Storming the Teacup

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LOOSE LEAF: White silver-tip tea, an ideal — if expensive — pick-me-up

George Orwell called it a mainstay of civilization; William Gladstone praised its revitalizing powers. But to Henrietta Lovell, founder of London's Rare Tea Company, the traditional British cuppa is overrated. "People in the U.K. are used to drinking really cheap, industrially produced tea," she says.

Determined to get Brits to try new brews, Lovell's Rare Tea Company ( sources and sells exclusive, uncommonly tasty teas from Asia and Africa. It was on a business trip to Asia in 2000 that Lovell, a former project manager, discovered her passion for a superior sip. "In China, businesspeople would show off by buying a $120 pot of tea at lunch," she says. "I'd never tasted anything like it." Made from leaves grown and processed on small mountain gardens, those exquisite infusions were far removed from the bland British teabag — which can contain leaves from up to 60 factory farms. "I realized that Britain was drinking the equivalent of blended whiskey," recalls Lovell. "We'd never tried the single malt of the tea world."

Lovell now imports 14 hand-harvested whole-leaf teas, ranging from a delicate, grassy white silver-tip tea ($10 for 25 g) made from spring buds grown in China's Fujian mountains, to the robust, olive tones of the Satemwa Estate black tea ($15 for 50 g), cultivated on the slopes of Malawi's Mount Thyolo. Although Lovell's leaves can be found in the mugs of Hollywood royalty (Anjelica Huston's a fan), they have also captivated regular tea lovers. "I got the builders who worked on my flat addicted to jasmine and white silver tip," she laughs. "And I've even persuaded London taxi drivers to take tea instead of money."

A Brewer's Art
Making the perfect tea requires good leaves and a light touch

1 Place a pinch of leaves in your teapot and boil some freshly filtered water. If you're making white, green or black tea, stop the kettle just before it boils. Otherwise, the tea will taste more tannic and less sweet.

2 High-quality whole leaves can be re-infused numerous times, but lose their flavor if left soaking in hot water — so measure out the water in the required number of cups before pouring it into the teapot.

3 White silver-tip tea should be left to brew for 4-6 minutes. Green, black and oolong only need 3 minutes.

4 When serving, pour out all of the tea. The remaining leaves will be relatively dry and ready to use again. The water penetrates deeper into the leaves with each infusion, revealing new flavors.

5 Drink your cuppa neat. Don't spoil it with milk or sugar.