Mei Leaf is a UK based tea shop and tea house offering some of the best teas (and herbs) on the European tea market. This shop is probably the most active tea shop in both living the tea life and promoting tea culture in Europe, all in a knowledgeable and professional, but relax way.
„Mei Leaf was established in London in 2006 (previously called chinalife) to represent true tea culture. Don and his team tirelessly explore the mountains of the East to find the most delicious teas on the planet. These are pinnacle teas made by masters from the perfect terroirs and picked at the perfect season.“
After trying some of the amazing teas from Mei Leaf, we were more than interested to know more about this shop. Don, the founder of Mei Leaf, agreed to share their tea story.
Tea Chronicles: First, I have to say that I absolutely love what you do. It’s very rare to find a tea shop that lives a true tea life and is not afraid to show this to its consumers. You really give a full insight into you tea life, taking videos, sharing knowledge, posting tastings on YouTube… You started your tea business 11 years ago. When and how did your tea journey start?
Don: My personal tea journey began in 2003. Mei Leaf is one of a few different projects under the Mei Group umbrella. One of our businesses is AcuMedic which is the oldest and largest Chinese Medical clinic in Europe. We have hundreds of clients coming to us every week and I thought that we should improve our tea offerings to them so I volunteered to try to source some teas myself. I had no passion for tea at this time but the moment I tasted a true Tie Guan Yin I was hooked and I had to taste more so I began tea hunting and learning.
In 2007, my passion for true tea led us to open chinalife tea house which has evolved into Mei Leaf.
Tea Chronicles: I love your Tie guan yin teas and they are some of the most amazing tie guan yin teas I have ever tried (and I’ve tried a lot!). Mei Leaf has amazing teas and herbs, and by the assortment you are closer to a typical Chinese tea shops than European ones. Do you do all of the sourcing alone?
Don: Yes, every tea that we stock has been personally sourced by myself with my wife Celine. This is really important to us because we decided from the beginning that every tea should be something that we personally love and that we would be proud to sell to our best friends. Besides, the tea hunting is the most fun and adventurous part of the job. Sure, it can be tiring and frustrating when you can’t find the right tea at the right price, but the satisfaction of finding treasure gives us both great pleasure.
Tea Chronicles: Your descriptions are very detailed. Why did you choose to write so many details and who is writing those descriptions?
Don: I write the descriptions after a tasting with friends or by myself. Whenever we taste a tea we like to deep dive into its aroma, flavours and effects. In order to do this properly I think it is important to make the descriptions as personal to you as possible. Otherwise the descriptions will usually become general or vague. So even though we do not expect everyone to ‘get’ the same references as us, we hope that our tasting notes encourage others to bring a similarly personal approach to their tastings. In this way they can develop a genuine understanding of how they feel about a tea removed from the judgement of whether they are an ‘expert’ at tasting.
Tea Chronicles: You shared very interesting information on organic tea on your site. With the rising interest in everything organic, how important it is for tea to be organic?
Don: I am absolutely a supporter of the organic movement and we are always looking for organic tea farming. One has to realise a couple of things:
Firstly, just because a farmer does not apply for organic certification does NOT mean that they do not use good organic farming practices. The idea that if a producer is not certified, then they must by default spray their plants is not true at all.
Secondly, the justification for a producer to apply for organic certification is a financial one. They have to feel that they can increase demand and/or command a higher price by going through the expense of the certification process. Generally, the farms producing the best tea have no financial incentive to go through the certification because they are already selling their top grade tea every year at a good price. Unfortunately, there is more financial incentive to apply for organic certification if your plantation is producing medium to low quality tea. In this way you can increase your profit and demand (especially in the foreign market) on a low quality product by sticking on the organic badge.
A lot of people get upset when I talk about this because they are so fixed to the organic movement but, in the same way as wine, these old crop products with established terroirs cannot be compared to fruit and vegetables. Therefore, while we are always happy to find excellent organic tea, in our experience, most organic tea is not up to our standards.
Tea Chronicles: You are very active on YouTube as well (Mei Leaf has over 23K subscribers). Where did that idea come from? I enjoy watching your videos. You are really dedicated in helping people understand tea better, understand flavours, processing methods, types…
Don: We have been running tea workshops for over 10 years at our teahouse in Camden and we thought that we would film a few videos to help others searching for good tea information. I did this primarily because I remember how frustrating it was when I started in tea to find good resources.
We had no idea that these few videos would lead us to where we are today and we are so thankful to the passionate community of ‘teaheads’ who follow us and push us to make more videos. We are genuinely humbled by the number of people who write to us to thank us for helping them discover their passion for tea.
For us, this is about creating a free and open tea resource for anyone who wants to get into tea whilst documenting our own tea journey. It is certainly hard work but we enjoy the creative process and the relationships that we have formed with teaheads around the globe.
Tea Chronicles: I don’t like this question myself, and this is why I need to ask you: What is your favorite tea?
Hahaha the most impossible question to answer. Tea is always in flux. Each batch is different, each brewing is different and every time the drinker is in a different state with different preferred tastes. Therefore favourites will come and go.
So, I think that a better question might be ‘which is the last tea batch that you tasted which blew you away?’. For that, I have an answer – last night I tasted our autumn 2017 harvest Tie Guan Yin and I felt as totally in love as I did when I first sipped that Tie Guan Yin over 14 years ago!
*Featured Image Source: Don Mei’s Tea Blog