Tea, whisky and a sip of serendipity
Paul Benjamin said he stumbled onto the idea of mixing tea with whisky a few years ago in a bar in Tokyo, and hit on the idea of setting up the bottled tea brand Benjamin & Blum.
The brand, which sells luxury bottled tea, is meant to be mixed with whisky, and was launched in Hong Kong and London this year.
Talking about the Tokyo bar in which he raised the business idea, Benjamin said the bartender asked if he had wanted to try something different, and then suggested whisky with green tea. “I said, wow, this is great, so I can see what the fuss is all about.”
Although mixing green tea and whisky is still an unfamiliar idea in the West, in Asia it is already popular among whisky lovers. The green tea takes the edge off the alcohol and softens the whisky, and is favored by Asian drinkers who often find whisky too strong.
“They create a harmony, the aromas fuse together. The tea reduces the burn in the alcohol,” said Benjamin.
Benjamin & Blum has two bottled teas, which are Darjeeling Bai Mu Dan (white peony) from India and oolong from New Zealand. The company, in selecting a third tea, is considering China as the source.
Benjamin said his team typically looks for small farms that handpick their tea. The special attention given to the tea is key, as this allows his staff and the tea farm to achieve suitable quality.
Benjamin, who was a lawyer before embarking on his tea and whisky venture, has another reason to be in the drinks business.
He is the great-grandson of Marcus Benjamin and Frederich Blum, whose luxury food and drink businesses in Germany and Austria go back to the 1890s.
These two family businesses served high society in early 20th century Europe. Marcus Benjamin was a purveyor of delicacies in turn-of-the-century Berlin, and Frederich Blum supplied exotic imported specialties, as well as teas and coffees, to the restaurants and grand coffeehouses of Vienna.
Sadly they were shut down by the world wars, but Benjamin grew up hearing many stories about his great-grandfathers’ businesses and has always had the idea of reviving the business one day.
He did not want to do tea imports in the same way his
It is art in the sense you need broad intuition, but science in that once you’ve done the initial work, you ensure the consistency every time.”
founder of the bottled tea brand Benjamin & Blum
great-grandfathers had done, because importing tea into Europe is much easier today, he said. Instead, he wanted to do something different, but linked to the family tradition, so finding teas that can be paired with whisky was the perfect solution.
“When I was young I always heard stories, and I thought how wonderful would it be to revive our family tea business. We tried to piece it together from photos and living relatives, but the story is difficult to trace back.”
The bottled teas are brewed in the UK using ultrapure Scottish spring water. In the brewing process, the tea makers have added a touch of English starflower honey and a drop of orange from Valencia to create a balanced and complex drink that works in harmony with fine spirits.
Benjamin said the two teas can be paired with any whisky of the consumer’s choice; normally the mixture contains half tea and half whisky, but it is not an exact science. It can also be enjoyed with cognac.
The Darjeeling white tea from India is grown from an original Chinese tea grove, from tea bushes that Chinese settlers took with them to India. It is delicate and floral, and has notes of peach blossom.
In comparison, the oolong is rich with classic hay notes and a rich and lengthy finish.
Benjamin said that the teas are processed with special consideration for the whisky mixture, so consistency is key. The use of bottled tea differs from the freshly brewed tea he had in the Tokyo whisky bar, and makes it easier for consumers to enjoy tea and whisky at home.
The pairing of different teas and whisky is both an art and a science, he said. “It is art in the sense you need broad intuition, but science in that once you’ve done the initial work, you ensure the consistency every time.”
Paul Benjamin, founder of the bottled tea brand Benjamin & Blum.