National Tea Day

Teatotal? You betcha!

This past summer, I gave up drinking my usual three pints a day of heavily stewed Yorkshire Gold tea. Bar one — Barry’s Irish Breakfast — it’s the strongest tea you can get. I love it, but felt that consumption had become excessive.

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Qi Teas

There were no withdrawal cravings, but there was a continuous two-day headache. After which, I found myself rising in the mornings in an altogether lighter, brighter, more energetic mood. It seems that once the habit is broken, that feeling of gasping for the first cuppa of the day simply disappears.

As an aside on the power of caffeine — when the EU referendum was held a few weeks later in June*, a single pint of tea at 1am kept me wide-eyed and bouncing with energy throughout the night until David Dimbleby’s momentous ‘We’re out’ announcement, shortly before 5am. (And then, and then – if memory serves correctly, although a certain amount of sleep-deprived haze might be obscuring matters — I’m pretty sure that somewhere between 6 and 9am I then baked and iced several dozen fairy cakes and set off, slightly manic, to help man the cake stand at a fundraiser for the local school. Whoohoo, who needs drugs to stay awake?)

Socially, however, it’s difficult to avoid tea entirely. After a few caffeine-free weeks, I had a cup of Earl Grey with friends. Because I don’t care for coffee and it was too early to hit the gin.

After so many years of extra-strength builder’s tea, the Earl Grey tasted terrible. Pallid and bland and watery dishwater.

Needing a social-drinking tea, I stuck with the Earl Grey. And then something unexpected happened. Having given my tastebuds to recover from the years of tannin-drenched builder’s tea — I gradually, eventually, found it to be the delicious, delicate drink I last enjoyed as a teenager.

I’m not the only one rediscovering tea. Despite the plethora of high street coffee shops, we in Britain are and always have been a nation of tea-drinkers. We drink 165 million cups a day (three times as many as coffee). And just as coffee has undergone something of a renaissance, with single-origin varieties and improved preparation techniques, loose-leaf and speciality teas are also ready for a comeback. Now we have functional teas, teas for different times of the day, teas that help you get going and teas that purport to help you go to sleep. There is no longer any time of day when an appropriate cup of tea is not an option.

Imagine the fun we’re going to have. There never was anything more British, after all, than arguing about how to brew tea, even among those who use teabags. Are you a dunker? How many minutes should the bag be left in? Do you squeeze the bag? To say nothing of milk and sugar issues.

Inspired by the Earl Grey, I’m dusting off a teapot. Being Editor of The Taster, I’m thinking of organic and Fairtrade teas such as those produced by Qi Teas (from China);  Tchai Ovna (Scotland’s original Tea House, in Glasgow – stocks over 100 delicious and nutritional teas; they also run a vegetarian restaurant) and the Hebridean Tea Store (100+ selection of teas, 100% natural & organic and yes, amazingly,  put together on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. Let none of us ever claim to have been limited by mere geography.)

As an Editor, I get an awful lot of press releases about tea. But a genuinely interesting one is that, recently, a London School of Tea has launched. Well, what better capital city for it? Given our reputation as a nation of tea-drinkers, I find this an immensely pleasing event. The School offers training to commercial clients — restaurants, tea-shops and so on — but also to novices who wish to excel in the art of tea-making. Sensory training is provided, among other exciting topics. The founder of the School, Lucy Chappell-Wright, has about as extensive a CV in Tea as can be imagined. She has worked at a tea estate in Darjeeling, a research centre in Assam, the National Institute of Tea Management in Bengal, and she has also studied the Japanese tea ritual in Osaka. According to Lucy, teas can be matched to foods just as wine can; a topic we’ll be looking at in our Summer issue (due out June 2017; subscribe here if you’d like a lovely printed paper copy – so retro, so Hipster!).

Enjoy National Tea Day. To my mind, teatotalism – har har – has never looked so appealing  ♥ — C T-P, Editor The Taster

UPDATE: since writing this piece, our Editor has discovered Assam tea — the connoisseur’s answer to Builder’s/morning tea — and, swayed by several reports that tea (along with about three dozen other food items, but what the hey) contains the secret of eternal and youthful life, is back on three pints a day.

To take a course or learn more about tea, see

To get 15% discount off Qi Teas, quote code TASTER15

*The main body of this article was first published in The Taster magazine, Winter 2016-17. Back issues and new subscriptions are available, at incredibly good value, here

The Taster


Great Glen CharcuterieWild venison charcuterie

This is a delicious, healthy and sustainable meat. In the Scottish hills, deer roam freely, feeding on heather, wild plants and grass. As well as making the venison taste fantastic, it is low fat and high in iron, protein, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin B, and 20% of the daily requirement of selenium and zinc.

With no natural predators, the population has to be managed to protect the environment from overgrazing. Great Glen Charcuterie, a family business based in the rugged Highlands of Scotland, uses sustainably sourced local wild venison. Excepting its venison & pork items, all Great Glen products are 100% wild Scottish venison. The salami has won multiple awards, including three Great Taste stars and beating a very good Spanish chorizo and air-dried Iberico Bellota jambon to win the Best Charcuterie category.

Great Glen still has a butcher’s shop in the tiny Highlands village of Roy Bridge but, if you can’t make it there, order from

Christmas Fire

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Christmas FireTHE human spirit has never been able to tolerate the winter of the world without a rebellious spasm of light and fire: twinkling candles, bonfires, burning logs and glittery trees to set the night ablaze and frighten off the dark beyond the campfire. Hannukah, The Chinese New Year, and (a little earlier in the year) Diwali all feature fire, light and in the case of Chinese New Year, firecrackers and fireworks.

From flame we progress naturally to feast — Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Burns Night. Roasts, spits, bubbling cauldrons; instant poptarts, pinging microwaves; butter and potatoes always the same, hot and dripping down the centuries. These winter banquets are celebrations of celebration itself.

Without fire, the physical burden of surviving on cold plants and blue meat would have denied us our humanity. Instead of evolving large, capacious skulls to house our large, beautiful brains, we would have had large, capacious guts and a mouthful of outsize fangs and grinders. We are exactly the right size to make the exercise of lighting a small fire worth the trouble, in terms of calories expended and heat generated. This is no happy coincidence; it is why we are as we are. The ability to cook has shaped our brains and bodies. Likewise, celebration feasts — something of which no animal has any concept — are a unique expression of humanity.

(Should you ever feel a pang of guilt at taking one more spud, just tell yourself that self-indulgence is the flip side of noble self-awareness.)

If Christmas Day doesn’t quite pan out right — and judging from the rest of 2016, if all we suffer this festive period is a few powercuts, we should all be mightily grateful — then, as Dylan Thomas put it, ‘Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’ Ignite the candles, open the wine and invite the neighbours round to pool resources. Advanced cooks might consider getting out the barbecue. Either way, shed light on the problem — literally — and you’ll be carrying on tradition just as much as ever; and a tradition that has been around for an awful lot longer than that of roasting large North American poultry.

Good luck, everyone — !


This article was adapted from one originally published in the Winter 2014 edition of The Taster. Click HERE for more articles

Christmas Fire

Organic wine discount

Organic Wine Discount 10%

New customers  can use the code VA014 to get 10% off orders of 12 bottles or more

Discount organic wineIf you can’t afford to fly away, get a taste of abroad from Vinceremos: a great British organic wine importer, one of the first to champion Fairtrade wines and spirits from developing countries, and now supplying over 400 organic, vegan, biodynamic, natural and Fairtrade drinks

Vinceremos encourages transparency in wine-making practices and ingredient labelling, believing that organic wines have nothing to hide, and much to shout about. It supplies ‘natural wines’ (made with no added sulphur dioxide); was one of the first to supply vegetarian and vegan wines; and has a wide range of organic Prosecco and Champagne, perfect for Christmas, along with organic Port, whisky and liqueurs; gluten-free beer, English and French organic cider and gift options including magnum bottles

Jem Gardener, owner of the company, says: ‘We passionately believe in organic grape-growing and wine-making, but first and foremost our wines must be delicious. We are committed to looking after the environment, our suppliers, our employees, and our customers.’

Find more special offers via The Taster here

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World Food History

A Set of Food History Books

Christmas food books Whether you buy one, two, or all 50+ titles in this World Food History series by Reaktion Books, each slim volume “explores the rich history of cuisine. . . reveals the global history and culture of a particular food or beverage.” The Taster has now read several and so far, every book has proved reliable, well written and enjoyable.

With so many titles to choose from, you can build up a very personalised set for someone special. The Taster knows what he’d like — Cheese, Figs, Lemon, Pie, and Brandy, thanks very much :) His Aged Mother, in contrast, might like Tea, Cake, Bread, Game and Pancakes. See the whole range HERE, from A for Apple to W for Wine.

See more foodie books and cookbooks here

If you buy, please mention The Taster

Diet History

Calories And Corsets

Calories & Corsets Louise FoxcroftA history of dieting over 2000 years, by Louise Foxcroft. We particularly liked the chapter on recent history, and how big business and governmental bodies have participated in our ideas about diets and dieters.

“An enlightening and entertaining social history of how we have tried (and failed) to battle the bulge over two millennia. . . Meticulously researched, surprising and sometimes shocking, Calories and Corsets tells the epic story of our complicated relationship with food, the fashions and fads of body shape, and how cultural beliefs and social norms have changed over time. . . This unique and witty history exposes the myths and anxieties that drive today’s multi-billion pound dieting industry – and offers a welcome perspective on how we can be healthy and happy in our bodies.”

Of interest to slimmers, foodies and historians. Published 2013, £8.99 from Profile Books

See more foodie books and cookbooks here

If you buy, please mention The Taster


Good Food Books

The Taster’s pick of top tomes
If you buy, please mention The Taster
Happy reading!


For the Spice Lover – Rafi’s Spicebox Cookbook


For the Slimmer – Calories & Corsets: a History of Dieting over 2000 Years

Create your own personalised set of books – Global Food Histories


For the Explorer – The Antarctic Book of Cooking and Cleaning

1. FOR THE HOME BAKER: Seasonal Gingerbread Recipes
Christmas food booksA jolly little book by Mima Sinclair, who is not limited to gingerbread cottages. She also does town houses, red doubledecker buses, animals, birdhouses and even an entire street. There’s a useful section on the art of icing which will be of great help to novices. Our favourite is the spiralling Christmas tree — one of those ‘genius recipes’ which is really just a heap of iced biscuits, but looks like something from a cake shop window. Order from Kyle Books

Philosopher's Cookbook162 The Philosopher’s Cookbook by Martin Versfeld. “Versfeld’s recipes have more of the poet about them than the instructor, they celebrate the complex relationship between humanity and food. A suitable gift for those of a thoughtful and contemplative nature, The Philosopher’s Cookbook is about the twin arts of slow cooking and pondering. “The art of preparing and eating food is inextricably intertwined with the meaning of life. . . ” Reading this book is like having a big friendly hug from someone who then goes on to explain in close detail why life is, in fact, good; and then serves up an excellent stew as a closing argument.


We’re going on a Bar Hunt, A Parody
Bar HuntJosie Lloyd & Emlyn Rees, illustrated by Gillian Johnson. Give a copy to any parents of young children you know. Inspired. Starts with two rhyming couplets:
We’re going on a bar hunt.
We’re going to find a cool one.
The babysitter’s booked.
We’re not old!
Any parent will get the gist . . . Originally published by Constable & Robinson 2013; now published by Little, Brown. Other similar titles include The Very Hungover Caterpillar and The Teenager Who Came To Tea


Spices & Spandex — an epicurean adventure down the length of the world on a hungry stomachThe Nomadic Kitchen 2014
Spice Kitchen UK has teamed up with author Tom Perkins to present a collection of African spices, to match and complement Tom’s ravishing, tactile, beautifully distressed coffee-table volume. The book tells of a monumental bike tour undertaken by Tom and a buddy, Matt Chennells, through 26 countries over 501 days, from Kent to Cape Town. Cycling 20,000km required a lot of calories. As Tom puts it, the boys travelled ‘at street level, focusing on the local: the backstreets, the vendors and the artisans’ — an approach that led to this ‘magpie book of esteemed national dishes, local delicacies and side-street offerings.’ With over 350 pages of menus, recipes, essays, photos and collages, this is a fabulous foodie gift; putting it together with the spices is a master move. Click on either pic (below) to link to the Spice Kitchen page.

Spandex picspices & spandex


Hungry YearsCLICK: The Hungry Years (Confessions of a Food Addict) “One January morning in 2003, William Leith woke up to the fattest day of his life. That same day he left London for New York to interview controversial diet guru Dr Robert Atkins. What started out as a routine assignment set Leith on an intensely personal and illuminating journey into the mysteries of hunger and addiction. The Hungry Years charts new territory for anyone who has ever had a craving or counted a calorie. This story of food, fat, and addiction will change the way you look at food for ever” Very engaging, often extremely funny, one of those books you cannot put down as you long to find out how it all ends.

Christmas Food books6. COOKBOOK FOR CHILDREN

The Gastronomical Guide to Fabulous Food! By Claire Bosi & Petri Hosken. One of the best food books we’ve read in a while, very Taster in approach. Ostensibly for children, but adults may well pinch it from time to time. Crammed full of entertaining pics, recipes, info, trivia. Brilliant. Published by A Way With Media


Catching FireCatching Fire (How Cooking Made Us Human) A riveting read for anyone interested in human evolution and the importance of cooking in early human history. Rather than opposable thumbs, or complicated powers of vision, Richard Wrangham “argues that it was cooking that caused the extraordinary transformation of our ancestors from apelike beings to Homo erectus. At the heart of Catching Fire lies an explosive new idea: the habit of eating cooked rather than raw food permitted the digestive tract to shrink and the human brain to grow, helped structure human society, and created the male-female division of labour. . . Covering everything from food-labelling and overweight pets to raw-food faddists, Catching Fire offers a startlingly original argument.”


(Grub Street)

If you haven’t yet found your perfect gift book, it’s always worth rummaging through the archives at Grub Street Publishing House. This excellent independent publishing house specialises in just two niches: food & wine, and aviation. (We’ll leave the aviation for now.) Like The Taster, Grub Street’s mission is to publish excellent food writing, rather than the latest celeb chef tomes: pleasingly, this hasn’t stopped Nigella herself(!) describing them as ‘the cookery publisher with a culinary conscience.’ The Taster has been lucky enough to peruse a number of their titles and what we’ve noticed is how often they contribute to our understanding of food history, as well as lots of delicious recipes. Our current favourite is Cakes, Regional & Traditional (pictured above). Although The Taster himself has more of a savoury than a sweet tooth, if anything is going to make that old gentleman try a Singin’ Hinny, or a Norfolk Vinegar Cake, this book is it.
DeliciouslyWGDF_Cover_screenClick on our previous blogs on The Best of Jane Grigson
and A Century of British Cooking
Grub Street is also taking an especial interest in catering for the new interests in healthy cuisines, including wheat-, gluten- and dairy-free diets as typified by their new title by Antoinette Savill (see pic), The Vegan Bible by Marie Laforêt and Best Salads Ever by Sonja Bock and Tina Scheftelowitz.


Flavour ThesaurusThe Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit. An excellent (in fact a unique) alternative to a conventional cookbook. The Taster has encountered several food professionals who use this book on a regular basis, whether to find inspiration for a new flavour of ice cream or come up with a side vegetable to go with a particular type of meat. It’s just as useful for home cooks: “Ever wondered why one flavour works with another? Or lacked inspiration for what to do with a bundle of beetroot? The Flavour Thesaurus is the first book to examine what goes with what, pair by pair. . . There are 980 entries in all, with 200 recipes and suggestions embedded in the text.”


Food of love
The Food of Love
by Anthony Capella. For lovers of Italian food, Italian lifestyle, Italian cookery or chick lit, or just plain lovers. A romantic tale with the added benefit of an appendix of recipes. If the gloom of winter should overcome you, pick this book up and immerse yourself in the sunshine and blue skies of Rome and the Italian countryside and beaches. “It’s a hymn to la dolce vita and the joy of food by someone who knows his stuff and his stuffing, a text that breathes authentic backstreet Rome from every page. I loved it” — The Times. Capella has since written a few more food-themed novels, including The Empress of Ice Cream and The Various Flavours of Coffee

And because The Taster always does a Baker’s Dozen . . .

The Oxford Companion to Food
111 BOOK Oxford Companion This new edition is a seriously substantial Christmas present for any foodie, gourmet or connoisseur who hasn’t already snapped up a copy. Funny and illuminating in equal measure, the original 1999 volume was an overnight success, winning prizes and accolades worldwide for its author, the late Alan Davidson. This updated 2014 volume has been expertly achieved by the impeccably credentialed Tom Jaine. Tom has produced numerous cookery books and often writes for The Times, The Guardian and The Sunday Telegraph; and he has edited The Good Food Guide and presented BBC Radio 4’s The Food Programme.
The Taster frequently finds it invaluable. £40 from the publishers (click on the pic)

Have a good one!

<span class=”highlighttext”><span style=”color: #ffcc00;”>Below, a few more . . .  </span></span>



London Food Festivals

London Food Festivals: plan foodie festivals into your diary. Dates and venues do change sometimes, so check fest websites before setting off.

This month in brief: The Big One is the Cake & Bake Show at ExCel, (nearest stop The Custom House on Docklands railway). Have a good one!

See also Duckpond for smaller markets in Black Park, Pinner, Richmond & Ruislip; realfoodfestival for King’s Cross and Charing Cross weekday markets; Chocolate Ecstasy for chocolate and icecream tours; Street Concepts for more night markets; and UrbanFoodFest and Kerb for streetfood events & markets

April 2016
May 2016
June 2016
July 2016
August 2016
September 2016

Food Festivals London

England Food Festivals

Plan England Food Festivals into your diary. Dates and venues do change sometimes, so check for updates. Have a good one!

This month in brief: In the season of harvests and harvest festivals, many many events are on for foodies! Notables include the original Food Fest in Ludlow; a seafood fest in Clovelly; Mark Hix’s Food Rocks fest; pears in Faversham, Fishstock in Brixham (Devon), a wine festival in Oxford and the usual sprinkling of chilli fiestas across the country. Have a good one!

February 2016
March 2016
April 2016
May 2016
June 2016
July 2016
August 2016

Food And Drink Festivals In England

French Flavour hamper

French Flavour hamperIf you’re a crossword fan, subscribe to The Taster and you’ll get a quarterly chance to win a hamper, cookbooks or equally exciting foodie prize, in addition to the free giveaways & competitions available online.

This hamper is the prize for our crossword currently published in our Autumn issue; for a chance to win, either subscribe or get a free copy of The Taster, complete the crossword and send it to us as directed in the magazine.

French Flavour specialises in supplying quality French and UK artisan food products, delivered direct to your door. Cider, artisan beer, garlic, saucisson, olive oils, patés, sea salt, hand-baked biscuits, sauces & marinades. For full details see or ring 01978 356835