Second only to water, tea counts as the most consumed beverage on earth. The humble cup is recognised worldwide as a symbol of British culture, yet in mainland Europe specialty tea is still somewhat of a novelty – not for long though, if tea connoisseur Jens de Gruyter can help it!
Based in Berlin, de Gruyter and his passionate team have created an impressive tea emporium, offering an apothecary style set up where customers can rely on quality service to help them find a brew perfectly suited to their taste. We spoke with Paper & Tea’s Chief Teaist Thomas Langnickel-Stiegler to find out what exactly makes a strong cuppa tea so comforting.
How and when did your passion for tea begin?
There is no key moment that I could link my passion for tea to, but it was my mum who first got me in touch with what one could arguably call Germany’s only indigenous tea culture. Growing up in the 80s and 90s, I was also influenced during my early tea days by the catchphrase of a certain sci-fi show’s main character: “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.”
Why is a cup of tea so comforting?
Scientifically speaking I’d have to say that is due to the theanine, an amino acid almost exclusively found in the tea plant, camellia sinensis. Able to cross the blood–brain barrier, theanine stimulates the production of alpha waves: the increased levels of which are usually associated with states of relaxation and resilience toward stress. On a more holistic note, tea has the ability to keep you comfortably warm or freshen you up (Oh, the joys of sipping a cold-infused Japanese sencha in the morning!). What's more, the sensory pleasures of attentively brewing loose-leaf tea will most likely wrap you in [a feeling of] bliss and calm.
What's the best brew to relax with?
I always advise people to trust their own aromatic instincts. After all, it is about finding the tea that you personally can appreciate the most in that very moment. As for myself, I very much enjoy relaxing to a cup of ‘Sweet Dew’, an amazing white tea from Taiwan that is on par with the aromatic finesse and complexity of their local oolong teas. In the evenings, I frequently indulge in caffeine-free herbal infusions – you will never know what you have been missing until you try your first cup of lavender tisane! 'Chief Teaist' Thomas Langnickel-Stiegler
Is a teabag akin to drinking instant coffee?
Teabags can be seen as the sophisticated tea drinker’s arch enemy. However, the problem with teabags is less the bag itself, but rather its content: tiny pieces referred to as ‘fannings’ or dust in tea industry jargon. Those broken bits of tea relieve most of their aromatic compounds – wanted, as well as unwanted ones – at the same time. They make it close to impossible to come up with an aromatically well-balanced brew.
Is there a special technique you can recommend for making tea?
I’d recommend going for the simple, yet effective method of gongfu-inspired tea preparation. All you need is a brewing pot, a serving pot to keep the tea separate from the infused leaves, and some teacups. When I’m in a hurry, I am even more pragmatic, combining a Taiwanese teapot with my comparatively larger Japanese raku-style tea-bowl.
Can you share any funny facts about tea?
I’m not sure about the fun factor, but it might come handy for those who have kept wondering how much tea to actually put in a teapot: Did you know that the term teaspoon actually has its roots in the measuring of tea? It’s quite convenient a way to measure the appropriate amount of tea leaves – which is roughly three grams for a medium sized Taiwanese teapot.