Richard Enticott brings more than 25 years of experience in the tea industry to the Global Tea Championship. He owns Meridian Trading Company, which supplies botanical ingredients to customers around the world. World Tea News asked him more about his background.
What sparked your interest in tea?
Growing up in England, I became a heavy black tea consumer at a very young age. From the age of about 4, my father would bring a cup of tea to me in bed every morning, a tradition I continue with my own kids today. But I have my mother to thank for putting me on the path to a career in tea. After leaving college at 21 years old, I went home to live with my parents without a clue what I wanted to do for a living. After a couple of months, and in a desperate attempt to get me out of the house, my mum created “Richards’ job file” and began clipping job ads from the newspaper and presenting them to me at breakfast each morning. One of these ads was for a Tetley tea “Trainee Tea Taster” that offered a five-year apprenticeship toward becoming a tea buyer. The rest is history.
How and where did you learn about tea?
Those first five years at Tetley were invaluable in giving me a solid grounding in the mechanics of the global tea industry. It was like attending tea school whereby every day was filled with tea cuppings (several thousand cups per week and trainees had to empty and clean all the spittoons each day!) with mentors who had been working in the tea trade since the 1950s. When not tasting, we had to study producers at every origin in detail and be able to name all the gardens/factories they owned as well as the destination markets for their tea. There were regular “blind batch” taste tests and written tests about global production and consumption to measure palate and knowledge development. The five-year apprenticeship ended with an 18-month overseas placement to several places (Malawi/Kenya, Sri Lanka, India), where I lived on tea plantations and became intimately familiar with the tea plant in the field and production processes in the factory, all while making innumerable contacts, many of whom I am still in touch with today. Since those humble beginnings, I have been very fortunate through my varied roles in buying and selling tea and botanical raw materials to have visited multiple growing origins every year. I continue to learn on every trip.
What kind of tea research have you done? What are some of your findings?
Over 25 years I have seen, been involved in and read an enormous amount of tea chemistry research, clinical trials aimed at highlighting health benefits, and worldwide consumer preferences and trends. But my personal key findings are fairly simple:
- Good tea takes time. Take time for tea! The manufacturing of tea at origin is an art but the preparation of tea in your cup is a science. There are no excuses for getting it wrong but so many people do.
- While my training as a taster enables me to differentiate and grade/value tea from different origins according to the markets into which it is sold, I am not qualified to tell you which tea tastes “better” than another. This will always be a matter of personal taste.
- Dried botanical raw materials are neither stable nor consistent. For best-tasting products, freshness is so important and underutilized as a point of difference in the industry. So much of the tea available at retail is at least 6 months old and often over a year old. From Albanian apple pieces to Zimbabwean Brokens, the product begins to change on day two. Anyone who has tasted tea on an estate the day it was produced knows what I am talking about. We need to work harder to maintain freshness throughout the supply chain.
What are your criteria for judging the hot tea?
There are three primary areas to focus on when evaluating hot tea. First of all, the dry leaf can tell you a lot about how well a tea has been made and sorted. Secondly, the infused leaf is a very good indicator of a tea’s quality in addition to its keeping properties based upon the brightness and color. Lastly, of course, the brewed liquor itself, where for such a competition I would hope (and expect!) to see exceptional seasonal quality specific to the origin or origins where the tea was produced.
What is in your cup today?
As I write, I am drinking a homemade blend of Guatemalan Lemongrass, US peppermint, Indian Sarsparilla Root, Vietnamese Cassia and Vietnamese black pepper.