Saturday, December 26, 2009

Ahmad Tea - A tea to remember

I am no connoisseur, but I do love tea. And I drink it both black and the Irish way, with full fat milk (in America we call it whole milk). But I'm not fussy about it, I'll even use cream. Now my English wife (half English anyway) will tell you that's properly called 'the English way,' but my grandfather called it the Irish way and that's good enough for me. Of course, if I were to apply reason to the debate, I would probably lose, because it is very unlikely that the Irish had enough money to splurge on milk for their tea, if they could afford tea, so it is probably more accurate to describe tea with milk as an English phenomenon, which the Irish adopted as they peered longingly at their richer English neighbors' milky tea cups. But why would one ever let reason into a marital debate?

Again, I am no expert, but I have drunk thousands of cups, from quiet contemplative sips in the temples of Siam and Nippon to rowdy, roaring cups in the caravan tents of Jordan and Oman. I've even had the good fortune to enjoy traditional English tea service in my grandmother-in-law's delightful coastal bungalow on the South coast of England. The latter experience was probably the most self-conscious one, as the hostess was a very formal English Tory, and I am a lowly descendant of Irish immigrants to the New World, and thus completely out of my element in such rarefied environs. Fortunately my wife coached me through it and I emerged unscathed, but delightfully full on crumpets.

My favorite tea is Ahmad Tea of London. Their English Tea No.1 is a sublime riff off of the more traditional Earl Grey - there is just a hint of bergamot. Also, their fruit teas are phenomenal. Normally I don't go for anything like apricot or apple teas, not only because they are bit frilly for my taste, but also because the fruit flavor often seems a little off and overbearing against the tea. But Ahmad Tea makes a mango tea that is out of this world. And their apricot is also impressive. The fruit flavor is hinted at, but the experience is still a full black tea experience.

So, since I routinely buy their products, I looked into the company's background. One assumes from their delightfully designed tea caddies that the company has a history that stretches back into the time of the Raj and the height of the British Empire. Which, apparently, is exactly what the company is going for with their designs. The look and feel of the tins instantly recall an earlier era, and the label artwork is richly evocative of England, at least the England of myth.

But the truth is the company was started in 1985 by Iranian immigrants to the UK. Though apparently the family has some four generations of tea making experience in Iran, they capitalized on the worldwide reputation of English tea when they got to London. And good for them. I must admit, if their label had an Iranian theme and was named Ahmad Tea of Teheran I probably would not have given it a try, and would have been the poorer for it. As I look at their products, there is nothing that claims a long company history, but the impression is so strong, one assumes it. Which I suppose means they did their marketing well. Fortunately they also make their tea very well too.

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