Christmas Opening Times and Delivery Information

With the usual Christmas rush and delays, we are suggesting the last day to order to receive in time for Christmas be Friday 17 December. This cannot be guaranteed though and so the sooner you order the better.

Free local deliveries with our vans will still be taking place up to and including Wednesday 22 December, so do give us a call on 01246 232 600 if you live Chesterfield or North East Derbyshire and would like to take advantage of this offer.

Please note – the last date for ‘Click and Collect’ orders will be Wednesday 22 December and will not be available again until Tuesday 4 January. Final web orders will leave in the morning on 24 December and any orders placed after this date will not be posted until Tuesday 4 January.

Our shop opening hours over Christmas are as follows:
Fri 24 Dec:                       9am to 4pm
Sat 25 – Tues 28 Dec:      CLOSED
Weds 29 – Thurs 30 Dec: 9am to 5:30pm
Fri 31 Dec:                       9am to 4pm
Sat 1 – Mon 3 Jan:           CLOSED

Then back to usual opening times from Tuesday 4 January 2022.

The Pekoe Cafe will be open on the same dates as above but please telephone in advance in 07543 665 383.

Festive preparations and supporting Ashgate Hospicecare

Where has this year gone? Time flies, when you are having fun!

There are now only five short weeks until Christmas. We are starting to get plenty of enquiries for Christmas hampers, Christmas blends and our packing rooms are flat-out fulfilling our wholesale and contract packing orders.

We are happy to share a code valid until Friday 17 December (to allow for the inevitable extended Christmas delivery times) that allows 10% off all hamper purchases. Simply use the code: CHRISTMAS2021.

We’re also delighted to announce that we have created a special coffee blend to support our favourite local charity, Ashgate Hospicecare, a charity (no. 700636) that provides compassionate, specialist palliative, and end of life care, free of charge, to patients with life-limiting illness and their families across North Derbyshire.

For every 250g pack sold we will donate £1 to the the charity and we are hoping to raise as much as we can for this wonderful charity. Find out more about Ashgate Hospice Blend here.

Update: Novel Coronavirus and Upcoming China Tea Conferences

Since the widely reported outbreak of the Novel Coronavirus in December 2019 I have been in regular communication with friends and colleagues in China, some of whom live within the vast Hubei province. I’ve also been watching the myriad of news reports and reading articles about the spread of the virus and the steps being taken both inside and outside of China to combat its progress.

The Chinese people are practising excellent quarantine protocols within Hubei and having seen some of the technology relating to gene sequencing and medical research, which I was proudly shown on previous visits there, I am convinced that a vaccination will be found within the not too far distant future.

I had three conferences to attend in China, due in late-March (one in Hubei province) and these have been postponed until the Chinese feel they can welcome their global tea visitors again with open arms. I was very encouraged by a letter from the Head of the National Chinese Chamber of Commerce who indicated that all of the Chinese tea people were all safe and sound, thus indicating that tea drinking clearly strengthens the immune system! I will let you draw your own conclusions to his statement…

I send the Chinese people all my very best wishes and wish them God speed for a swift decisive resolution to this well-reported outbreak.

Trip to Meizhou for the 2nd Annual Chinese Farmers’ Harvest Festival and Elite Summit of Tea

My travels began (again) at 9am on 20th September when I was collected by my taxi and taken to Manchester Airport for flights to Schiphol, Beijing and finally Shantou. A total of 17 hours in the air not including transfers, with a total journey time of about 26 hours. When I arrived in Beijing I was glad to receive a WeChat message from Ian Gibbs the Chairman of the International Tea Committee who was also in the airport and we completed the final four hour flight together. Needless to say when I arrived at Shantou, Meizhou’s main airport, it was very gratifying to be collected with the cordiality and kindness that the Chinese always offer. We were met by two beautifully dressed young ladies who asked us to accompany them to a large and beautifully appointed VIP waiting area. They took our passports, checked us through security and fetched our cases whilst we sat drinking a cup of tea and enjoying the far comfier seats in the VIP area than were in the aeroplanes. We were then introduced to our individual translators. All of the translators provided for the entire conference were students studying for degrees in English Language. Although at the conference there were 30 countries represented English is used as the lingua franca. Each student had chosen an English name and my young translator introduced herself very politely to me as Grace. Once our cases had been collected we were given back our passports and escorted to the MPV which took us the final leg of our journey approximately 1 hour by road to the Hotel and Conference Centre which had been especially built for this event.

We were the last two guests for the Conference to arrive and upon arrival which was about 7pm Chinese time we were given 30 minutes to go to our rooms, shower and change into formal clothes as our hosts had organised a gala opening dinner that evening. We were all amazed to learn that the whole project including the construction of the 15km road that wound up the Han Mountain, the electricity and gas infrastructure, telephone network and the entire Hotel and Conference complex, all the staff training, and every detail required to present a polished and professional service to the delegates and guests, was achieved in SIX MONTHS! This is a testament to the drive and organisation of the Chinese people.

Having been awake by this time for approximately 30 hours I was ready to relax but meeting all my friends from all over the world at the banquet really did wake me up and a thoroughly enjoyable time was had by all. I was particularly glad to hear a Northern voice in the middle of all the different accents from around the world, so I thought I’d better go and investigate. The owner of this voice was a Mr David Lyons from Canberra, Australia, who is the founding Director of the Australian Tea Cultural Seminar and a well-known tea consultant and educator throughout Australia. However, David, hasn’t lost his Northern accent despite having lived in Australia since 1996 and it was a real pleasure to spend time with a fellow Northerner over the following few days.

After the banquet had finished approximately half of the party were invited up to the seventh floor of the hotel which is where the lounges were situated. Having already dined heartily we were somewhat dumbfounded to find more food set out for us but this time with alcoholic drinks and we sat down again and nibbled to the repass that was before us which included a Chef carving wafer thin slices of Iberico Ham which is a huge imported delicacy in China. Needless to say by about 11pm I was dog-tired and made my excuses and went to bed.

The idea of the whole event was to celebrate the Harvest Festival in Meizhou and also for a Conference relating to tea business, tea technology and tea culture and China’s plans for its enormous tea market place for the year ahead.

The following day (22 September) I was up early and enjoyed a breakfast of dumplings, rice and tea as we were to leave for a tea bush planting ceremony that had been organised as part of the event. Three guests, David Lyons, Ian Gibbs and me, were to plant three tea bushes in designated areas of the tea estate (which the Chinese called Celebrity Tea!) When we arrived at our plots we saw a brand new spade with a red ribbon tied around it, a young tea bush in a bucket of water and a watering can. At the side of each tea bush was a huge rock into which had been carved in both Chinese and English our names, who we were and the date we were to plant the bush.Happily, with the addition of a little water, the hard red earth soon became easy to handle and digging an 18 inch hole for my tea bush and its roots was not an onerous task. Within 10-15 minutes my tea bush was planted, watered and properly covered with earth. I must say it was very peculiar to be doing gardening at 930metres above sea level, in China, with an entourage of photographers clicking away as I worked. I hope my tea bush will flourish and provide tea for many years to come for visitors to this amazing place.



The whole group was then taken a little way down the mountain to our Conference Centre and Exhibition Hall. We eagerly entered the exhibition for not only the amazing tea but the fruit and vegetables that would be on offer from this fertile area of China.


After having visited the exhibition we were escorted down the mountain for lunch, which we had to eat fairly quickly as a live nationally televised conference had been arranged to start at 2pm sharp. I had been given a sheet of paper earlier that morning with questions that would be directed at me and also a copy of the speech which was to be given by Professor Yu Lu, who opened and MC’d the event. The press conference went very smoothly and three of us were selected for live television interviews on CCTV, the national Chinese television network.

After the press conference we were then taken back up the mountain for the opening ceremony for the conference itself. This ceremony with its accompanying speeches lasted a further two hours and it was lovely to hear speakers from the UK, Europe, Sri Lanka, Nepal and China amongst others on subjects such as ‘Three ways of making peoples lives better with tea’, ‘Smart tea gardens’, ‘Tea development in Jaiyun’, ‘Use of 5G technology in tea estate management’ and ‘The paradigm shift of the Chinese Tea Industry’.



We were then taken back to the hotel and told to change into casual formal attire as yet another celebratory banquet was being prepared and served in the Conference Centre we had recently vacated. Needless to say the banquet was a very extravagant affair where not only were excellent quality and rare dishes being placed in front of us, this was also accompanied with an amazing stage show with dancers, marionettes, artists and singers.

The following morning (23 September) was the open air Harvest Festival event which was nationally televised. It was an amazing show with Chinese TV stars, beautifully choreographed stage shows, patriotism inspiring themes all of which required significant audience  participation. We were all given a bright orange polo shirt and a yellow baseball cap to wear, a plastic tea bush branch and a Chinese flag which we were instructed to wave or hold in the air as a salutation to the actors and the dancers on stage. From the outside looking in, it was like mixture of a Harvest Festival Church Service, a rock concert and a grand state occasion!




The grand event finished at about midday and after a quick lunch it was time to return to the Conference Centre where the international guest speakers were all scheduled to give their key note speeches with further topics of great interest including, global tea production statistics, tea and calligraphy, integration of tea culture into daily life and, a subject that is of great concern to me, tea genome studies. I was asked several questions during the Q & A session relating to the UK’s stance on several of the topics discussed, as well as Brexit… I was able to reassure my questioners that British business and the UK as a whole will continue to trade, consume and process tea from all over the world, in spite of our politicians best efforts to haphazardly plod through the minefield that has become our exit from Europe. That evening we were allowed an early night and I was glad to get into my bed about 8:30pm and sleep soundly for the whole night.

The following morning after breakfast there was one last job for us all to do which was to ratify the event and collectively describe what had happened and what had been decided by the Chinese government based on the input of the delegates from Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Canada, China, France, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Morocco, Nepal, Russia, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States of America and Vietnam. This document was then produced and signed by four senior members of central government as we watched.

By midday the final ceremony had concluded and we were taken back to the hotel for a very quick lunch before departing in coaches and individual cars for our various destinations around the world. One final and enduring image I have is driving back down the mountain with my driver on my way to Shantou airport. The first question I was asked in the car was where I was from, so after I’d explained I was from the UK, he asked what music I liked. I always find it best on these occasions to say “I like lots of music what type of music do you like?” At this my driver responded that he liked Linkin Park and we continued to drive down the mountain with some of the most beautiful scenery with the amazing vocals and heavy guitar riffs of the Californian Metal Band.

This trip whilst short was absolutely fascinating, although technical and has without a doubt increased my knowledge about tea, technology, culture and politics. All of which will help me to further enjoy running a tea business and being involved in the wonderful global tea trade.

Everything you need to know about cold brew tea

I was speaking to a friend recently and the topic of cold teas came up. It’s summer, and it’s understandable that some people choose to put down the hot drinks – especially during heatwaves like we’ve experienced this year!

That friend said how they’d tried pouring their hot brewed, branded black tea over ice, adding a slice of lemon, and trying an ‘iced tea’. They were also shocked when the result was a bitter, stale tasting cup of disappointment.

But that isn’t how to enjoy cold teas.

I thought I’d use the opportunity to put together my thoughts and tips on a growing trend – cold brew tea.


The benefits of cold brew

It’s simple – Because there’s no heat required at any point in the process, it’s perfect for summer. Picnics, camping, even just keeping the unnecessary heat in the kitchen to a minimum!

It’s so refreshing – During the summer months, some people find that the thought of a hot, steaming cuppa is too much to deal with, but miss their favourite hot drinks. Iced coffee offers half of the solution – I’d say that cold brew tea could be the other half.

Fewer tannins than hot brew tea – Tannins are a type of polyphenol, an antioxidant compound that gives the astringent taste to tea. It’s therefore naturally smoother and sweeter, making it easier to kick the added sugar if you’re one of many going for that beach body at this time of year.

It’s hydrating – If you’re looking for a way to drink more water but enjoy something with a little more flavour, cold brew could definitely be the answer.

Get creative – Cold brew teas offer an opportunity to find the perfect drink combination for you. Play with different strengths, steeping times, teas, infusions, garnishes… Go experiment.

Get boozy – Should you want to spice it up for the weekend, I have known people to use spirits (particularly gins) instead of water when brewing, to create a delicately infused basis for a cocktail or spirit mixer combo!


What you’ll need to cold brew tea

At the very minimum, you will require:

  • Tea (or herbal infusion)
  • Strainer
  • Pitcher (or any container to actually brew in)
  • Teaspoon
  • Glasses
  • Refrigerator

One thing to note – I’d recommend a glass container in which to brew. Plastics and particularly metals can impart unwanted tastes on the end result.

The optional extras are where you can go really crazy. Ice, fruit, herbs, sweeteners, alcohol… Whatever you think will make a pleasant addition, try it.

Something else to note here – if you do wish to use a sweetener, I’d recommend going for a simple sugar syrup or honey. Liquid sweeteners will incorporate far easier than adding sugar. Or you could add additional fruit for a more natural sweetness!


How to cold brew

It’s essentially three steps, although I’ll go into more detail below.

  1. Put your tea into a container with water
  2. Pop the container into the fridge overnight (or 8 hours). This can be left longer – I’ve known people to brew for 48 hours and it not be ‘too long’
  3. Strain and serve

Now, that’s clearly a very simple version. So, a few things to bear in mind…

Quality is king. The quality of tea that you use will have a huge effect on the quality of the end result. Loose leaf tea will infuse better than that in a tea bag and is often of better quality. If you do use teabags, you’re best to empty the contents of the bag into the container to brew, then strain. Also consider your water – using filtered water may have a huge effect on the taste of the end product, particularly depending on the harshness of the water in your area.

Fruit. If you’re adding fruit for aesthetic purposes only, then adding it to the glass when you serve the drink is fine. If you’re adding it for flavour, however, it should be added at stage one. It should also be sliced as opposed to being whole or in wedges for maximum flavour. Fun tip – strawberries can turn the brew a lovely pink shade after a day of infusing.

Quantities and strength. The general rule of thumb is that for a standard strength, one teaspoon of tea per cup of water (or 12g of tea per litre) is plenty. This does of course depend on your own preference as well as the quality of the tea. Experiment with steeping times and ratios to get it right for you.


Types of tea to consider

Any tea or herbal infusion can be used. None should be dismissed – remember it’s all down to personal taste. I’ve given an overview of my thoughts on a few types of tea when it comes to cold brew.

Black tea – It’s strong, possibly a little less refreshing due to having high levels of tannins compared to other teas that have been cold brewed. That said, it makes it a great basis for a very fruity cold brew tea – fruits can give the drink the sweetness that cold brew black tea naturally lacks.

White tea – A more aromatic and light option. Naturally very refreshing. Perhaps the opposite, in the fact that you may want to avoid too much fruit – the fruit could easily overpower the subtle flavours. Herbs can be a great option here instead.

Green tea – The fresh and ‘clean’ option. Also aromatic. There’s a huge variety of green teas available, many of which are already infused with other flavours. Avoid clashes in infusions by getting a standard, high quality green tea if you’re planning on adding your own flavour infusions.

Roasted oolong – Perhaps the middle-ground between green and black teas – green teas are unoxidised, black teas are fully oxidised, where oolongs are partially oxidised. Roasted oolongs offer a dark cold brew tea that is still crisp and clean with floral notes.

Herbal infusions – For a totally caffeine free option, any herbal infusion can be brewed in the same way. The possibilities with herbal infusions are endless. Everything from peppermint to elderflower to chamomile – and all of the optional extras you can infuse or garnish with, too.

Drinks from around the globe

Holiday season is upon us – everybody seems to be jetting off to somewhere incredible at the moment. But how do you like to spend your holiday? Are you one to lounge by the pool or at the beach and let relaxation take over, or are you more of an adventurer, taking in the local culture?

I love getting to know the culture, wherever I’m lucky enough to visit. Part of that for me (would you believe), is discovering wonderful new teas and coffees… But also, other drinks that are intrinsic to the lifestyles of the local populace.

Here are a few hot drinks from around the globe, some that I’ve been lucky enough to try, others that I’d love to, that you should keep an eye out for on your holidays.


Morocco – Green mint tea

Served from a pot that holds at least three cups, green mint tea is a very important part of Moroccan culture. The traditional tea ceremony involves the preparation of the tea in front of the guest. The flavour of the tea changes over the course of the three cups: “The first glass is as bitter as life; the second glass is as strong as love; the third glass is as gentle as death.” The tea is often served theatrically, from a pot more than a foot in the air into a glass.

France – Chocolat chaud

Literally translated, chocolat chaud is hot chocolate. The French are known for having their hot chocolate game perfected, with high quality, bittersweet chocolate being combined with either milk or cream and typically otherwise unsweetened. Many cafes will make this ahead of time and allow it to sit for hours before serving.

Mexico – Atole

Atole, or atol, is a celebratory drink that dates back to Columbian times. It’s made very much to taste – it can be thick or thin and as a comfort food, as sweet or spiced as you like. Made up of corn flour, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla, it is drunk as both a morning meal or as something to curl up with of an evening.

Italy – Bicerin

Bicerin is a traditional thick drink that embodies Italy’s love of all things coffee. Espresso is topped with a decadent hot chocolate, then a layer of heavy whipped cream is added. Indulgent and warm, Bicerin is popular in Piedmont, Italy.

Argentina – Mate

Made infamous in England by the boys in the 2018 World Cup, Mate has enjoyed a surge in popularity. Mate leaves are steeped in hot water and drank through a straw that acts as a sieve, too. Known as a digestive aid and a way to reduce blood pressure, it is traditionally a sharing drink with its own etiquette and technique.

Holland – Anijsmelk

Traditionally made by soaking aniseed in milk, Anijsmelk is anise mixed with hot milk, commonly made nowadays by adding anise sugar cubes (anijs blokjes) to warm milk and stirring. It’s known as a sleep aid that calms the stomach.

Costa Rica – Agua Dolce

Literally translated into English, Agua Dolce is sweet water. Sugar cane, unrefined and unbleached, is dissolved in hot water to create this popular breakfast drink.

Ireland – Hot toddy

Liquor, hot water and honey are mixed with herbs and spices, served warm in a glass. Typically, whisky, rum or brandy are used and the drink is often enjoyed before bed or when returning home from a bout in typically damp, British weather.


Wherever you’re heading on your holidays this year, I highly recommend trying the local delicacies and tipples and treating your tastebuds to something different. If you’re not going too far afield, why not pop in and let us take you around the world with flavours of the globe in the comfort of your own home or The Pekoe Café at Northern Tea Merchants? From Japanese teas to Caribbean coffees and Cuban herbal infusions, we have plenty of options to suit every taste.

Methylene Chloride Decaffeination

Bad Process or Bad Press? As soon as anyone mentions a method of chemical decaffeination these days, people immediately become alarmed. Coffee that is decaffeinated with chemicals seems ‘bad´ and coffee decaffeinated with water or CO2 is ‘good´.

Peoples decision to not like chemically decaffeinated coffee is often to do with the bad press it receives. I have read that chemically decaffeinated coffee causes cancer and that the chemical that was used in decaffeination was banned for use in hairspray.

I still have mixed emotions. Friends in the coffee trade tell me that methylene chloride decaffeinated coffee tastes the best, is the least expensive and poses NO health risks. It sounds great, but I still have a hard time getting past the chemical.


What is Methylene Chloride?

Methylene Chloride is a colourless liquid with a slightly sweet aroma. It has a boiling oint of 104°F.


How is it used to decaffeinate green coffee?

The beans are treated with steam in order to draw the caffeine from the inner bean to the outer surface area. Once this has been done, the solvent (Methylene Chloride) is applied directly to the beans, removing the caffeine. Steam is again applied to the coffee, driving out residual solvent. Then the beans are dried and roasted just like any other green coffee.


Why is this method supposed to be so good?

Methylene Chloride is a selective solvent, removing only the caffeine and wax from the beans, leaving the coffees flavour intact.


Does any of the chemical remain on the bean after the decaffeination process is complete?

Minute traces. Methylene chloride evaporates at 100 to 200°F; beans are usually roasted at a temperature of 350 to 425°F and coffee is brewed at 190 to 212°F. Any amounts of methylene chloride left in brewed coffee would be less than one part per million.


Does methylene chloride cause cancer in laboratory animals?

According to a report published by the American Medical Association in August 1985, studies of rats fed regular and decaffeinated coffee (at doses equivalent to 70 or 80 cups of coffee per day) or fed methylene chloride in their drinking water (at doses equivalent to 125,000 to 625,000 cups of decaffeinated coffee per day) showed no evidence of carcinogenicity… Hence scientific evidence suggests that methylene chloride is safe for use as a solvent for decaffeinating coffee.


Is methylene chloride also used in paint removers and hair sprays?

According to Dr Samuel Lee, methylene chloride belongs to an important family of chemical compounds with widespread uses, called halogenated hydrocarbons. It is prepared by the chlorination of methane, the major component of natural gas. Methane is a compound of a single carbon atom with four hydrogens, each replaceable by chlorine.

How you replace the hydrogens with chlorine determines what your end result will be. When all four of the hydrogens are displaced, you get a heavy liquid that can be used as a dry cleaning solvent, spot remover, and as a fire extinguisher.

When three of the hydrogens are replaced by chlorine, the result is chloroform, used for over a century as the anaesthetic in surgical operations.

When only two of the hydrogens are replaced by chlorine, the result is methylene chloride, and when only one chlorine is included we get methyl chloride (used by doctors and dentists as a local anaesthetic).


If the process is non-toxic, inexpensive and the decaffeinated coffee tastes good, why are consumers so wary of it?

The dreaded ‘C’ word – exaggerated reports of suspected carcinogenicity. UK and American roasters agree that the process is safe, inexpensive and produces a great tasting cup of decaffeinated coffee. They also agree that MC decaffeination will eventually cease. Not because it is harmful, but because of the public’s perception that it is harmful.


The best thing to do is make up your own mind. If you are the type that doesn’t take aspirin, eat white sugar, has low cholesterol and exercises every day, you probably won’t want to take the one in several million chance that you may develop cancer as a result of drinking coffee decaffeinated with methylene chloride. If you are like me, and want to be able to drink a great tasting cup of decaffeinated coffee occasionally, then keep an open mind about it and give the coffee a try.


This article is a reproduction from Coffee and Cocoa International Magazine circa 1988 and is the best description we have found of this process.