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NEW TEA TRENDS

Some new trends in tea drinking may seem rather extreme, not to say unsavoury, to the tea connoisseur. Take the idea of bubble tea as a case in point. This is made using tapioca to create a sickly sweet drink with a porridge-like consistency. Commercial versions often contain a large number of artificial flavours and a lot of added sugar, so aren't suitable for young children. Bubble tea is certainly distinctive, but it's unlikely to appeal to the bona fide tea lover. Indeed, tea aficionados tend to be reassuringly picky about where and how they drink their brew by yixing tea set. Not for these people the throwaway cups of a motorway service station or takeaway coffee bar. Instead, they like to sip loose-leaf tea out of decent china or a delicate glass, with only exceptional circumstances justifying a break from the norm.

They may countenance a chunkier mug while drinking tea in a spa, for example, where the risk of broken fine china or glass is too high for bare feet. And, in extremis, they might just contemplate drinking tea made from a tea bag - although this would be done only with a very heavy heart. For some people, such choosiness is a luxury they can't achieve. Chinese taxi drivers working in Shanghai, for example, are known to carry tea leaves in containers in their cars, which they use to brew up throughout the day between fares.

A tea trend that has emerged in recent years is chai latte. This hybrid of languages and ingredients is inspired by the masala chai of India. Both drinks are a mix of different spices with milk and sugar, and offer an interesting taste experience for the drinker.

Chai latte has really taken off in many countries, where it is ordered as an alternative to a cappuccino, and it can even be bought in powdered form. The committed tea drinker would be unimpressed by such convenience, however: for such people, only a freshly brewed chai latte of the finest quality will suffice.

ALCOHOL AND TEA

For some people, the addition of a drop of alcohol helps enhance a cup of tea. German Scouts have been known to add rum or red wine to their traditional drink of Tschai - a mix of black tea, apples, cinnamon sticks, oranges, lemons and cloves that is drunk without milk. Meanwhile, many alpine dwellers add rum or grog to their brew. In Scotland and Ireland, whisky (whiskey) is a popular addition to a cup of tea and is thought to enhance its health-giving properties. Whether that's true or not is a moot point, but the addition of this fiery spirit certainly adds piquancy to a cuppa.

A very different use of alcohol in tea comes when it is used to make cocktails. By adding white rum, gin, or various cream liqueurs to iced tea, a host of interesting alcoholic tipples can be created. Some people even add sparkling wine or champagne, resulting in a long, refreshing and decadent drink that is especially suitable when there is something to celebrate.

HOWTO MAKE A CHAI LATTE

Take a ready-prepared chai blend of good black tea and selected spices, and prepare a strong brew from this in the usual way. Place a little hot milk in a cup, and add a shot of maple syrup. Then pour the chai on top, capping with plenty of hot, frothy, milk. In a good chai latte, the flavour of the tea should still be discernible amid the other spices.

A TEA FOR EVERY OCCASION

Well-stored tea will keep for a long time, so it's possible to stock a decent range of varieties. To build up your selection, we recommend:

An excellent Darjeeling

A good Assam

An English Breakfast Tea

An Earl Grey

An excellent green tea

A finest Oolong tea

A delicate white tea

A small selection of flavoured teas

A delicious Rooibos

A small selection of herbal and fruit infusions

ESSENTIAL FACTS

Pamper days and exclusive tea events can be booked in good hotels separately from a room reservation. You can book high tea, example, and some hotels offer special ladies' teas.

Tea can be enjoyed at home any time and is great for a get-together.

Always look for the best-quality ingredients in the drinks you buy - especially when they are based on tea.

Kids love fruit infusion made with real fresh fruit and frozen into ice cubes.

If you're going to drink chai latte, be sure to have one that is made properly, with high-quality tea and decent spices. And only freshly frothed milk will do.

Tea goes well with alcohol, including white or dark rum, vodka, gin or, chilled, with champagne. It also goes does down well with a shot of Scotch whisky or lrish whiskey.