Staffordshires Food and Drink Scene.

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From Italy with love: Lichfield Tea Company

Sauce sat down with Rae Holland in her beautiful shop overlooking a courtyard in the Heart of the Country Shopping Village at Swinfen. She shared her inspiration for founding the Lichfield Tea…

Sauce sat down with Rae Holland in her beautiful shop overlooking a courtyard in the Heart of the Country Shopping Village at Swinfen. She shared her inspiration for founding the Lichfield Tea Company.

“It was a hobby that turned into an obsession that took over my house, so we had to get a shop. It was something I used to do with my nan, who was Italian. In Italy they only drink coffee – they don’t drink tea at all. If you’re ill, you get chamomile.

“In the mornings she used to make everybody a cappuccino – she just called it milky coffee. I’m allergic to milk, so it would make me really poorly. She would then give me chamomile, which is a natural anti-inflammatory, so instantly I would feel better. She thought tea was magic. She didn’t realise it was an infusion – because it’s called chamomile tea, to her it was tea.”

Rae’s grandparents owned an old-fashioned newsagents and all-stores in Coventry when she was a child. Her grandma started importing tea for her to taste and to sell in the shop.

“So I grew up drinking lapsang souchong and Earl Grey,” Rae explains. “She really got into it and it was our little hobby. When they retired they moved to the South of France and we would take tea every time we went to visit. I started the shop with money from my share of the inheritance when they died.”

In 2016, tired of working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in a stressful job, Rae and her husband Ollie decided to slow down a little and opened their first shop on the other side of Heart of the Country site. They moved into a larger unit when they outgrew the first premises, and have now expanded floorspace further by knocking through into the neighbouring shop. They have installed a kitchen and will soon be serving ‘hearty, homely, vegetarian food’, cooked by Rae herself.

In terms of teas and the various coffees Lichfield Tea Company offers, choosing what to stock is largely a matter of personal taste with some family input and, of course, an eye to what customers will think.

“I try it, and if I like it, we sell it,” laughs Rae. “When my grandparents had their shop they kept meticulous accounts. My uncle still had records of some of the tea gardens. So we still had a connection, for example, with Kenilworth. My grandparents were in Coventry so they recognised the name and went with it; now we stock tea from the same garden in Sri Lanka.”

English Breakfast is by far the most popular choice. Naturally, visitors to the shop tend to be blinded by the sheer number of options with around 80 teas in stock on Rae’s shelves at any given time.

“It’s much easier to have a conversation with someone and make a recommendation based on what they like and whether they want to try something new,” she says. “We’re thinking about a tea passport, where we have a little description and space for comments to keep a record of what you’ve tried.”

Rae’s seasonal picks for March, April and May start with the aptly named Spring Tea, a fresh and floral green tea with strawberry and rose.

“We also have this Japanese black tea, which is a real little find. It doesn’t smell particularly, but it tastes like the centre of a Malteser. It’s really light but flavoursome, so ideal for spring.”

If you’re looking to push beyond your comfort zone and try something unique, Rae recommends Pu-Erh – a real tea lover’s tea.

“It’s a fermented tea so it’s super good for you, like kimchi. It’s only grown in the Yunnan province of China. They come in cakes, and they get more expensive the older they are.”

As for the recent trend for cold infusions, Rae has no truck with the idea that shaking a teabag in cold water is the way to go…

“If you want cold tea, make a really strong cup of fruit tea, hot, pour it out and put ice in it,” she suggests. “We do a lemon tea that’s basically homemade lemonade in a very sweet vat of strong English Breakfast. It looks like pond water but it tastes amazing and goes down a storm.”

Interestingly, the recent resurgence of interest in tea after years of growth in coffee seems to be driven by a younger generation, with new brands like T2 and familiar names like Whittard benefiting from the attention.

“The people who are most excited about it are the 18-24 year olds,” Rae enthuses. “It captures their imagination and they love trying something new, and they love the fact they’ve discovered you.”

Lichfield Tea Company
www.thelichfieldteacompany.co.uk 
Unit 11a, Heart of The Country Shopping Village, Swinfen, WS14 9QR

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Full of Christmas spirit

Bottle dispensary Doctor’s Orders only opened its doors in February 2018, but the passion and expertise of owner Ben (and a dash of adorable in the form of shop spaniel…

Bottle dispensary Doctor’s Orders only opened its doors in February 2018, but the passion and expertise of owner Ben (and a dash of adorable in the form of shop spaniel Billy) have seen it go from strength to strength since. Sauce caught up with Ben for our Autumn/Winter edition to gain some insight into trends in the spirit industry and glean some stellar ‘gift’ recommendations, from rum to whisky and gin.

Revel in rum

As the seasons change, so too does your palate. The colder months call to mind brown spirits, but rum has a foot in both camps. It’s at home in tropical summer cocktails, but works equally well as winter comes around as a sipper over ice.

Traditionally kept in the Caribbean or with specialist providers, rum is now more accessible to a public who are waking up to its great value proposition: You can get a 10 or 12 year old rum for the price of an 8 year old whisky. Spiced rum can be turned around in months rather than years and has a wide appeal; there are some on the sweeter side, some very complex examples, and none are taking themselves too seriously.

The wide range of island styles, distillation styles, ageing profiles, and interesting cask agents mean rum is no longer viewed as a dark, medicinal liquid that has to be mixed with coke. Foursquare are setting the standard, having won three gold medals and two trophies at this year’s International Spirit Challenge awards, including Supreme Champion for their 2005 release.

The wonder of whisky

Appreciation is growing for the very experimental whiskeys coming out of Ireland at the moment. Distillers are using a variety of different casks for ageing to enhance their flavour profiles and some of the emerging local porter cask ageings are fabulous. Whereas Scottish whisky has tended to be seen as a ‘male’ drink, especially the heavier peated examples, the new Irish whiskeys seem to appeal to both sexes. Experimentation and variety appear to be opening peoples’ minds and palates.

Meanwhile, Japanese whisky has been winning plenty of awards. Unconstrained by the same straitjacket of legislation and tradition as Scottish whiskies, we are seeing a level of innovation from Japanese distillers. They have unique flavour profiles, but we inevitably end up paying a premium for them here in the UK.

The ever popular gin

Pink and flavoured gins have been the drinks of the summer, easily overtaking the London Drys, but whether that popularity carries on into the colder months only time will tell. People have a sweet tooth, but a gin has to have prominent juniper flavours to be gin.

People are more interested now in pushing their palate and understanding why something is different. This means they are more open to experimenting and trying spirits neat, but the rebirth of gin and proliferation of tasting parties has also had an impact on manufacturers of mixers, with more premium brands coming through.

What was once seen as a throwaway is now an integral part of the drink and is carefully chosen based on whether you want it to complement or contrast with the spirit. Brands like Double Dutch are moving to develop more mixers for brown spirits.

Ben recommends…

£30-£40 price range

Garden Tiger (47% ABV): An interesting and complex gin, perfect for those who enjoy the London Dry style.

Teeling’s Small Batch (46% ABV): A fabulous everyday sipper made with a blend of malted and unmalted barley, aged in rum casks.

Doorly’s XO (40% ABV): A great example of a good, honest, unadulterated rum with none of the added sugar or flavourings you get in some other styles.

£40-£60 price range

Trevethan Chauffeur’s Reserve (57% ABV): An excellent example of a navy strength gin, perfect in a spirit-forward cocktail like a negroni or dry martini.

Redbreast Lustau Edition (46% ABV): A super Irish whiskey matured in oak before finishing in Oloroso Sherry casks from Bodegas Lustau for a year.

Foursquare 2005 (59% ABV): Simply aged in bourbon barrels in Barbados and bottled at cask strength, this is a stunning rum with plenty of flavour and nuance. One to warm the cockles.

Doctor’s Orders Bottle Dispensary
Unit 4a, Heart Of The Country Shopping Village, Lichfield, WS14 9QR
www.facebook.com/DoctorsOrdersLichfield 

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