Darjeeling Gets Its Knickers In A Knot

In truly international news, the Darjeeling Tea Board has won a legal battle in Taiwan against Delta, a French lingerie manufacturer. Delta had been selling thongs, bras, bikinis and other undergarments under the DARJEELING brand.  The Taiwan Court of Appeal agreed that tea and lingerie are quite different classes of goods and so there might only be a minimal risk of confusion between them but, given the immense reputation of the name Darjeeling in respect of tea, Delta’s activities threatened to dilute the value of the Darjeeling brand.  The DTB has been actively defending its brand around the world – Bvlgari and Jen-Luc Dusong have also had to drop plans to launch Darjeeling ranges.  But it seems to be having less success at home – it ironically lost a case in Calcutta to force a deluxe hotel to rename its “Darjeeling Lounge”. The court found that the Darjeeling Lounge had opened 2 years before Darjeeling gained protection as a Geographical Indication.

Ramsbury Tea’s Darjeeling is guaranteed single-estate and the very highest grade.  In addition we’re proud to say all our tea is ethically sourced, so you can rest assured you’re drinking the real thing every time.

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Tea Bush Harvesting Tea

Tea Bush – Harvesting Tea

 

Tea plants are propagated from seed or by cutting from existing bushes.  The art of any plant breeder can be a dark and mysterious one and this is no less true for breeders of camellia sinensis, who strive constantly to improve and develop quality, yields and flavour.  A tea bush can take several years (sometimes decades, and occasionally centuries) to prove itself worth breeding from.  So, even though a bush can start producing seeds from the age of about 4, propagating and crossing bushes to select for preferential characteristics is no quick process.

 

It’s not all in the genes either – nurture can trump nature and even the best pedigree won’t reach its true potential without a sympathetic environment.  C sinensis prefers acid conditions, and has particular requirements for minimum rainfall (lots) and temperature (not too hot, not too cold) that have traditionally limited its cultivation to areas of Asia andAfrica.  However, there are few absolutes in the natural world and plantations have now been successfully established in non-traditional locations such asEngland,Wales and the USA.  Depending on the blend and flavour required, tea can be grown in full sun or in shade.

 

Only the leaves from the top 2-5 cm of a tea bush stem are picked for harvest.  Bushes are trained into “tables” i.e. the tops are topiaried to give a flat accessible surface to maximise tip production at just the right height for picking.  The tips in question consist of an unopened leaf or “bud” and maybe the next one or two leaves depending on quality.  The younger the leaf, the fresher it is and, in tea terms, fresher is generally better.  But some decent quality teas don’t include the bud and one blend, kukicha, is unique in being made up of stems, stalks and twigs.  On the whoel though, a “bud and two leaves” is the yardstick of the industry and anything further down the stem (i.e. older) is there for photosynthesis only.

 

When a bush is ready for picking, it is said to be in “flush” and after a harvest it will grow a new flush of replacement tips every week or two during the growing season.  There’s a fine balance to be drawn between maximising yields and maintaining quality – better teas are said to come from slow grown leaves, and older bushes (like older vines) are also highly prized.  This concept is taken to its extreme in theWuyiMountainsofFujianprovince where the Four Great Teas are produced from bushes said to be planted during the reign of the Song – think of that in terms of Normans or Plantagenets and you’ll get an idea of the vintage!

Care needs to be taken in handling the tea as well. The leaves will start to “ferment” (actually, “oxidise”) as soon as they are picked, so some high-end teas are only picked by hand, and only using the fingertips (even fingernails would crush and bruise the leaves and open them up to premature aging.  Some merchants will tell you that their tea is so delicate that even this process is too clumsy and instead their tips are harvested by monkeys, thus justifying a sizeable premium.  They will tell you that only specially trained monkeys are nimble-fingered enough to pick the tips without spoiling them, and agile enough to reach the tenderest tips on the ends of branches.  However, the more prosaic truth is that no commercial tea bush grows so high as to require simian gymnastic intervention, and “monkey picked tea” is simply the name given to certain varieties such as Tieguanyin.

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Caffeine and Tea

Caffeine and Tea

 caffeine and teaOriginally called “theine”, caffeine was first discovered in tea in 1827 (it was later shown that theine was in fact the same substance as the “caffeine” which had already been identified and isolated in coffee and the term “theine” was subsequently dropped). While the caffeine in tea and coffee (and, indeed, chocolate) are in all respects identical, a drinker’s experience and perception may differ between the two beverages for various reasons.

 First off, let’s not ignore the power of the placebo effect: someone enjoying a cup of tea at the end of the day may be doing so in the expectation of feeling calm and relaxed, whereas the same person drinking coffee may be doing so in more stressful circumstances (e.g. at work) and expecting to feel “energised” as a result.  Both these expectations may to some extent be self-fulfilling.

 The effects of tea-based caffeine may also be counteracted by other constituent chemicals such as L-theanine (an amino acid which has a relaxing effect that has been noted to smooth out the “jitters” of caffeine), or antioxidants (found in large quantities in some teas, and which may slow the body’s absorption of caffeine).

 In any case, although tea contains more caffeine per dry weight than coffee, even allowing for variations between types of tea, processing methods, brewing techniques etc, tea is usually brewed and served to a much weaker concentration than coffee.  A typical “cuppa” tea may be made with 2 grams of dry tea, compared with 10 grams of dry coffee in a comparable cup, so the tea will contain significantly less caffeine than the equivalent volume of coffee.  Indeed, a British study in 2004 looked at 200 cups prepared by consumers going about their normal brewing routines. It found that the average caffeine level in the cups of tea (black English style teas) was 40mg as against 105mg in the coffee.

 The amount of caffeine in any particular tea depends on many factors, including the variety  grown, whether the tea is high grown or low grown, the amount of direct sunlight received, the processing it undergoes (especially the eventual size of leaf), and how it is finally brewed. Younger leaves, higher on the plant, contain greater concentrations of both caffeine AND antioxidants than their older neighbours.  Oxidation does not act to concentrate caffeine in tea, so colour (whether of leaves or their liquor) is not a great indicator of caffeine content – not only does darker not necessarily mean stronger, it doesn’t necessarily mean weaker either!

 While it’s difficult (and usually incorrect) to make broad generalisations about the caffeine content of any particular tea, the following teas are notable for their caffeine “strength”:

Relatively low caffeine  Relatively high caffeine 
Jade (Green) Pai White (White)
  Assam(Black)
  Ceylon(Black)
  Darjeeling(Black)

In fact, the greatest impact on the caffeine content of tea is the water temperature and length of brewing time. Black, Green and White teas have very similar caffeine contents, but a tea steeped for five minutes in boiling water will infuse a LOT more caffeine into the liquor than one brewed for only two minutes in merely hot water.

 Tea can be decaffeinated by a number of methods.  In the “direct method”, the tea is steamed for 30 minutes and then repeatedly rinsed with a solvent which flushes the caffeine away. The “carbon dioxide process”: involves dissolving the caffeine in carbon dioxide which is passed over the tea at supercritical pressure.  In both processes, the caffeine is captured in carbon filters and recovered for later use (e.g. in soft drinks). 

 However, since all “real” teas come from the same plant (camellia sinensis) which contains caffeine, even decaffeinated tea is not completely caffeine-free – it may still contain 5-10 mg per cup, enough to be noticeable to a more caffeine-sensitive individual. To eliminate caffeine intake completely, one must switch to uncaffeinated infusions e.g. herbal teas and tisanes such as Camomile, Rooibos or Peppermint which are naturally caffeine free.

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Kennet Bridges Walk

Kennet Bridges Walk

 This pleasant route can be walked in either direction.  There are pubs and parking at each end and plenty of bridges in between. 

 From Axford, there are any number of possibilities to get going: Hopper’s Lane (R#45), Stone Lane, andCrooks Lane (R#9) each have their charms – and their bridges! – and lead onto R#43 Mead Lane.  Or you can walk – carefully – along the main C6 road towards Ramsbury and, just after the last house on the right, nip through a gate and continue along the other, safer, side of the fence (R#69). You’re safe from traffic but watch for nettles and electric fences before you enter a small wood, dappled with wild garlic and jack-by-the-hedge in spring. 

 Ignore a stile on the left which leads back onto the road, and carry on past an old gravel pit on your right, along what is now R#5 (Raggs Hatches) to a better stile directly ahead.  Once in the large pasture, head towards – and then to the right of – the remnants of a hawthorn hedge before crossing the first of several bridges over the Kennet’s many channels. Two more bridges follow and then turn east to walk along the tree-lined riverbank. 

 After a short wooded section, the path joins R#48 (King’s Ditch) just where an old brick bridge formerly took the footpath via Priory Farm.  From here, take R#48 past Cutnights, snatching glimpses of the Manor Park through the trees, to the crossroads by the estate cottages.  As at the start, you now have several choices for the finale: head north over the Manor Bridge (R#7) for a grandstand view of the lake and Ramsbury Manor itself (R#2 Manor Promenade will then take you into Ramsbury); carry on past Harbrook to Mill Lane via R#10, taking in the Kennet Triangle and yet more bridges (or fords if you prefer) to Ramsbury High Street. Or stick with King’s Ditch (now R#18B) to theC194 Froxfield Road and then turn north to the Square via two new road bridges and some usually hungry ducks.

 Footpath numbers are taken from the Definitive Map for Wiltshire.  A colour map of public rights of way in Ramsbury and Axford is available from the Parish Council.

 

Tea and Food

 

Tea and Food the Best Food Pairings for Tea

 Do you ever think about what tea and food work well together?  A piece of toast at breakfast?  A chocolate biscuit?  A dainty sandwich?  All good suggestions, but don’t draw the line there.  Like fine wines, fine teas can be paired with many different foods, from the exotic to the homely.

Any wine drinker will tell you that whites go well with light dishes – poultry, fish and salads – while reds sit nicely alongside red meats and heartier fare like stews and soups.  But that’s beginners’ stuff: a true connoisseur would go further and break these simplistic rules, safe in the knowledge that the world is not so black and white (or even red and white).  There are so many fascinating discoveries awaiting the adventurous.

As a matter of longstanding tradition, Europeans seem to hold that only black teas can be taken with food – all other varieties are seen as standalones. Countless tearooms from the days of Victoria to the 21st century are testimony to this belief: a single estate Darjeeling with cucumber sandwiches (white bread, no crusts); an Orange Pekoe from Ceylon with a delicate finger of sponge cake.  It’s still uncommon to find a Pai Mu Tan white, or even a Jasmine, offered as an alternative to an Earl Grey or an English Afternoon blend. However, in tea’s ancestral homelands, all sorts of teas are drunk with nearly every meal.  Surely the time has come for us to re-evaluate the place of tea alongside our daily bread?  

Delicate green teas like Ganlu (Sweet Dew) or Gyokuro (Jade Dew) are wonderful with seafood, salads, or chicken. Bright, lively teas, such as Ceylons and Assams are great with red meat or spicy food. Although it may be traditional to keep Oolongs for Chinese dishes, you could argue that rich, spicy teas like a decent Keemun black add more complexity and layers of flavour and aroma to a meal.

Tea and food like desserts can range from a simple sorbet to a rich sticky pudding.  Depending on your preference, why not think about a Golden Monkey or a good English Breakfast, either of which can be as exquisite as any dessert wine. Assams go well with dark chocolate but can also be a good foil for a lemon tart or a vanilla custard. With its naturally sweet, floral bouquet, Jasmine tea is also perfect for light puddings – and it goes beautifully with chicken and dim sum too!

As a digestif, nothing is better or more relaxing than a well aged Pu’erh.  A post-fermented tea with a clean, mellow, earthy quality, this is particularly good after a hearty meal. If you’re worried the caffeine might keep you awake, try a herbal or fruit infusion instead – Camomile, Peppermint or Rooibos. You’ll sleep better, and you’ll wake up feeling refreshed.

But it’s not all about food AND drink – some teas, such as a Formosa Oolong, a Pouchong or the revered Tieguanyin (Iron Mercy Goddess), seem to demand solo drinking.  You almost need to give them space, silence, and respect for them to show their true character. Or maybe that’s just us!

The days when tea was just about a full English or scones and jam are not gone, but don’t be afraid to make room on your table for some new creative combinations. There are so many teas worth trying, and so many styles of cuisine now available, that the possibilities are endless and you’re bound to find something that pleases you – or at least surprises you. The art of matching tea and food is just that – it’s not an exact science. Discovering what tastes fit individual palates is something that can only be done on a personal level and it can’t be learned from a book.  Put the kettle on and try something new!

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Sound Bottom Walk

Sound Bottom Walk

School Drove/Sound Bottom (Ramsbury Bridleway #8A/Byway #35)

Until well into the 18th century, Sound Bottom provided the main coaching route west from London– presumably a better bet than the marshy Kennet Valley to the south.  Even today, it’s a Byway Open to All Traffic, with its fair share of vehicular use.  As a result, it can be muddy, with deep puddles after rain.  Despite its technical status as a “dry valley” (i.e. no permanent stream flows down it), be warned and bring wellies! 

To get here, take School Drove – or East Lane- straight as a die from Axford Village Hall (the old School).  There are often partridge and quail towards the top of the hill, from where the steep scarp drops into Sound Bottom – it shouldn’t take long to get down!

At the bottom (in the Bottom?), by the crossroads, there’s the plinth of a timber hut, burnt down a few years ago: for a while, the fireplace and chimney stayed standing, lending a melancholy air to this pretty spot, but even these have now gone.  The metalled track to the east leads out of the valley to the pumping station at White’s Hill. 

Heading west, the unmade road is thickly lined with Travellers’ Joy.  At Sound Copse, look for the parish boundary stone – this one installed in 2007 and blessed by Bishop Stephen.  From here, a sunken track (Minal #31) veers off south across the slope – an ancient shortcut for coaches to Mildenhall.  It’s a pleasant walk in itself, but stick with the main track for a further half-mile, to where it becomes “Dean Lane” on older maps.  You’re at Blackrabbit Barn – not much to look at now, but once the site of the notorious “Black Rabbit” coaching inn.  

On to Woodlands Farm, where a dense network of tracks offers any number of onward options.  For a further taste of history, take Greenway Road: it now leads only to the phone box at Minal, but was once the highway to Roman Cunetio.  Just round the corner is the welcome of the Horseshoe Inn – bet the Romans didn’t have that!

Footpath numbers are taken from the Definitive Map for Wiltshire.  A colour map of public rights of way in Ramsbury and Axford is available from the Parish Council.

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Seven Bridges Walk

Seven Bridges Walk

Seven Bridges (Ramsbury #30)

This pretty and well-used footpath connects King’s Ditch (R#18B) with the C6 Hungerford Roadout of Ramsbury and forms part of several popular circuits of the village.  Watch your step – watermeadows can, by definition, be boggy underfoot, and the path has an odd camber in places.  There are also plenty of nettles and hogweed in the lush verges. 

Depending how you count them, you might actually find eight bridges – the newer bridge by the small layby on Hungerford Road is probably not one of the original seven.  But, anyway, over this “zeroth” bridge into the watermeadows and follow the obvious path over Bridge 1 and round left to Bridge 2.  Mind your footing on Bridge 3 as the boards are broken in places.  Note the sluices (here and on the other bridges) for controlling the flow of water through the channels to maximise grazing and winter fodder, and also for cultivating watercress – historically an important local crop.

What now looks like little more than a handrail over a dry dip is actually Bridge 4 – and Bridge 5 is covered by a lovely natural arch of thorns.  Bridge 6 – Loft’s Bridge – crosses the main river channel and is dedicated to a former water bailiff who cared for this stretch of the Kennet.  Keep an eye out for kingfishers. 

 Finally Bridge 7, set over a tranquil and shaded sidestream, takes you up to West Lodge.  The historic border between Littlecote lands and the Ramsbury Manor estate is marked by a magnificent 500 year-old oak, and by a line of smaller, but still impressive, trees marching away up the hill.  From here, take R#18B Kings Ditch either west back to Ramsbury or east to Littlecote and Chilton Foliat.

 Footpath numbers are taken from the Definitive Map for Wiltshire.  A colour map of public rights of way in Ramsbury and Axford is available from the Parish Council.

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Membury Fort Walk

Membury Fort

Starting near Balak Farm, head up the byway (R#37 Ballyack) beside the farmhouse.  Past a barn turn right over a stile, and head downhill (footpath R#25A) keeping north first of the hedge and then of the plantation at the bottom of the valley.  There is a small hunting lodge here, next to a walled enclosure – go over the gate on the south side of the enclosure and take the obvious track (R#50) as it curves up and around the hill. 

It’s a steepish climb to another gate, where a sharp left turn takes you through the “front door” into Membury Fort.  As you cross the Iron Age ditch and bank – all dug by hand – notice how impressive they still are, even after 2500 years of use, abuse and weathering.  Inside, follow the track directly across the vast enclosed space of the Fort and past the pond.  It’s now thought that “forts” like this were not so much the castles of their day (many would have been impossible to hold defensively) but more like market squares or town halls – meeting places and symbols of local power and prestige. 

Part of the fort (Walls Copse in the northeast corner) lies over the border in Lambourn and Berkshire, and the fenceline also marks the extremity of the “South West England” constituency of the European Parliament, which covers the whole of the West Country and Gibraltar!

Heading north on R#50 out of the “back door”, you can make a dash for the motorway bridge to wave at the cars, or head back to the start: Baydon#16, B#14A and R#25 (Ninicks Bottom bridleway) bring you along the valley to pick up R#25A again at the hunting lodge, or you can climb up bridleway R#21A (Paxlet) and come down R#37 back to Balak.

Footpath numbers are taken from the Definitive Map for Wiltshire.  A colour map of public rights of way in Ramsbury and Axford is available from the Parish Council. 

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Marridge Hill Walk

Marridge Hill Walk

Lipyatt/Marridge Hill (Ramsbury Footpaths #21 and #32)

This path originally linked Ramsbury with the hamlet of Marridge Hill and perhaps also with Lambourn, over the downs.

 Just where Crowood Lane leaves Ramsbury, a signpost by a gate points north. This section is Lipyatt (or Lippiat) and takes a shortcut over the hill, tracking the hedges (sometimes to the left, sometimes the right and occasionally straight down the middle).  Across Crowood Lane again and then down the path, fenced either side, to Crowood Farm.  This is part of Crowood Estate, inhabited and farmed since at least Roman times.  A notorious incumbent, for 5 years after WW2, was Oswald Mosley – he was famously refused service by Ramsbury’s village barber! 

The footpath leads straight through the farmyard.  Take care crossing the B4192, which many drivers seem to think is still an A road.  A handy bridge has replaced the ford across the Whittonstream but watch for wet weather when this winterbourne floods and you have to wade to the bridge in the first place!

The path now climbs Marridge Hill, running along the edge of the fields to the junction with Ramsbury #32, enclosed in the hedgeline.  On the way up, keep an eye out for red kites above and hares below.  R#32 is spectacular in early spring as it transforms into “Snowdrop Alley” (but is apparently too short to have earned an official name).  It heads left toPrestonor right to Balak Farm and Ramsbury #37 – an ancient byway and another old route to Lambourn.  R#21 meanwhile continues north to Marridge Hill Cottage and the metalled road.  If you’re starting from here and heading south, aim for the tree in the middle of the field – the stile into R#32 should then be directly ahead.

 Alternatively you can head back to Ramsbury via Prestonor Whittonditch (probably the safer option).  Or strike out for Aldbourne, Baydon or Membury.  If you’re feeling brave, you could take in Ramsbury #33 (“Gypsy Lane”) on the way home.  A short hollow track linking Crowood Lane to the B4192, seasonal farmworkers would lay up their caravans here during harvest time.  It’s a surprisingly atmospheric spot, and you’ll almost certainly have it to yourself.

 Footpath numbers are taken from the Definitive Map for Wiltshire.  A colour map of public rights of way in Ramsbury and Axford is available from the Parish Council.

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Kings Ditch Walk

Kings Ditch Walk

“Kings Ditch” (Ramsbury Bridleways #18B & 48)

 It’s easy to speculate that these bridleways follow the route of a Roman track linking Cunetio (Mildenhall) with the villa at Littlecote.  The Kennet Valley was also an important east-west corridor for the Saxons and, although by the Middle Ages the main road seems to have shifted north of the river, this track was possibly the M4 of its day.  It still forms part of several much-used and popular circular routes around Ramsbury.

 From the parish boundary by Littlecote House, follow the drive westwards, passing just south of the Roman villa and its beautiful mosaics.  The river can be heard – and sometimes glimpsed – through the hedge as the path carries on to West Lodge and the ancient and impressive oak (perhaps some 500 years old).  Along this stretch the ground can be treacherous for bicycles – a pronounced camber, slick clay and needle-sharp flints. Pedestrians have it rather easier, and can also opt to take Seven Bridges (Footpath #30) over the river to Newtown Road.

Carrying on past Ambrose Farm and over the Froxfield road, the track divides the steep pasture of Springs Hill from the gentler grazing of the water meadows to the north.  This is Kings Ditch proper – most of this path has no formal name, but this seems as good as any – and may once have marked the northern most limits of Savernake Forest.

Around Harbrook the permissive path is more obvious than the bridleway but is often covered in puddles and mud; walkers especially may prefer to take the right of way itself which runs down the tarmac drive and out past New Cottages.  At this point, there’s an option to return to Ramsbury via the Manor Bridge (Bridleway #7) or to continue past Cutnights to Axford, and eventually via Kings Drive (that name again) toMarlborough.

 Footpath numbers are taken from the Definitive Map for Wiltshire.  A colour map of public rights of way in Ramsbury and Axford is available from the Parish Council.

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