Sunday, May 09, 2010

The perfect cream tea

I like the sound of this....

THERE are hundreds of ways to assemble a cream tea, but no clear rules on what works best. Not that it doesn’t matter. Don’t imagine that a cream tea is just a frivolous summer treat to enjoy in the garden. It is a serious thing, one that recently prompted sparks to fly between Cornwall and Devon as both counties claim ownership. Each says the cream tea is its own speciality. Meanwhile, dairy farmers, bakers, tea growers and jam-makers across the country have their own ideas about how it should be put together. Some things are clear: Time should be set aside for this mid-afternoon feast and only the finest ingredients should be used. Almost everything else is up for debate.

The tea Although it takes only 36 hours from plant to cup, the process is labour intensive. First the leaves are hand-plucked by a team of a dozen or so tea-pickers — they take the top two leaves and the bud, leaving the rest of the plant. Then the leaves are left on withering racks to go dry and floppy before being hand-rolled. Most of what we drink in Britain has been rolled by machine, but some prefer the time-honoured method of doing it between your palms — it takes one person half an hour to roll a couple of kilos of tea. It ruptures the leaves better, releasing the chemicals so that they can react with each other. Hand-rolled tea has the best flavour. Finally the leaves are left out to be oxidised for a few hours, then dried at a low temperature in an electric oven.

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