black&white #16: Why we chose our special edition teas
5 min steep
Back in 2007, Canton was a start-up run mostly from my kitchen table. We were, in theory, selling both to trade and directly to customers – except we weren’t really selling to trade because we didn’t have any partners. What we did have was a handful of committed tea aficionados who loved tea as much as we did. Though those first few years were tough as a business, we were in our element. Travelling to remote corners of the globe, meeting farmers, tasting rare and exquisite teas, and sharing them back home with our fellow tea-obsessed customers. We even started a tea club. Each week, members would receive a small but mighty selection of high grade teas and herbals, every one handpicked by our team for their unique and special qualities.
A few years later, Canton took a new direction. After winning some of the best hotels and restaurants in the world, we decided to focus solely on trade. It was a hugely difficult decision, but one we needed to take. What did we miss? Sharing limited batches of seasonal teas with our regulars. That’s why when the pandemic forced us to adapt and we reopened to the public last year, we couldn’t wait to start researching our next special edition series. And, after months of testing, debating and packing, this is the result. A black Yunnan Gold, a masterful Ali Shan oolong, a surprising First Flush Darjeeling and an exceptional Kabuse Sencha. So, how did we end up choosing these four teas?
Firstly, they’re spread across the tea spectrum. Even though we have two black teas, they are stellar opposites; our First Flush Darjeeling is bright, light and fresh, while the Yunnan Gold is soft, creamy and sweet. We wanted to showcase the very best and most interesting of the season. They’re also all from the four main tea-producing countries we source from (China, India, Japan and Taiwan), and each tea is from a garden that we’ve known, admired and respected for a very long time. In the tea industry, the importance of these long term relationships is hard to understate when it comes to sourcing the very highest quality teas.
On a more personal level, each tea is a favourite of the Canton team. For me, it’s Canton Yunnan Gold. I’ve always loved the teas of Yunnan and have spent a long time exploring the region’s fabulous tea farms and growing regions. The first time I tried a Yunnan Gold like this, I was hooked for life. Co-founder Edgar, on the other hand, has a passion for Ali Shan and the country of Taiwan. He loves the food, the people, the landscape, and of course, the tea. Alice, our Head of Tea, has spent many years tasting First Flushes. She’d be the first to tell you that First Flushes are not all equal – and ours is an unusually good one. And for James, our Head of Business Development, the Japanese Sencha wins out. He spent years in Japan – and made properly (right amount of water, temperature, steeping time etc), it’s pure nectar.
But really, as is the Canton way, it all comes down to flavour. These four teas stood out from the crowd. They are surprising, unusual and unique. They are extraordinarily delicious. And they really do elevate the tea drinking experience beyond the everyday.
Find out more about each individual tea and where they came from below. We can’t wait for you to try them.
01 | Tea picker in Yunnan Province, China.
We’ve not tasted many Yunnanese black teas as special as this one. Picked in early Spring 2021, the tea is slow-grown and has all the attributes of a high altitude, early spring tea: spectacular flavour and a wonderfully creamy mouthfeel. Look for notes of caramel, milk chocolate and sugarcane.
02 | Tea Picker harvesting leaves on Ali Shan mountain, Taiwan.
Ali Shan is one of our all-time favourite oolongs and a real Canton classic. We visited the Chiu family’s tea farm a couple of years ago and we were really impressed with their growing and production techniques. This one is a competition-grade Ali Shan (the best the tea garden has to offer) – and we think it’s nothing short of a masterpiece.
03 | Tea Picker at the Selimbong Tea Garden.
We tasted over 20 First Flush Darjeelings and this one really stood out from the crowd. It’s got all of the minerality and floralness you’d expect from a First Flush, but with some really unusual, surprising and exciting notes of rhubarb, pistachio and spice.
04 | Tea grower at the Obubu tea garden in Kyoto, Japan.
The Obubu tea garden is producing some of the highest grade, artisanal teas in Japan right now. This Sencha is shaded, which means the tea bushes are covered to stop natural light reaching the leaves. The plant produces more chlorophyll, enriching the leaves with more umami, less bitterness and a dark emerald green colour. We just love it.