Punjana Tea - Special Irish Foods & The People Who Make Them

Punjana Loose Tea

Georgina Campbell

Ask anyone in Northern Ireland about Punjana Tea and you’ll be in no doubt that you’ve touched on something central to the culture - even people who never drink tea (and there aren’t too many of those) will probably break into the famous jingle that goes back decades and crosses several generation gaps.

Although set up in fine modern premises in East Belfast since 1995, the company actually goes back a century earlier when it was established in the docklands by Robert Thompson, grandfather of brothers Ross and David Thompson who run it today - and it was their mother, Lillias, who came up with the name Punjana in 1949.

So what makes it so special? There’s the family ethos for a start - the ‘tea tasting gene’ is good and strong and their enthusiasm and passion for quality is infectious. Just listening to Ross and David talking animatedly about the best tea gardens, their own favourite products and their pride in the Gold Stars they’ve won in the Great Taste Awards is inspiring … And then there’s their mission, “to create the ‘Perfect Everyday Cuppa’ a tea that has superior taste and flavour whilst representing great value for money”, which pretty much says it all.

Emphatically not just a ‘budget tea’, this ethically sourced blend of the finest Assam and Kenyan teas is expertly selected with the aim of giving ‘real depth of flavour whilst displaying a bright refreshing cup’. And it does what it says on the tin.

Punjana Loose Tea

Northern Ireland tea drinkers vote with their shopping lists, and there’s no doubt that the Thompsons themselves believe passionately in their product. But it’s always gratifying to get an independent endorsement and well-earned recognition has come from the Guild of Fine Foods’ Great Taste Awards over several years, notably 2014 when they achieved 2 Gold Stars - and not just for the Punjana blend, but also two other teas from the Thompson Family’s Teas range, the Signature and Breakfast blends. (I discovered the Signature range for myself at the UK Guild of Food Writers’ Awards last June, and very nice it is too; Thompsons sponsored the 2015 Restaurant Reviewer of the Year Award, won by Marina O’Loughlin of The Guardian Weekend Magazine, and we all got a lovely tin of Thompson’s Signature tea to take home.)

The number and diversity of teas produced by Thompson Family’s Teas may surprise fans of the original Punjana blend, impressive as that is (and available as loose tea as well as the ubiquitous tea bag - which, of course, is preferred by the vast majority of customers).

The Irish Breakfast Blend and Titanic Tea are understandably popular too, also a Decaf tea and the intriguing Scottish Soft Water blend that’s successfully produced specifically to suit a particular market and its local conditions. Curiously, though, a mysterious twist to the ‘local water’ story emerged from the Great Taste Award judging, which took place in a number of areas - with different types of water - and yet came out with the same consistently high marks…very interesting.

Punjana TeaOther products in the range include speciality flavoured teas like Jasmine and Earl Grey, flavoured with flowers; green teas (which go through a different drying process from the regular black teas and should not be made with fully boiling water, which is too hot and will scorch the leaves); and ‘teas’ that are not teas at all, but tisanes, like peppermint tea and the exotic sounding Turkish Apple Tea which is made with apple and blackberry leaves, and was a One Gold Star winner in the 2014 Great Taste Awards.

It is no secret that the Thompson brothers are purists and their personal preference lies with the traditional black - and, of course, loose leaf - teas, but another USP at Thompson Family’s Teas is that they’re highly sensitive to the voice of the market, so development of new products is undertaken with the same quality-conscious enthusiasm that they devote to their favourite blends. No wonder this reassuringly youthful centenarian brand is fast finding international popularity, and, just to put that in context, over 100,000 cups of Punjana tea are now enjoyed every hour…day and night! .

Today, not only are Thompson Family teas widely available in England, but their teas - and other products, including the coveted teapots that make loose leaf teas so much more desirable, especially to younger tea lovers - are available from their excellent and highly educational website, http://punjana.com


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