How often have you looked up on boards at your favourite local tea or coffee shop and seen the words "speciality tea"? It's certainly an over-used phrase these days with dusty herbal and fruit infusions seemingly making the cut simply because they differ from your regular black breakfast tea.
It has yet to be defined by any global specification or regulation so how do we, as a "speciality" tea company define it?
Initially, it's really important to distinguish between 'proper tea' derived from the Camellia Sinensis plant and botanical tisanes, infusions of fruit and herbs.
The "proper" tea plant is at the origin of all black tea, green tea, oolong tea, white tea and pu'erh. Much like wine its colour, flavour and character will vary from the region the plant is grown, its soil conditions and climate, the cultivation and plucking methods, how the leaf is processed, manufactured and finally, but also extremely important, how it is allowed to brew!
For mass produced tea which ends up in economy teabags, low grade tea leaves, ground up into dust after being mechanically harvested in countries where the tea plant can flourish all-year-round (with no distinctive seasonal flavour) is the order of the day. This rough and ready method of production came about as the popularity of the quick fix teabag soared after the 1950s.
Although not technically "tea" and despite there being some argument amongst tea purists, we believe high grade botanical infusions, or tisanes, such as Peppermint, Chamomile or Rooibos should also be included in the speciality tea category. Again, mass-produced, dusty iterations are not applicable.
In both cases, the words "high grade" are significant. What sets speciality tea apart is the way in which it has been produced and thus the quality and flavour of the finished product. Speciality teas and tea blends will primarily feature whole leaf teas or flowers or leaves, sometimes handpicked but primarily harvested and processed with extra care and integrity, meaning they are inherently ethically sourced. Fruit teas that fall into this category will often feature whole pieces of fruit and natural, not nature-identical, flavourings. Moreover, these teas will be primarily artisan in nature; all of the teas in our range are hand-blended and hand-packed.
With no bag to hide inside, loose leaf tea is the safest gauge that what you're getting is speciality but many speciality brands - including us - now put these very same loose leaf products into roomy, soilon, biodegradable tea bags. These large bags allow for larger ingredients to be used as there is still room for them to expand for optimum steeping.
Of course, premium and speciality labels command a higher price but we believe it is absolutely worth it. So next time you order a speciality tea and get anything less than the quality outlined above, demand better!