Chinese tea is turning over a new leaf

GP Goh pours the tea at Pekoe Tea on Leven Street. Picture: Neil Hanna
GP Goh pours the tea at Pekoe Tea on Leven Street. Picture: Neil Hanna
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EVERYONE knows that “a nice cup of tea” solves all problems - that could be why a staggering 165 million cups of it are drank in the UK every single day.

But, while we may claim to be a nation of tea lovers, how many of us have actually sampled authentic tea from its country of origin?

Tea expert Jon Cooper believes that the popularity of authentic Chinese tea is on the rise in the Capital, and that more and more people are starting to veer away from their trusty tea bag to try out the thousands of different loose leaf alternatives that are on offer.

From his shop and tea bar in Tollcross, Jon is trying to educate the masses by running special tasting sessions and sharing his wealth of knowledge on the subject to customers.

He says his Pekoe Tea business on Leven Street is booming as Edinburgh residents become more adventurous in their tea drinking habits.

Chinese loose leaf tea is a far cry from the Tetley tea bag most of us douse in boiling water, milk and sugar several times a day.

And it is far more than just a drink for some – it is a way of life, offering time to relax, de-stress, shut out the world and re-adjust their “qi”. Jon, 30, began his love affair with tea while he was a student in Glasgow. He went into online sales first before branching out and opening the shop and tea room, which he runs with his business partner and mum Lynn.

“I want to get as many people as possible to learn about it,” he says. “We have a massive mixture of customers: people who have travelled, Europeans, students, older people, the university’s tea society. We have also started to get Chinese customers which is really good for us.

“We are completely about education here and are trying to be as accessible as possible. For someone who comes in saying they have never had a green tea before, we can make them something up, then we can work with them to come up with something they would like.”

Jon is running fortnightly tasting sessions at Pekoe Tea, focussing on areas including an introduction to Chinese tea and brewing techniques and tea ware.

He enlists the help of friend and fellow tea lover GP Goh, a 42-year-old Malaysian currency trader – who describes himself as “the tea man” – and the nights are becoming a huge hit.

Both Jon and GP liken them to wine tasting evenings – even to the point of getting slightly intoxicated.

“When you’re drinking tea you can sometimes get really hot or really cold or tingly fingers or get tea drunk. It’s the energy that flows from the tea. At first people are very quiet [at the tastings] but by the second or third tea they are all chatting with each other.”

More of a coffee drinker myself, I am at the mercy of Jon and the “tea man” as they pour me cup upon cup of tea, with each pot infused several times to extract the optimum taste.

I learn that there are six different types of tea – white, green, oolong, black, pu-erh and yellow – and within these categories there are thousands of different teas.

It turns out that my favourite is an oolong which has been toasted and is a different variety of one of the most expensive teas in the world.

“That’s because you like coffee”, GP explains.

While enjoying the spectacle of him brewing the tea in a small clay pot – which he pours water on top of as well as inside to preserve the heat – GP informs me that drinking tea is an important part of his life.

“Drinking tea centres you,” he explains. “You need to have a tea space where you have a nice floral arrangement or a bonsai. Then I know it’s time to relax, chill and slow down. Tea is not just about tasting from the mouth – it’s all your senses.

“I have had eight pots of tea so far this morning.”

Jon tells me that his own passion started in a tea bar in Glasgow, while he was studying electronics and music.

“We started dealing in tea in 2005/2006 and it was a bit of an uphill struggle for us.

“We found it very hard to get people to take us seriously but now it is a viable business to be in.

“Over the past few years the interest in tea has grown because famous people are talking about it more.”