david hepburn on british tea culture, tea buying and looking for the perfect tie guan yin

David Hepburn, the Online Sales and Marketing Manager for JING Tea took some time to answer my questions on British tea culture, tea buying, looking for the perfect Tie Guan Yin and the world of tea photography.

Part of the reason I love companies like this (Obubu Tea, Camellia Sinensis and Rishi Tea are just three others I respect) is that they blog about tea, tour tea regions, they know the growers (or they are the growers!) they share amazing tea-travel photos with their customers and it makes their product so much better for it.

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What does tea mean to you.

Tea to me is a simple and delicious everyday treat that relaxes, energizes and inspires me. The sheer variety of flavors, textures and aromas that tea can offer is just amazing. It’s a pleasure with no downsides; it’s good value, tasty & good for you.

JING is based in the UK, how have you seen English tea culture change over the last five years.

England obviously has a long and famous tea tradition, but it’s very much focused on traditional afternoon tea style teas. The types of tea that we sell are still fairly unfamiliar to most people in the UK but interest over the last five years has definitely grown. I think more and more people are traveling to the far-east and are realizing that there is a whole world of tea in that part of the world that is largely unexplored in the UK.

Many teas beyond the standard black tea teabag varieties have for a long time been marketed as good for your health, for example, green tea, but a chore to drink. We often hear people saying “I don’t like green tea, it’s bitter”, because they have tried dust teabags from the supermarket. When we introduce them to a delicious, smooth and sweet loose-leaf green tea like Dragon Well, they are always pleasantly surprised.

I think the market in the UK still has a little way to go before top quality whole leaf tea is widely accepted and valued, but there is definitely growing interest in the types of products we sell.

Can you tell me a little about how JING started, and why.

JING was started by Edward Eisler in 2005. Growing up he was always interested in plants, tastes and tea in particular. As a teenager he began tasting many varieties of teas and studied how tea was sold in tea-houses and teashops in cities like Prague and Paris. At university, where he studied Chinese medicine, and in trips to India and China, Edward learnt more about tea and saw a gap in the UK market for a company selling really top quality whole leaf tea. In the first two years of trading we were able to pick up clients like Harrods and the Fat Duck and Gordon Ramsey restaurants, which really helped to establish JING as a brand.

You sell a number of quite rare teas, how do you go about sourcing these and how do you identify which ones you wish to buy.

During his trips to China and India when he was younger, Edward built up a good network of contacts with producers of top quality teas. By visiting these contacts and suppliers each and every year he’s been able to be the first to hear about the best crops. He has also worked with the same suppliers for many years to help them improve the quality of their teas and JING has even built factories and packing facilities for some farmers to make sure that the leaves are stored and packed in the best way possible, so that they arrive with out customers as fresh as possible. When Edward tastes tea, he is always looking for characteristics which define the place in which the tea is grown.

For example, when looking for a lightly oxidized Tie Guan Yin oolong, he’ll look for something that is medium bodied and extremely floral in aroma – these are the characteristics that connoisseurs look for in this tea and the ones that help customers set benchmarks for what teas from different regions should taste like.

It’s really about finding teas that are definitive examples of their type.

The photos on your website are beautiful, I think that this visual accompaniment is so important when selling tea, it shows where the tea comes from and puts a face to those people who farm and process the tea.  Do you have a couple of tea photos you can share with me.

Thank you, we’re glad you like them. We’re passionate about photography and take all the photos for the website ourselves.

Here are a couple of photos that are hot off the press, taken just last week on Li Shan in Taiwan, where Edward was sourcing oolong tea. “Li” means “pear” in Mandarin, so Li Shan means Pear Mountain in Mandarin. It’s one of the only places in Taiwan where pears and apples are grown, as the climate is cool enough for them to thrive.

The tea picker in pink is standing in front of a pear tree and you can see the pears wrapped in paper to prevent them being eaten by insects. We found some great tea at this garden; it’s thick, almost creamy in texture, deliciously floral in aroma and taste and very refreshing, a classic high mountain Taiwan tea.

The next photo shows the Li Shan reservoir, near to the tea farms. It’s not about tea specifically but it gives you an idea of the types of scenery we are lucky enough to see on our sourcing trips.

What’s your favorite style of tea-pot and why.

It really depends on the type of tea but the most commonly used teapot in our office is our Glass One Cup Teapot. It’s 300ml so large enough to make a big cup for one and the glass lets you see the beautiful colors of the leaves and infusion. Small teapots really are the way forward; they really help you to be able to control the strength and concentration of the infusion.

Leaving tea to stew in a large teapot while you drink the first cup is just a waste; you’ll end up with a bitter cold cup. With top quality tea you can re-infuse each serving a number of times so using a small teapot doesn’t mean you’re being selfish, you just pour the water over again and share the all the infusions with your companions using a pitcher and small cups. It’s a lovely way to drink tea, and obviously come from the Chinese style of drinking tea.

You guys have had lots of great press, in national publications how and what do you think are the hallmarks of a great tea brand when it comes to educating the general public.

Thanks, we have been lucky to have been featured a fair amount for a company of our size. I think the most crucial thing for us is stocking teas that really deliver on taste.

A lot of people have been used to drinking very cheap tea for a long time. If they are trading up and spending more on their tea then they need to be blown away by the taste and immediately see the value of the product. If they are disappointed on their first taste of the tea, then it’s unlikely that they’ll trade up for the long-term.

We try to provide a good mix of photography and educational information on our website and in our newsletters and so far I think we have the balance just about right. I think it’s important not to make the information accessible and enjoyable for people to read. Last year we began using video more and this has also been received really well by our customers.

What’s your favorite tea memory or location.

As manager of the website, I’ve been lucky enough to go on a couple of trips this year. Edward, of course, will have many many more highlights than me from his numerous trips but my highlight was probably watching the sunrise at Goomtee Estate in Darjeeling. I got up at 5.30am to get this photo but it was completely worth it. It was so peaceful and the scenery was stunning. I’ve attached a photo so you can see for yourself.

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You can find Jing Tea at their website, they also have a massive collection of tea and tea-travel photos on Flickr.  Chat with them on Twitter as @jingtea; and find them on Facebook.

They also have a blog where they share the ‘behind the scenes’ stuff, the buying trips, the tastings and the people behind the tea and tea growing areas.

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by deb @travelandtea, deb @travelandtea. deb @travelandtea said: New Post: David Hepburn on British tea culture, tea buying and looking for the perfect tie guan yin : http://t.co/24sZYn1 @JINGTea #tea […]

  2. […] You can find Jing Tea at their website, they also have a massive collection of tea and tea-travel photos on Flickr (which is where these matcha ones came from).  On their blog they share all the ‘behind the scenes’ stuff, the buying trips, the tastings and the people behind the tea and tea growing areas.  You can also read an interview I did with David Hepburn from Jing Tea here. […]



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