I had the privilege and pleasure to interview Timothy d´Offay a while ago. While speaking to him, I could feel Tim´s passion for Tea. Very kindly, Tim offered me an exceptional Long Jing Tea, from an ancient trees of about 200 years old.
M&T. Can you tell us about your story with Tea?
My interest for Tea started when I travelled and lived in Japan. I studied Oriental and African religions (including Zen Buddhism), at the Kings College London. When I graduated I worked with a Japanese artist, and around that time my father gave me a beautiful Tea bowl. I wanted to get out of London and experience another culture. Because of this Japanese artist and having a lot Japanese friends, Japan became an attractive idea. Following my father´s advise, I studied in Kyoto, which is a fabulous city. It is also the centre of Japanese Tea culture, including the Sencha Tea schools and one of the oldest centres of production. So, immediately I immersed into the Tea culture in the early 1990s.
I studied how to be a good Tea guest in Mushanokoji Senke. I soon realised I did not have the patience to be a Tea master, but this experience introduced me to the fantastic world of Tea. Every time I came back to London, once or twice a year, I would stop in Tea producing areas of different countries, which allowed me to discover so many different kinds of Teas.
When I came back to London in 1997, after 4 years in Japan, I knew I wanted to do something with Tea, as it followed the two major themes in my life, culture and nature.
M&T. What can you tell us about Postcard teas?
Postcards Teas opened in 2005, after I felt I had enough Tea knowledge and experience.
I think Postcard Teas is not a perfect name, but for me it works! I think it’s quite memorable.
The name comes about for three different reasons:
1) I collect postcards, so we use postcards from my collection on the tins;
2) The idea was about getting to know the places and the families who produce Tea and write that information on the tins. We are the only ones doing this. I believe that if you know where the Tea comes from, you can choose better, you can make educated choices, and with this information you build up knowledge, which I think it is extremely important, as life is about learning.
3) I would like that our Teas could be easily send to the rest of the world world.
M&T. What do you want people to feel when they come to the Postcard Teas?
To feel welcome! Also for people to have a new experience and learn.
M&T. What is your connection with ancient trees?
Until the early 20th century, all Tea was grown by seed. What would happen is that a Tea farmer would take seeds from his best Tea plant, replant it and once the plant was mature enough (5,6 years later) he would taste the new Tea. If he liked it he would keep that tree, if he didn’t, he would not keep the tree. So all the great Teas we have came from seed growing. Ancient trees have a natural evolution and they have a very developed root system, which gives the Teas more nutrients, more characteristics and flavours. The Teas from these trees are very interesting, are remarkable. Also these trees are more resistant to disease. This does not affect the taste, but I think it is an important consideration. When drinking Tea from ancient trees, we are drinking a little bit of history, which matter to me.
We work with small growers, small estates, which I believe they produce more authentic Tea, as it has been this way Tea is produced for years and years. To my mind, anything done in a smaller scale, especially with ancient trees, has got better quality. That doesn’t t mean that other ways of producing are not of great quality, but they are different from the Teas we work with. I think we have to have both ways.
What happens a lot nowadays is that these trees are cloned and not grown by the seed. These trees have less developed routes system, so you probably get less flavour. Most of the clones are not focused much on flavour. They are flavour led, because they have to have a market. I am a bit sceptical about this, as I am more interested in drinking amazing Teas. I don´t think these Teas have the richness that seed ancient trees have.
M&T. Which has been the most wonderful Tea plantation you have been?
It is almost impossible to say.. It´s usually the last one, because you have a sense of one day that stays with you for long. I like places where the rhythm of life has not been changed for centuries. I like places where people can choose what to adapt to, to modernise in their lives and reject the things they don´t want. I consider being a privilege to see this way of living.
The last one in! I love all Teas. I think there is a Tea for every occasion.
M&T. What is a perfect cup of Tea?
It is a Tea thoughtfully, carefully and peacefully made. Also, a Tea that matches what you want from that moment. So, a perfect cup of Tea is always changing.
M&T. Finally, can you describe how Tea makes you feel in one word? Harmonious!
Happy Tea Break,