Mates Alan Hughes and Rupert Curry decided tea was ripe for reinvention. They knew it could be so much more than what was available in shops, and so began the long gestation of Noble & Savage into a premium tea brand dedicated to making a commonplace commodity into something contemporary and cool.
Rupert packed in his carpentry career and embarked on a tea odyssey, exploring estates and plantations around the world (graphic designer Alan accompanied him vicariously, the two meeting on Skype to swap notes and plan the next steps).
In the Yunnan province of China, they discovered a parcel of mineral-dense land on which, arguably, the world’s finest Camellia grows. From this estate, Alan and Rupert take the very first plucking of the juvenile plant, right at the point in its life cycle when all the energy is concentrated in the tender new shoots. The ‘first flush’ leaves, with their distinctive golden tips, are said to yield the purest, freshest cup of tea a plant is capable of producing. This single-origin tea they called Black & Gold, is now one of Noble & Savage’s most popular.
They also found a unique and delicate white tea, with buds covered in a fine silvery down. It is harvested by hand, only once or twice a year and undergoes minimal processing. The White Noise tea made with these buds and leaves has twice the amount of antioxidants as green tea, and strong antibacterial properties.
Alan and Rupert approach flavour and aroma profiles as a winemaker or perfumier would their own craft. Over thousands of tea tastings, the pair carefully crafted their range of 16 loose-leaf teas, including black, green, red (rooibos) and white tea, with herbal and fruit blends, too.
White Chilli Truffle – a blend of Ceylon and South Indian black tea with pieces of white chocolate, rose pepper and chilli flakes – is proving a best seller. As is the Maple Walnut; a warming, smooth infusion with pieces of cacao bean and chocolate chips.
Modern-day slavery is a known issue in tea production, which is why Alan and Rupert use The German Tea Association, a highly regarded industry regulator, to verify that every supplier operates ethically and that every ingredient is fair trade.
All teas are sold on their website and sample boxes are available, so you can find your favourite brew. A growing number of cafes and eateries around New Zealand offer Noble & Savage teas and some are even using the tea to flavour dishes. The rooibos-based Maple Walnut tea makes beautiful syrup for pancakes.
The stylish blue boxes, with their accents of gold foil, beg to be kept on display in the kitchen. A matte gold bag keeps the leaves fresh and tasting notes educate the drinker on flavours, origin and serving technique.
Story by : Alana Broadhead (Alana runs the popular New Zealand design blog The New (formerly Fancy) and her own contemporary homeware store, Sunday.
Photography by : Rachel Dobbs
This article was published in Taste magazine. Follow Taste on Facebook, Instagram and sign up to their e-newsletter.