A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of talking with Chau-Jean Lin and Tim Takacs, former students at The Other Place and founders of the tea company Marulin. Its origin story is fascinating and charming. As Chau-Jean explained, “My family has had tea gardens in Taiwan for about four generations… we’ve always been selling to companies that sell our tea as their own, and so we decided to branch out into trying to sell teas to the British market.” “Taiwanese tea is very difficult or expensive to find in Britain,” says Tim. “and it was one of these things which was always sold as a premium product… so we wanted to make it more accessible to people, so that people can have a chance to brew it in the same way that they’re used to doing… in what we call a tea tent”.
“We settled on four different types: four seasons, which is a type that Chau-Jean’s family has historically been making, an oolong with small pearls in it” says Tim. Chau-Jean explains that the English Beauty is a blend of ‘oriental beauty tea, which is a type of oolong… which has little bugs that start to eat at the leaves, which starts the oxidation process. It gives it a sweeter fragrance. It’s like a light version of English breakfast, with a black tea base.” Lady Orient “has a rose flavour, also with oriental beauty tea”, and Emperor Grey is “has an Earl Grey taste to it, but is more lavender”. They also sell matcha powder; a Taiwanese variety, although it originally comes from Japan.
One of the most charming aspects of their company is their ‘tea inspector’, Reeves the muntjac (a muntjac is a Taiwanese breed of deer, the name Reeves after an East India Company tea taster) who ‘writes’ his own tasting notes on the back of each packet in haiku form. Chau-Jean imagines him living in the deer park at Brasenose (her old college) in his own tea-tent.
Marulin has a devoted ethical ethos, which Chau-Jean explained to me: “we try to help the farmers by educating them a little bit about the processes. We try to tell them, ‘your factory should be running more frequently, more efficiently. My father was a tea farmer and he left because he got tired of picking the tea (to become a professor!). We know all our suppliers – they are our neighbours! So I suppose we’re fair trade in its own way.” Tim clarifies: “As a small company, it’s not so easy to have the grand visions of many of these larger companies have in terms of environment and things like that, but it’s part of our goal and ambition to keep improving that. [For example] many of the small farmers can’t afford to become organic because it costs them several thousand pounds per year to do this. It takes three years to set up the land for organic testing. So we try to choose people we believe are using traditional practises”.
They only began selling the company’s teas in December after being invited to the Future of Food Christmas market in Aldgate East, and already their English Beauty has been nominated for best product of the year from a start-up at the Food Awards. This is very impressive, and Tim confesses he believes it may be due in part to their very attractive packaging. They’re both clearly very modest, but it must be said that their tea is flawless. The flavours of each blend are clean and perfectly judged, the blends sharp and delicately balanced. My favourite is the Four Seasons oolong (which is also Chau-Jean’s favourite) but I’m very fond of the Lady Orient (again, like Tim, I never imagined I’d like a rose tea so much). There’s no doubt that the teas are expensive, at just under £5 for twelve tea bags, but when it comes to tea, I really do believe that you get what you pay for. Unlike a company like Whittard’s, the expense of these teas feels justified, not only because the flavours are so perfectly judged, but also because of the company’s ethos – not to mention their lovely founders. Although just starting out, I think big things are in store for Marulin, and I can’t wait to follow their progress in the future.