OK I will go right ahead and level set. I have heard of pairing cigars with tea and certainly I have paired many cigars with whiskey but I have never paired whisky with tea. Apparently the practice is so wide spread that a special tea has been made specifically to be paired with whisky. My horizons are expanding everyday.
Growing up in China, I saw many times people mixing cheap and sweet green tea soft drinks with Chivas Regal at late-night Karaoke or lively dinner parties, so that the harmonious and joyful gathering wouldn’t be interrupted by the overly mature and somehow solitary characteristics of whisky.
Therefore, when I received an invitation from Benjamin & Blum for a whisky and tea pairing I was confused, curious and also struck by a little bit of nostalgia. However, the address on the invitation was at The Royal Automobile Club, one of London’s finest private member lounges, which was nothing like the dim and tumultuous 24-hour Karaoke compartments of China.
Arriving at the luxuriously decorated and slightly dark main hall of The Royal Automobile Club, I am led, by the founder of Benjamin & Blum, Paul Benjamin, and his advisor, to the lift which took us up to the small and meeting room-like venue. The first things I notice on the table are two glass bottles decorated with hundreds of golden diamond-shaped pixels. Through the highly polished glass, champaign-coloured liquid releases a gentle and soothing beam; the colour of the liquid in one bottle is slightly darker than the other. I immediately recognize that the contents of these bottles are the protagonists of today’s tasting session.
Four years ago, Paul started his own food company in London. Produced in a workshop in New Forest, the company’s first, and currently only, product is a luxury bottled tea collection, including Darjeeling Bai Mu Dan (White Peony) tea and Connoisseur’s Oolong. The tea has been brewed, cooled down, mixed with a little starflower honey and Valencia orange juice, filtered and hand-poured into bottles. The flavour of the tea has been specifically composed to be enjoyed together with high-end whiskies.
Benjamin & Blum’s unusual way of selling tea has really intrigued me, so after we sit down, I start to throw questions to Paul, a passionate lawyer-turned food entrepreneur; he answers them with ardour. “I was in a whisky bar in Tokyo and wanted to try something different,” he says when I ask about the inspiration behind the company’s first product. “The bartender suggested that I try whisky with tea. I did and thought that it was a brilliant combination; it worked really well. ” He then came back to London and, after some research, he realised that the trend of mixing tea with whisky was quite popular here in the 19th century, a time when Paul’s two great grandfathers Marcus Benjamin and Friedrich Blum were both luxury food and drink suppliers, based respectively in Berlin and Vienna. Paul inherited their passion for food; combining this with his new-found passion for pairing tea with spirits, he sought out the samples of the finest tea leaves from top growers. He sat down with a team of experts and experimented endlessly to discover which types of tea taste best with whisky.