What makes a bottle of REAL?
Welcome to the March edition of Tasting Notes, our monthly musings on everything we’re talking about, and tasting, at the moment. This month we’re taking a look at what goes into making a bottle of REAL, what we are, how we got here and where we’re headed. It’s a story of people, places and process, (and maybe a slightly scientific read) so let’s start by giving you a bit of background into our Sparkling Teas…
WHAT WE ARE
Established in 2017, The REAL Drinks Co. began with an introduction to fermentation. Founder David had given up drinking alcohol and tried a really deep and earthy ferment made with a robust, black tea. Instantly inspired, he set out to change the way that people drink when they’re not drinking. After a chance meeting with co-founder Adrian who shared David’s passion for experimentation, they began experimenting with the flavour profiles of hundreds of the finest loose-leaf teas from around the world, driven by the endless potential of fermentation. Before long, they had created a naturally non-alcoholic Sparkling Tea with a flavour profile akin to wine, settling on First Flush Darjeeling and pan-fired Dragonwell for our Royal Flush and Dry Dragon Sparkling Teas.
Over the last five years, our process has come a long way from those early days fermenting in David’s garage. We have continued to experiment and push the boundaries of fermentation, but our goal has remained the same - to create the real alternative to Sparkling Wine and Champagne.
HOW WE GOT HERE
Although parts of what we do are extremely high-tech, we like to keep things simple. And when you’re working with just three ingredients: tea, sugar (although most of this disappears during fermentation) and microorganisms, they’ve got to be top quality!
In the same way that winemakers are obsessive about their vines and grape harvests, we are uncompromising in the way we approach our tea selection. Each year, David and our head of R&D, Guillermo, taste over 50 iterations of First Flush Darjeeling, each from different days of the harvest, to decipher exactly which tea leaves will deliver the flavours that we know and love from our Royal Flush.
Next up is our microorganisms, these guys are instrumental in our quest for flavour. We know them inside out, we’ve looked at their DNA and their metabolic pathways, we know what they like, how they work and what makes them really sing. Since 2017, we’ve put hundreds of microorganisms to the test, carefully selecting those that will combine to drive maximum flavour and deliver it consistently. And we’re testing new ones every single day.
We then take our tea and our microorganisms, and apply authentic winemaking techniques, naturally fermenting them to produce our Sparkling Tea.
Winemakers add yeast to grape juice and ferment it in stainless steel tanks.
We add microorganisms to tea and ferment it in stainless steel tanks.
Working with tea rather than grapes allows us to produce a naturally non-alcoholic Sparkling Teas that is packed full of flavour. And because we don’t produce any real alcohol in the first place, we don’t have to de-alcoholise it afterwards, which means that we retain all of the flavour created during the fermentation process without the need for additional sweetness (a common complaint with de-alcoholised wines).
WHERE WE’RE HEADING
We’ve only got to where we are now by staying curious, constantly questioning how we can improve. Over the years we’ve fine-tuned our process, tinkering away to produce an elegant Sparkling Tea that’s full of depth and complexity, but we won’t get complaisant. Last year we built and opened our Fermentery on the stunning Waddesdon Estate. This has more than tripled our physical footprint and gives us the space to continue experimenting.
We’ve been busy behind the scenes, trying new techniques and developing new technologies. It really is amazing to be doing this with the backdrop of Waddesdon Estate, home to Waddesdon Manor and one of the largest wine collections in the world. We have a huge respect for the authenticity and tradition within fermentation and winemaking, and it’s this respect for the old that enables us to move forward, blazing our own trail within the non-alcoholic category.
Over the next few months we’ll tell you a bit more about what we’ve been working on, starting with David’s journals from his recent travels to India to visit the people who grow our exquisite First Flush Darjeeling tea, so keep an eye out for those!