to people with the full story behind them, so people can appreciate the best there is in the world.
While commodity black tea has long been a staple in western culture, more people are now looking for something better. As the trend for provenance continually increases in food culture, so does the interest in the provenance of tea. Now, discerning tea drinkers are showing interest in seasonality and the farm to table journey, placing more importance on quality than quantity. “People are now asking where their tea is from and how’s it made,” Jameel explains, “instead of asking about milk and sugar, they’re asking what temperature they should infuse it at. People are getting more into fine tea in the way people are interested in fine wine. In the same way wine has transplanted well into eastern culture, fine tea is doing the same in the west. The product adjusts to the culture and habits of the country it’s in, so here we are relating the new way of looking at tea to appreciating wine.”
Jameel developed his appreciation for tea at an early age, discovering the silk covered tearooms of Tunisia at just four years of age. From then on he went from drinking mint tea to discovering green tea, black tea and Darjeeling, then graduated on to finding out about the complexities of tea, from the first flush and second flush to where it’s grown. After studying biochemistry, he followed his passion and began Lalani & Co seven years ago.
Throughout this time, Jameel has seen the trend for drinking tea flourish and now he spends his time seeking out exceptional tea growers around the world and introducing their tea leaves to buyers here. “Every region has its own specialty,” he explains, “Taiwan is particularly famous for its oolong because their high mountain tea is soft, floral and creamy in its character. Japan is known for exceptional green tea; the green leaf tea there is big, bold and savory. And Kenya is an incredible emerging tea destination, with Hawaii growing interesting teas too.”
“I love Japanese green tea. They’re so distinctive. The beauty of Japan is taking something and making it better and better, and that comes through in the tea. Japanese green tea embodies Japan’s culture; it’s beautifully refined, it’s simple but exceptional, it’s umami and very smooth. I also like aged Taiwanese Oolongs and there’s something about first flush Darjeelings when it first comes into season. Elevation is important too. Higher elevation tea is more complex and delicate, and with the hotter days and cooler nights that you get at high elevations, the growth of tea is much slower, which concentrates the flavor, making it more intense.”
A part of the role Jameel plays in spreading the appreciation of fine tea is training the staff of the restaurants he supplies, recommending which ones work well with particular dishes on the menu and how they should be infused, in infusion-ware Lalani & Co provides. Jameel also meets with individual clients for tea pairing lunches and brunches to tell them about the producers, elevations and soil types, and the difference they ultimately make. “When you have the quality and the story behind it, you get the full experience. If a green tea is savory, they know it’s because it’s shade grown. That’s where the appreciation comes from.”
“When you’re doing a tea pairing it’s like pairing wine with food. Are you going to match them or create a contrast to highlight each flavor? With Japanese green tea, the umami flavor makes it easy to match with umami dishes such as fish.” Here at Thomas’s Café we have the green tea with halibut that’s cooked in a tomato, bean and basil sauce. This is following a pot of oolong, which we had paired with asparagus, a poached egg and Hollandaise sauce. “People don’t always want alcohol, so tea fills that gap,” Jameel continues, “It has the provenance, terroir and complexity of fine wine, so if someone isn’t drinking, they can pair dishes with tea. It has seasonality and a story behind it and it allows you to enjoy the dining experience fully.”
Each tea canister of Lalani & Co tea comes with a picture of where the tea is from, with information on its season and producer, just like you’d see on a bottle of wine. “In the future, we predict people will start buying and aging their tea because they know in five years it will be at its best, just like you’d save a fine wine. It took 15 or 20 years for real wine appreciation to go from new and exciting to being well established, so with tea we’re about five years in to what could be a 20-year trend that is just going to get bigger and bigger. With the history and craft behind tea and its flavor profiles, tea appreciation is going to be a skill that you’ll want to have, both at home and when you’re traveling.”
Discover fine tea with Lalani & Co by going over to lalaniandco.com.