The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company have recently hosted “The Bald Explorer” here at our Pluckley-based factory shop. It marked the second time that the popular filmmaker and historian has visited our establishment.
Owner Mr Richard Smith was delighted to offer a tour accompanied by some Tea-tasting. You can watch the video below.
Watch Full Interview Below
“The Guru of Tea”
“Smell that aroma,” said Mr Vobes, referring to the indulgently rich scent of Fresh Coffee being packed fresh to order. This is what one can expect upon first entering our shop nestled within the beautiful Kentish countryside. Indeed, there is nothing quite like it.
He continued: “Ten years ago, I came to this wonderful place… to seek out the guru of Tea.” That ‘guru’ is, of course, Mr Richard Smith, who was ready and waiting to meet his guests. Shaking the hands of both The Bald Explorer and his companion Julia, the interview was underway.
“I see you’ve already got a welcome for us,” remarked Mr Vobes, gesturing to a table adorned with enchanting products. Carefully laid out were several of our more exotic-looking ingredients accompanied by brewing utensils. Before Tea-tasting could commence, however, an exploration into our heritage was in order.
Where It All Began
“My grandparents went to India in the 1920s to become Tea planters,” Mr Richard Smith explained. “They were in Assam managing a Tea Estate until the late 50s.”
The story didn’t end there, however.
After his grandparents returned to the UK, the family legacy continued through Mrs Janet Smith, Richard’s mother. She had stayed in India, later meeting future husband and former Gurkha officer Malcolm. Together, they had raised a family, with Richard born in Calcutta in 1963. His childhood was spent wandering the city streets and visiting Tea Estates.
Richard, Janet and Malcolm returned to the UK in 1978. This coincided with a period in Assam and Darjeeling when former colonial-managed estates were being handed over to Indian entrepreneurs. It was a time of significant change. And that wasn't to end for the Smith family, who had plans of their own for creating a UK-based Tea company. You can see the full history of The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company on the Our Heritage page.
Pluckley Tea, Our First Ever Tea
“We started our Tea business in the village of Pluckley… when we arrived in the UK, the local grocer in the village said ‘Richard, can you find some Tea for us?... Obviously, we could, and we did, and we called it ‘Pluckley Tea,’” said Mr Smith.
This is now our flagship Tea, a beverage like no other. It is a blend of Assam Tea and Kenya Tea which, when brewed, has a refined malty taste with earthy undertones. Like the delightful smell of Coffee when you walk through our door, we pack Pluckley Tea fresh to order.
“In the early days, we used to buy Tea chests of ten thousand Tea Bags... By hand, we’d count out little piles of ten Tea bags. Eight tens make Eighty Tea Bags. And that’s how we started,” Richard elaborated.
But, of course, that couldn’t carry on forever.
The Bald Explorer, it seemed, was less than surprised about hearing that the business eventually moved from the family home. As the company grew rapidly, a fit-for-purpose premises was needed to facilitate the significant changes taking place.
“We went to the industrial estate,” Richard said, “where we are still to this day.”
Online Tea and Coffee Shop
From Pivington Mill, The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company expanded dramatically over the next few decades. Today, we stock over 1,000 types of Tea and 70 types of Coffee. When it comes to Loose Tea, in particular, Richard explained: “You can buy any size of packets. You can buy 50 grams, or you can buy 1 kilo.” (There are also plenty of choices in between!)
Mr Smith then noted that we sell wholesale Tea and Coffee, too: “We do a lot of trade supply [to] hotels and Tea rooms”.
With that, and much to Mr Vobes’ delight, it was time to try some of our most popular infusions.
Tea Tasting with Richard
“We have our Egyptian Camomile Tea from the Nile Delta. We have Cretan Mountain Tea from the high mountains of Crete… picked by shepherds we personally know. We have some Chinese Ying Zhen Silver Needle, which is one of our top first flush White Teas. And then we have our Blue Lady Tea,” said Richard Smith, gesturing to a brewing pot of the latter infusion.
Blue Lady, as Richard went on to explain, gets its name from a reported ghost roaming around Pluckley. Fans of all things supernatural will likely know that Pluckley is said to be “the most haunted village in England”. It seems only right and fair, then, that one of our Teas should take inspiration from local spectres.
As surprising as such a ghostly encounter might be, far more startling is how extraordinarily delicious Blue Lady Tea tastes. Both The Bald Explorer and Julia were impressed by, as Richard noted, “its nice citrus notes”.
Next came Red Berry Fruit Tisane. “It’s one of the best-smelling ones, I have to say,” commented Julia before taking her first sip. Her verdict? “Mmm!”
We couldn’t agree more.
“An Absolute Joy!”
“It’s been an absolute joy to come and visit your company,” remarked The Bald Explorer before concluding the interview. There was just enough time, however, for one more story from Richard. Fittingly, he chose to recount the tale of one of his earliest interview experiences.
Back in the 1980s when a journalist asked if the company’s Tea was grown locally, Richard had jokingly replied “yes”. He went on to explain that elephants were assisting the hundreds of Tea workers on the nearby Pluckley Tea Plantation. The journalist, believing everything said by Richard, ended up publishing the elaborate tale - elephants and all! Oops!
“We’re Going To Have To Come Back…”
“We’re going to have to come back and do Coffee [tasting],” said Mr Vobes, keen to glimpse some elephants. The search for them continues!
In the absence of Pluckley’s seemingly elusive wildlife, The Bald Explorer and Julia left with smiles on their faces. Clutched in their hands were some of The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company’s finest products. Whether you like Black, Green, White, Oolong, Herbal or Fruit Tea, or perhaps even Coffee, there is something for everyone.