As I mentioned in a previous post, I intend to post occasional interviews with tea people, and as you may have guessed from the title, this is just such a post. Nigel Melican is a “tea technologist” who has manufactured tea on six of the seven continents. His business websites are www.teacraft.com and www.nothingbuttea.com
The image below shows Nigel loading green leaf into the withering chamber of the “Teacraft ECM System,” a tea processing unit used for tea research all over the world (also known as “the tea factory in a box”).
TG: What’s your favorite tea?
NM: I’d say that a real favorite tea must be indulged in only rarely or it becomes routine – for me this would be a golden tippy Yunnan which I reserve for special moments. My favorite regular all day long tea is Yorkshire Gold by Taylors of Harrogate – a high end CTC blend mainly from Africa – several of my consultancy clients (in Kenya, Rwanda and South Africa) sell their best clonal teas to Taylors for this one. It’s strong black British tea bag tea that must be made with searingly hot water and have milk added, preferably low fat milk, and for me NO sugar
TG: How did you start on the path to tea geekdom? Briefly describe your history of tea exploration.
NM: Serendipity – I fell into tea in 1980 when I was sent to Papua New Guinea to sort out an agricultural problem on a tea estate (I was a research scientist with Unilever and had just completed two years trials in the Arabian Gulf countries of an arid agriculture product we had produced). Agriculture + Overseas experience gave me 2 out of 3 – the missing 1 being any knowledge of Tea! As the problem turned out to be in the factory and not the field my assistant and I spent 6 months on a very steep hands-on learning curve. In the subsequent 27 years I have continued to learn more about tea every day.
TG: What aspect of tea do you find most fascinating?
NM: The unbelievable number of completely different teas that can be produced from the same shiny green leaves just by subtle manipulation of an entirely natural process – and without adding any other ingredient.
TG: Who have you learned the most from?
NM: In 27 going on 28 years in tea it cannot be a single person I guess – still learning by listening to all those who know more than I do – and also learning by frequently questioning my own knowledge.
TG: What tea resource (book, website, person, etc.) would you recommend for a tea novice?
NM: Google Groups, rec.food.drink.tea – I’d advise to lurk; read; learn; trawl the archives; then contribute
TG: And what’s your own favorite tea resource, potentially for more advanced tea geeks?
NM: A book. Tea: Cultivation to Consumption edited by Ken Willson and Mike Clifford (ISBN 0-412-33850-5) compiled in 1992 but still the definitive technical book on tea – the one I carry with me when consulting around the world.
TG: What does tea mean to you?
NM: A job that fascinates me and allows me to travel internationally for at least three months every year meeting nice people in wonderful scenery.
TG: Name your biggest pet peeve in the realm of tea and tea drinking.
NM: Two answers here: #1. Narrow minded people who cannot see that it is possible to have good CTC teas, and excellent tea bags just as much as you can have poor orthodox tea and lousy leaf tea. High quality tea is possible (and should be strived for) in ANY format. #2. You cannot (despite what some notables in the tea industry believe) you just cannot significantly decaffeinate tea by using a 30 second hot water wash (in fact 30 seconds leaves 91% of the caffeine in place – and removes a lot of the antioxidants)
TG: If you could let everyone in the world know or understand one thing about tea, what would it be?
NM: It’s amazingly healthy and health beneficial – and tastes good too!
TG: What’s the craziest/weirdest/most obsessive thing you’ve ever done in pursuit of your love of tea?
NM: Tea is certainly obsessive. After half a lifetime in a safe career with Unilever I left them in 1990 to set up my own tea technology company – Teacraft Ltd based on zero capital and a dream. Then in 1995 with my wife Helga I added Tea Technology Associates– a tea consultancy and training company. And then in 2002 with my daughter Chrissie we started Nothing But Tea Ltd – an e-commerce company selling rare and specialty teas. Tea is infectious and obsessive and once you become entangled it’s impossible to leave. We have may other future tea ventures up our sleeves – “so much to do, so little time. . .”
TG: Thanks, Nigel!