Serendipity Do Da, Hampstead Tea and Indian Summers!
Serendipity can happen at any moment, and is a marvellous, unfathomable thing.
Back in 1989, Kiran, the founder of Hampstead Tea, was standing at a bus stop in the centre of London, feeling homesick for India, and wondering how she could jump off the merry go round of juggling two small children, a home and a job as a management consultant, when she ran into Sherpa Tenzing’s granddaughter, Jaing, and had a brief, yet utterly magical conversation in the street.
An Unforgettable Trip to the Indian Tea Council
Jaing told her she had just left The Indian Tea Council, where she had tasted the most exquisite organic teas from a tea estate in North India, and she urged Kiran to go to the tasting and try them for herself. Looking back, Kiran said there was something very compelling about Jaing Tensing; so that she felt she had to go.
The next day she took the afternoon off and went along to the tea tasting. There she met Rajah, the remarkable and somewhat retiring owner of the Makaibari Tea Estate and sampled tea that was truly out of this world. Teas of such purity, taste and authenticity, that instantly transported Kiran back to the rituals and traditions of her homeland. “I really love tea,” says the ebullient, Kiran, who is dressed in a striking, elegant shift dress and sparkles and fizzes with energy and a can do attitude to everything in life. “Maybe it’s because children are not allowed to have tea back home, that’s why I like it so much.”
The Beginnings of an Exciting New Adventure in Tea!
In the late eighties, interest in organic food was just starting to catch fire in the UK. When Kiran told Rajah he should promote the organic, health-giving properties of the tea, Raja became somewhat forlorn and nervous. Back home he didn’t tell anyone that he grew tea without pesticides and fertilizers, in case it put them off. “ You do it, you tell people,” he said. And in that moment came the seeds of a brilliant and exciting new adventure in tea……
That was 25 years ago. Kiran went home to her husband, told him about the incredible tea, and the next day they sent a fax to Raja and bought the entire crop. Hampstead Tea was born, and after a lot of knocking on doors, and finding customers to buy the tea, the couple made enough money from sales of the tea to buy their first house.
Hamptead Tea Earl Grey – A Subtle, Balanced, Aromatic Delight
Three years ago, I ran into Kiran at The Natural and Organic Show and had a similarly inspiring conversation about tea. I also discovered her wonderful biodynamic Earl Grey tea, which is so different to the run of the mill, mass produced Early Grey that now populates the shelves of every supermarket in the land. Hampstead Tea Earl Grey is a more subtle, balanced delight, and not in the least bit sharp, overbearing or bitter.
Then, one day I had my own moment of serendipity. I was daydreaming out of the window on the train up to London from Portsmouth, when I longed for an elegant cup of Earl Grey. Then, to my amazement, I spotted Hampstead Tea on the South West Trains refreshment trolley. Normally, it was a rather miserable affair, offering snacks and drinks that resemble nuclear fusion, in a back to the seventies nightmare that John Simm would know only too well from Life On Mars. As I savoured every delicate, bright, aromatic sip of Hampstead, Biodynamic Earl Grey tea, I revelled in my good fortune, and I thought I really must get in touch with Kiran again.
The next day I received an email from a pr company asking me if I had ever heard of Hampstead Tea, and would I consider writing a piece for the magazine! How could I refuse?!
The Tea Tasting Ritual
Now I am standing in Kiran’s immaculate kitchen in Hampstead, sampling some of the purest and most delicious teas on earth. Kiran and Mark, her delightful marketing manager and right hand man have laid on a very elegant tea tasting, with delicate porcelain white cups and five very special teas to taste – white, oolong, green, first flush Darjeeling and Darjeeling.
It Started with Buddhist Monks
Tea tasting is a very serious art form, which started with Buddhist monks. I am also told that is de rigeur to spit and slurp! In the first minute, the wonderful bright colour is released, along with the antioxidants. I note that the white tea is vibrantly refreshing, the green tea rather intense, and bitter and then we come to my absolute favourite tea of all – the first flush Darjeeling, which is incredibly delicate and bright and reminds me of white perfumed peaches and a Bellini or two!
Biodynamic – Putting in More Than You Take Out
All Hampstead Tea comes from the Makaibari Estate, and Kiran encouraged Rajah to go for biodynamic status ten years ago, which is essentially turbo charged organic! This is good news for tea connoisseurs, as the tea tastes even better! So what does biodynamic really mean? “It means that you put in more than you take out of the soil,” says Kiran with a smile. It is all about creating a virtuous circle between the land, animals and the people who live off the land. And the proof is in the eating and tasting. Biodynamic crops are creating great excitement, in terms of taste and superlative quality. Think of Hampstead Tea as the equivalent of a trip in a Rolls Royce Silver Cloud – it is only ever a thrill, never, ever disappointing.
Today, Makaibari is a remarkable story of lives transformed, of marvellous tea and a thriving tea estate. Hampstead Tea pays a premium of the tea, and this leads to a secure, happy work force and estate, where nature and commerce can thrive and live in equilibrium. Even the cows make a contribution, with their slurry used to generate heat for all the workers homes on the estate. Now I think it is time to sit down and savour the rare, bright promise of a perfect cup of first flush Darjeeling. It’s Spring in Hampstead, and I can’t help daydreaming about a trip to India to see this perfect ecosystem for myself – and yes, I have been watching every colourful, chaotic, Machiavellian episode of India Summers. I bet Ralph Whelan, a perfect incarnation of a Machiavellian Prince, adores a cup of Darjeeling to focus that excellent brain on murder, diplomacy and the wreckage of a dangerous, secret love!
For more information and to buy Hampstead Tea – www.hampsteadtea.com
Click HERE to enjoy season 1 of Indian Summers on DVD.