For as long as she can remember, the art of tea producing and drinking has been a central part of life for Georgia Ginsberg of family-run Dragonfly Teas in Berkshire. She talks to Rosalind Sack.
While the ritual of drinking tea has, for many of us, become as every day as brushing our teeth, the idea of tea plantations in lush far-flung destinations still retains a sense of romance and adventure.
For Georgia Ginsberg of family-run Dragonfly Teas in Berkshire, the tea-making process – from plantation to cup – has been a part of the fabric of life for as long as she can remember. It’s little wonder, seeing as tea has coursed through the veins of her family through generations.
‘Some of my earliest childhood memories are of going to South Africa to see the farm where we grew and produced Rooibos, or red bush, tea,’ explains Georgia.
‘It was actually my great-grandfather, Benjamin Ginsberg, who founded the whole Rooibos tea “movement” and it’s very special to be part of that. So I remember seeing and smelling the Rooibos tea plants, and my father explaining how it all works. The plantation is in a beautiful, very rugged and dry area, a few hours north of Cape Town in the Cederburg mountains. There, you find these miraculous plants that produce this tea that seems to make a lot of people very happy.’
A large part of Georgia’s ongoing passion for tea is rooted in the people she meets on her travels to the gardens and plantations across the world that supply the family business. From tea masters to growers, coming from a tea-making family creates an immediate bond that transcends boundaries.
‘They have this saying in China that when you talk tea you become a tea friend – and we have one particular tea friend who’s so dynamic and passionate about what she does,’ says Georgia. ‘We went with her last year to an organic jasmine tea garden in Yúnnán province in South-West China.
‘It was incredibly hot and humid. We were taken into a field of jasmine plants and the scent was just extraordinary. Everything is done by hand; they pick the buds in the afternoon when they’re still closed. The jasmine buds are then placed on top of the green tea leaves, which are laid out on a large surface. They mix it through and, overnight, the jasmine buds slowly open, release their fragrance, and the tea leaves are infused with the scent of the flowers. The next morning, they remove the buds and repeat the procedure several times. It’s a magical process.’
Having been fortunate enough to taste so many incredible teas from around the world, when quizzed on her personal favourite tea, Georgia admits it’s difficult to pinpoint. ‘I like so many different kinds of tea and I’m very lucky to always taste new and interesting varieties,’ she says. ‘I love English Breakfast Tea and Dragonfly do a delicious one, which I drink most days, but I start the day with our Dragon Well green tea, which is from South-East China. It has a fantastic freshness and slight nuttiness and it’s rather special, especially when you know where the tea’s from, you’ve seen it growing in the mountains and you’ve met the makers. As you taste different kinds of tea and become more adventurous, you start picking up more and more elements and getting excited about all the different nuances, and top notes, and fragrances, and floral notes, and depth… I could go on and on!’
Georgia’s passions aren’t limited to tea, in fact, she’s also a Japanese scholar and a trained opera singer; two subjects that, to you or I, may seem a world away from tea, but Georgia explains they are closely intertwined: ‘I remember my father had a very special Japanese earthenware cup, from which he drunk the most exciting, weird and wonderful Chinese and Japanese green teas. He has travelled a lot through Asia and bought it on his travels – it reflected his breadth of knowledge and his incredible passion, not just for tea, but for Asian culture and philosophy.
‘I inherited that passion from my father and feel very lucky to have grown up surrounded by those cultural references through tea, as well as through the arts.’
‘Tea and creativity have gone hand in hand over the centuries; in China, tea drinking was allied with poetry, music and storytelling. And each tea itself has an amazing story to tell,’ says Georgia.
Much like with wine, every tea depends on so many different factors; region, type of tea bush, the teamaker’s craft and so on. So, as with literature, there is a huge world of teas waiting to be discovered and tasted.
‘I think I could be learning about tea for the rest of my life without any difficulty at all.’