Tea de France: week four and the Tea GC

July 22, 2012

Stage 19, Saturday 21 June
Bonneval – Chartres (ITT), 53.5km
Winner: Bradley Wiggins (Sky)
Brew: Fruits Rouge Wu Long
They say: “Raspberry and wild strawberry flavors. Low in caffeine.”
We say: Yeah, sure – it’s just raspberry and strawberry, like Wiggins’ time trial victory was just pedaling and a funny helmet. The brief description above doesn’t do justice to the full, rollicking ride this tea takes you on. Open the sachet and whompf – we’re rolling down the ramp with a fizzing raspberry aroma. Empty it in the pot, pour in the water and you’re settling in to the scent of wet earth. Then comes the long, steady brewing section (at a recommended time of seven minutes, this was the longest wait of all our teas) followed by a woody taste hitting the finish line at the back of your palate. Bravo!

Stage 20, Sunday 22 July
Rambouillet – Paris Champs-Élysées, 120km
Winner: Mark Cavendish (Sky)
Brews: Pu Er Imperial and Dong Ding
They say: Pu Er: “A very fine crop, with many buds for this very particular type of tea. Its powerful scent is reminiscent of damp soil and bark. Its name means ‘trouser bottom’. A Chinese folk tale tells how the tea pickers keep the best leaves for themselves, hiding them in their pockets before taking them home with them. Pu Er tea is highly regarded in Chinese medicine for its curative properties. It lowers cholesterol levels, they say, it dissolves fats, helps digestion, improves blood circulation and lowers the effects of alcohol. This tea improves with age, owing to the specific type of fermentation that affects the tannins.”
Dong Ding: “This tea which grows on the eponymous mountain, means ‘Icy peak’. It is considered by tea lovers to be one of Taiwan’s best. The leaf, which is pearly and moderately fermented, gives the liqueur a particular yellow-orange colour that is unique in the world of tea. Its scent is both silky and lively, its taste recalls the flowery side of the little fermented Wu Long (oolong) teas and also that of the fruitier, woodier Fancy teas. An exceptional crop.”
We say: The final day of the Tour is supposed to be simple: a procession into Paris, a crit on the Champs Élysées and we’re done. If only the last section of our tea odyssey had been as straightforward. Pu Er, while in the packet, smells more like ordinary tea than all the other brews we’ve had. Add hot water and the scent is transformed: we’re in a wood-paneled room that retains the oddly comforting aroma of old cigarette smoke. A sip reveals that it actually tastes like tobacco, too. A few more gulps of this red-tinged oddity and we’ve acclimatised. I have a second cup; Jen passes. We decide to give Dong Ding a spin and our opinions become more sharply divided: I think it has a gassy odour, while the taste reminds me of farts and wet, miserable afternoons in Balham; Jen smells the perfumes Opium and Amarige and tastes… well, nothing really. But at least we both agree that Dong Ding is a bit of a clanger.

The Tea GC
It’s been a historic three weeks of racing, and an incredible four weekends of drinking teas. Now we reveal which brews are our Wiggins, Froome and Nibali.
Third place: Thé des Moines. Light, calming, floral. A delight.
Second place: Thé du Hammam. Creamy, vanilla-like, echoes of Earl Grey. And it leaves a mild tingle on your tongue.
First place: Margaret’s Hope. Malty with a rich, woody aftertaste. Deep and enriching. A classic.

So there you have it. Our tea journey has been drained to the very dregs. If you fancy some of the brews me and Jen have been tasting, have a look at Le Palais Des Thés. Happy supping!

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