Living the tea life: We talk tea with Clare Jones from Bellevue Tea
Luxury Lifestyle Magazine food and drink editor Natasha Heard sits down and talks (and drinks) tea with Clare Jones from Bellevue Tea.
“When you’re married to someone in tea, you just can’t help it, wherever you go you assess the tea you’re served, what choice is on the menu, or what packs and brands are on the shop shelf. Whenever you have a cup anywhere away from home, you end up sniffing the contents of caddies, tea pots and tea bags! Even when we’re at home, we’re always sampling and tasting blends, it’s a never ending process,” Clare is quick to point out.
Clare is the doyenne of tea. Her husband, Mike, has been a tea trader for some thirty five years and because they got so fed up with drinking tea they felt wasn’t up to scratch when they were out and about, they finally decided to set up their own company. Named Bellevue Tea because they live in Bellevue Road in a south London suburb, Clare and Mike created their own brand to offer something better to hotels, restaurants and cafés, as well as the discerning tea drinking public. As Clare says: “Bellevue means beautiful view, and the tea plantations and estates where Bellevue teas originate have some of the loveliest views in Asia. So it’s all very apt!”
The enterprise took off and is now a well established family affair with Clare and Mike’s son, Henry, busy learning how to be a tea guru just like his father and he firmly believes he has tea running through his veins. When he first joined the business, Henry got sent off overseas for six months to immerse himself in everything tea and learned on the ground how it was grown, harvested, blended, packed and shipped.
Clare herself is no stranger to the glories of tea gardens and plantations around the world. She’s been to estates in diverse regions from India and Sri Lanka, via Kenya and Tanzania to Argentina. “I think my favourite tea estate is the Coonoor in the Nilgiri Hills of South India though most plantations are in beautiful places so it’s quite hard to choose. Mike keeps mentioning I should visit a tea estate in Malawi so my jury is still out. They really are stunning places with wonderful views, definitely worth a visit for a holiday with a difference,” she told me.
Running a boutique tea company fills Clare’s days and nights. She explains: “When I started, I really enjoyed creating the brand and deciding which teas to pack, now I find one of the most exciting things about our products is when I stop to think about where the orders ar egoing and wondering who will be drinking our tea, and where. I even dream about it sometimes! We really do try to give our customers and consumers the best tea experience and our bags are mostly packed in Sri Lanka where there is a very well-established and high quality packing industry and we work very closely with our packer to ensure that the teas and ingredients are responsibly sourced.”
But what does Clare drink when she’s at home and is she a bag or leaf lady? She says: “I like my tea in different ways, depending on the time of day. I start with a Belter to wake me up get off to a good start. Builder’s tea at its best! Then I move on to an organic green tea to keep me refreshed and hydrated, knowing how good it is for me. Towards the end of the day I only have herbal infusions otherwise I would be awake all night. We always brew the Belter in a tea pot. The green tea we put leaves in a pint mug and pour the water on, usually two if not three lots of water on to the same leaves as they make more than one infusion. The herbal infusions are made from bags in a mug. We always use freshly boiled water and the mug has to be white bone china, preferably with a thin edge. However, everyone has their own way of doing things – whether you’re a milk first or tea first in the cup person! And don’t forget something to go with your cuppa. My treat is a lovely slice of lemon drizzle cake, a particular favourite.”
Clare continues: “Tea really is our life in the Jones house and I can’t imagine life without it. When I think back to what happened in the last century during the two World Wars, I wonder how I would have managed. Did you know that by the beginning of the twentieth century tea was so central to people’s lives in Britain that during the Great War the Government had to take control of the importation and price of it when German submarines started sinking our commercial shipping? On the outbreak of the Second World War, the Government realized that if the nation was to keep calm and carry on, the nation’s supply of tea needed to be protected. They immediately dispersed the huge stocks of tea in London to warehouses outside the City and once enemy blockades prevented ships getting through, they introduced rationing in 1940 to just 2oz of tea a week for each person over five years old, although soldiers did get more than this. The rationing of tea wasn’t actually ended until 1952. It’s incredible to think the nation spent more than ten years on such a small ration of tea each week. How did we ever cope?!”
There’s something for everyone in Bellevue’s range of teas and infusions: leaves, bags, organic and caffeine free herb infusions, whatever is your tea thing, and the company have a busy online marketplace to keep all their tea addict customers freshly supplied and happy if they can’t get to the shops. There are so many leafy and fascinating blends to choose from, people are spoiled for choice. So just infuse away, sit back and savour the flavor and imagine you’re sitting on the verandah of a tea house, up in the tranquil Indian hills, away from it all and appreciating a sublime and awe inspiring view. There’s simply nothing like it