Tea and interview with Jameel Lalani
Jameel Lalani founded Lalani & Co in 2010, and in five years has built the company to become one of the finest tea merchants in Europe. We sit down with Jameel in Battersea's Story Cafe to discuss the growth and future of fine tea in the UK, the role of speciality coffee in this growth and whether the obsession with matcha is a trend or here to stay.
LBC: How did you end up in the speciality tea business?
JL: It’s a wonderful privilege to turn a passion into a business. I’d been drinking tea with a keen interest since I was 4. In 2010, the market looked ready for a rebirth, so we set up the company to bring incredible artisan teas to the UK. It’s is a business of passion. I’m happy to just offer the level of quality that I’d drink myself: Single batches, from prime seasons, and direct from craft growers.
LBC: What did the industry look like when you started five years ago?
JL: It was a tough place! Tea lists just consisted of English Breakfast, Earl Grey, etc and temperature kettles were mythical objects. Today it’s a completely different place. We write tea lists by origin, tea and food matching is taking off, and everyone is curious about fine tea. Every restaurant and coffee shop that opens views a fine tea list as essential.
LBC: Coffee has grown at an exceptional rate in the UK over the past five years, has tea fallen behind?
JL: Coffee has been growing since the mid-1990s. There have been 20 years of solid growth. Tea has just started it’s growth as the UK rediscovers its love of, and affinity to, very fine tea.
LBC: Has the growth of speciality coffee helped or hindered your industry?
JL: It’s helped enormously. The coffee industry has some of the most passionate and skilled drinks professionals in the UK and many leading cafes now carry fine tea. The industry's dedication to excellence in sourcing and preparation means they appreciate and serve our teas to very high standards.
LBC: What does the speciality tea industry need more of?
JL: Education. We need more people writing, researching and educating to further stimulate this bubbling, fine-tea-drinking culture. People are interested in tea. The consumer, and companies in the tea trade, need more knowledge to be easily available in the market.
LBC: Do you consider your teas to be luxury products or something that can potentially appeal to everyone?
JL: Both. The teas in our collection are limited production craft batches from excellent producers, which are indeed a luxury to drink. In buying these fine teas, you’re revitalising artisan skills which have been threatened by heavy market forces: Supporting a heritage industry with a purchase is also a luxury.
LBC: But can they appeal to everyone?
JL: Tea is the most widely consumed drink after water. Any tea drinker who wants to drink something better will certainly find them appealing. From 30p per glass, fine tea is an affordable luxury.
LBC: Matcha is trending these days. What has driven the public's obsession with it?
JL: It’s delicious and full of antioxidants. What more could one want?! Still, despite the growing trend, there are just a small number of people who drink matcha in its pure form. I wholeheartedly encourage everyone to try it as the Japanese would drink it. Matcha is beautiful on the palate and the mind. I hope you’ll try ours. We’ve made sure it’s a particularly high standard.
LBC: Do you think we'll see a lot more matcha in the future?
JL: Matcha is a special ingredient which has a gorgeous flavour and colour. It goes with both sweet and savoury foods. It’s both a drink and an ingredient in food. Expect to see matcha being used as in Japan, in ice cream, patisserie, smoothies, for seasoning fish, in noodles, in energy bars…
LBC: Beyond matcha, where do you see your industry headed? What will the speciality tea industry look like in five more years?
JL: Tea will follow in the path of wine. The two markets are very similar. We’ll see more tea pairings, more extensive tea lists, and more new origins starting to produce fine tea.
Lalani & Co teas can be purchased at a variety of top tier cafes across London or online at: lalaniandco.com. Save 15% using the code COFFEEAPP at checkout.