Tea, whisky and a sip of serendip­ity

China Daily (Canada) - - EXPATS -

ce­cily.liu@mail.chi­nadai­lyuk.

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.”

CE­CILY LIU / CHINA DAILY

Paul Ben­jamin, founder of the bottled tea brand Ben­jamin & Blum.

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