Award winners are a great thing to have on the menu, and tea is no exception. Ian Boughton reports on the teas that did well at this year's Great Taste Awards
Awards are an extremely useful thing for a beverage manager. As has widely been observed, simply the words "award winner" by a menu item will instantly attract attention.
Within the hospitality trade, Caterer‘s Excellence in Food and Drink Awards already have a significant status and recognition among caterers.
By contrast, the Great Taste Awards, run by the Guild of Fine Food, have long been important to retailers and the deli trade - however, the winners of this year's tea prizes have all made it perfectly clear that they expect restaurateurs and hoteliers to work on the accolade more creatively, and that they believe award status should be included in more menu folders.
There were surprises in the tea section of this year's Great Taste Awards. The range of 237 entries was extremely wide and included several unusual items - an Indian Breakfast, a West Country oak-smoked tea and a Vietnamese Pu-erh. The judges remarked that the standard of tea bags had risen as had flavoured and herbal beverages, in particular, lemon grass and jasmine.
Also, two high-street brands, Twinings and Typhoo, appeared in the winners' lists - although doing so appears to have also surprised Typhoo, who had intended to be anonymous. Their winners were private-label products made for Harrod's and Tesco.
The principle for the hospitality trade is that "good teas pay", says Christine Collins, founder of Cup of Tea and importer of the German brand Ronnefeldt, familiar in that country's hotels.
"Our Jasmine Xian Yu won a Great Taste Award because it demonstrated a wonderful delicate taste, quite unlike the mass-produced teas you buy in retail. From a food and beverage manager's perspective, this makes a wonderful alternative to ‘normal' afternoon tea."
The promotional key is to build a Great Taste tea menu, suggests Dinuk Dissanayake, managing director of the London Tea Company, which won stars for its Green Tea with Mango and Ginger, and its Lemon Grass with Citrus and Ginger.
"Review your food and beverage to incorporate as many gold star brands as possible, then set up a Great Taste display area to showcase the menu. Then brief your waiting staff very well, so they can explain what makes an award-winning item."
It can be discreet, suggests Oscar Woolley, of Belfast, whose Suki Teas won stars for Peppermint, Lemon Grass and Ginger, and Apple Loves Mint infusions. "We say, ‘sell better and sell more'. The simplest way to put it across is to use the Suki Tea Bible, which is not just a menu but can be educational and simply a good, casual read for the customer."
A big name to show up well this year was Bewley's of Dublin, a brand which is immensely important in Ireland, but still not widely known in the UK. Bewley's had seven winning teas, including two, two-star awards, and has commented that the Great Taste seal is useful promotion because it is clearly based on taste and not marketing hype.
And yet profitable, adds Twinings, which took nine awards, including two separate ones for its Gunpowder and Mint. The company's practical response was that a look at the winners should show beverage operators how to make their tea menus really stand out and achieve higher prices.
"Tea has so often been an afterthought in most hotels and restaurants," remarks Daren Spence, founder of We Are Tea, and a three-star winner with his Jasmine Silver Needle. "So it is encouraging to see some of them taking an interest in quality teas from small independent producers, and looking to offer ‘exotic' varieties. It is the small suppliers who are pushing the boundaries, sourcing teas from less well-known tea gardens and blending with more unusual ingredients. What is surprising, is a new interest by hotels and restaurants in selling packs of our teas to their guests.
"As the large tea companies see their market share eroded, it was inevitable that they too would focus more on quality - but the better restaurants and boutique hotels still prefer to offer teas which are not served everywhere across the land and are not in supermarkets."
Canton Tea, of London, also took a three-star award with its Bai Lin Gong Fu black tea. Canton's travelling tea buyer Edgar Thoemmes, believes that the awards offer a fine opportunity for the hospitality trade.
He says: "I expect that only a few per cent of the public would recognise the Great Taste Awards - but the words ‘award winner' get attention on a menu even if the public don't know what the award is.
"Restaurants and hotels do not do anything with tea, except for the standard menu - and a generic tea gives them no story to sell. These teas have stories. Our three-star Chinese is not brittle, like so many teas, but soft and wispy. It's a breakfast tea or end-of-meal tea, because it has a sweet caramel feel which complements desserts. It's slightly similar to Darjeeling, but don't put milk in it."
Pu-erh is the tea from Yunnan which came to attention when girl pop stars praised its healthy qualities. It is not cheap - some of it sells by vintage, like wine - and Canton took a gold star for its Vietnamese one. "It is probably not, according to the letter of the law, a pu-erh," says Thoemmes, "because it's made right on the border of Vietnam and Yunnan. However, it is a very light one - people often don't like a pu-erh the first time, just like they don't often like their first olive or their first whisky, but this is ‘approachable'." Use it, he suggests, as an "afternoon special".
"I fundamentally agree that hotels and restaurants can do more with the Great Taste Award winners," says Alan Pirret, sales director of Daily Grind, whose Novus brand took stars for an English Breakfast and an Egyptian Mint. "We work with boutique hotels who simply show the logo and use the words ‘award-winning tea'. It conveys quality without having to say so."
There are several variations on English Breakfast, and the Novus one is imaginative while remaining true to the traditional Assam-Ceylon base. "A good Ceylon does not colour well with milk so we used three very good different Assams - one for colour, one for body, one for taste. This gave it a very clean taste which has punch, but it doesn't whack the palate with tannins."
Newby Teas, which took a dozen awards including a three-star for its jasmine, took a similar line with its winning, unusually-named, Indian Breakfast. "We believe caterers must always have one very good black tea," says marketing director Ed Berry. "It's the same principle as a wine menu - you can have all the fancy ones you want, but you must have a very good house white.
"The Indian Breakfast was developed by us, to be lighter than English Breakfast, which is a big tea with a big hit. Ours is Darjeeling and Assam without the Kenyan, and because it's lighter, it may not be for the heavier English fry-up - more a tea for the croissant and bagel than the black pudding."
And above all, adds Berry, the hospitality trade will do well to consider what the items in the Great Taste lists can really do. "What often upsets me is the standard of tea in even some five-star hotels, where they have discovered that afternoon tea is the great secret of profitably filling dead time in the afternoon.
"We went to one big name charging over £20 and were staggered at how bad the tea was, and yet, it can't be about money. Who's going to quibble about whether it's 2p, 5p or 10p at cost, if you're selling at such high prices? Some of these people take vast care over everything else they buy for the kitchen, then for the tea, it's down to the cash-and-carry."
[Daily Grind ](http://www.novustea.co.uk)01621 776179
[London Tea Company ](http://www.londontea.co.uk)
020 3159 5480
[Mighty Leaf Tea](http://www.mightyleafteas.co.uk)
[We Are Tea020 7248 6606
The Caterer and Hotelkeeper Excellence in Food and Drink Awards also have a growing hot beverage section, and this year's winners will be revealed at an awards luncheon on 26 November at London's Dorchester hotel. Mighty Leaf Tea has triumphed in this category for three consecutive years with its Chamomile Citrus, Green Tea Tropical and Organic African Nectar pouches, and its Marrakesh Mint Tea pouch has been shortlisted for the 2010 award.