This summer has been a summer of firsts. It was the first time I had ever taken a trip to the north of England, and it was long overdue. When James Pogson, director of Northern Tea Merchants invited me to come to a tea tasting it was hard to resist, not only because I love tea, but because Northern Tea Merchants are located in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, just a stone’s throw from the beautiful Peak District.
I’ve talked about Northern Tea several times on the blog after tasting some samples of their delicious tea. The thought of tasting many more was making my mouth water, and so I asked my daughter, Sarah, if she would like to accompany me to Chesterfield, to which she agreed. We spent two nights in Chesterfield and two nights in the Peak District in Bakewell, home of the bakewell tart and pudding.
The first thing I wanted to do after checking in to the bed and breakfast was to go and see the famous church with the crooked spire which adorns the packets of Northern Tea. I wanted to get a feel of the place and to try and get a feel for the heart and soul of the people of Chesterfield.
Northern Tea have been around for quite a while and the charismatic James Pogson, who grew up in Chesterfield, joined the family business (which spans three generations) in 1989. The company has won many awards over the course of 2014 and 2015 in the Chesterfield/Derbyshire area such as: retailer of the year, food and drink retailer of the year, food hero, lifetime achievement, and best overall business.
James very kindly picked us up on Monday morning and took us to the premises in Chatsworth Road. Here we each had a pot of tea, all presented in the most elegant white teaware. I had the tea of the month which was a Vietnamese oolong (Baolam Dalat Fancy Top Oolong) from the Baolam Dalat estate, shown in the main picture below. This was a beautiful tea that comprised the first and second leaves of the tea plant. The leaves had been rolled tightly into pellets and the overall taste and flavour was like that of a Tie Guan Yin. When the leaves unfurled after brewing we could see the whole leaves and also some stalks. The tea tasted so smooth and creamy.
Sarah had a pot of Ceylon Green Jasmine tea (top right). I’m not a lover of jasmine tea in general but this could easily convert me. The balance of green and jasmine was so clever -the amount of jasmine was just right and it wasn’t overpowering like some jasmine teas. The aroma was drifting along the table and infused the whole room. The smell and taste reminded me of a clear, bright morning.
James had a large leaf english breakfast tea (bottom right) and this was definitely a good substantial breakfast tea to set you up for the day. It was a blend of Indian and China teas and had a wintergreen taste, together with a treacly sweetness.
Baolam Dalat Fancy Top Oolong
Ceylon Green Jasmine Tea
Large Leaf English Breakfast
After spending some time chatting about tea, and James is very knowledgeable and passionate about so many aspects of tea, including the history of tea, we had some lunch from the cafe/shop. This room was filled with every type of tea imaginable, row upon row of tea beautifully packaged in gold foil with an image of the church on the front. Not only is a plethora of tea sold and served up here, but there is also lots of coffee and cocoa. The food menu is filled with all kinds of tasty treats, lunches and cakes.
After lunch it was time to sample more teas, ten in total that Sarah and I were allowed to pick out. These were arranged so that the milder teas were tasted first before getting to the stronger ones. This was done in order to prevent tainting the taste of the milder teas too much. These ten different teas were: Russian Caravan – a blend of China black and oolong teas, Darjeeling First Flush – one of my favourite black teas from India, Gyokuro – a green Japanese tea, Wa-Koucha – a black Japanese tea, Ceylon Uva black tea, Rwanda black tea from East Africa, Rose Congou – a China black tea blended with rose petals, Lady Grey with Cornflowers – a China black tea from the Anhui province blended with oil of bergamot, Formosa Crocodile Lapsang Souchong – a black tea from Taiwan, and a black Indian Spiced Tea. This was a good variety of teas from around the world.
The teas were all laid out on the table, and each placed in white tasting cups. Once brewed there were so many different shades and hues of tea liquor.
The colours were lovely and eye-catching. James told us that women have more taste buds than men, an interesting fact. He also showed us how to slurp the tea from a spoon under the tongue to get the best taste experience.
For Sarah and I it was like being a couple of kids in a sweet shop. What an utter joy it was to be sampling so many good quality teas. The big surprise for me was the rose congou tea. I’ve had rose teas of varying descriptions in the past which have smelled and tasted quite perfumy. This tea, however, was mind-blowingly good. It was just like being in a rose garden with gentle, aromatic wafts of rose, and with a taste to match. Sarah particularly liked the lapsang souchong – it really stood out for her.
After slurping all these delicious teas it was time to go on an interesting tour of the factory where we saw various machines that make teabags (see below). The bags are made of manila hemp and glued together with mineral glue. There were also hoists and all sorts of other equipment that contribute to the smooth running of the factory. James blends so much of his own tea and sells loose leaf tea as well as teabags.
The next day James very kindly drove Sarah and I to our bed and breakfast establishment in Bakewell. On the way we had a wonderful tour down some winding roads which would have been hard for us to get to without a vehicle, and we had some magnificent views of the open countryside.
We also skirted around Chatsworth House and saw many deer and other animals. The lands and views of the house were very impressive. I couldn’t resist taking some pictures of the deer, and also the church.
Northern Tea Merchants isn’t just any old tea company – there really isn’t any other tea company quite like it. It’s a place that brings people together. It has a quaintness and charm and hospitality, and a throwback to days gone by. And tea is a way of life for many of us and a part of the social fabric of British culture.
It’s a company that goes the extra mile for its customers, and Sarah and I were certainly made to feel very welcome. All of the staff we came across in the tea room/shop and the factory seemed very friendly, as were the people of Derbyshire in general. Having met James in the flesh now and seeing in person how he runs the company, Sarah and I were blown away quite honestly, not just by the quality of the teas and the high standards that the company meets, but by the friendliness and kindness of this very interesting man. Connecting with people it seems, is at the very heart of Northern Tea Merchants.
My daughter thinks of our time in Derbyshire as the “James Pogson experience”. It really was a great experience, and one which will always stay with us. Our memories will be something to treasure and to reminisce about together, over a cup of Northern Tea of course!
Here is the link to the website of this amazing tea company: