Tea, Trà, Chai: An Adventure in Every Cup
Tea, Tra, Chai, The, whatever you call it tea is a seemingly simple drink. But It has complex notes, a variety of flavors, a 3,000-year-old plus history that predates coffee, and it's the world’s most-consumed drink. There is so much more to tea than matcha lattes, builders brew, and Arizona ice tea.
Pretty much every culture has its own version of tea- whether or not it’s from the Camellia sinensis (the tea plant)- and its own unique way of serving tea. There’s the quintessentially British cuppa of black tea with milk and sugar. Then, there’s Po Cha in Tibet mixing black tea that’s been brewed for hours with milk, salt, and yak butter. Meanwhile, in Morocco, men prepare and serve tea mixing mint leaves, green tea, and sugar over 3 servings. In Argentina, you’ll find friends sharing a calabaza of yerba mate. While in Mexico, you may cool off with a tangy jamaica. You can also enjoy some snacks and the company of friends with Yum Cha in Hong Kong.
With all the different types of tea, styles of preparation, and ways of drinking, it’s as Isabelle Rosevear says, “A little adventure around the world in every cup!” Every tea adventure has a story behind the brew, the growers, the sellers, and the drinkers.
For our first story, it's about the land and the plant.
The varied lands, weather, and environments where tea is grown modify and change each tea bush and harvest so, that tea truly is a creation of terroir. If we look at teas made from the Camellia sinensis plant, terroir is a natural magician creating dozens of flavors. The black tea in your English breakfast, the green tea to make your matcha latte, and the light white tea all come from the same plant! The variety comes from where and how the tea is grown and how it's processed.
For starters, each harvest, or flush, of tea throughout the year tends to have different flavor profiles. You’ll find first flush teas in spring tend to be more aromatic and flowery with vegetal notes. They also have more caffeine and nutrients from the stress of the tea plant surviving the dark, dry winter month. But then as the year progresses, the sun shines more, and rain is more plentiful, you’ll find that second flush teas tend to have more fruity, sweeter muscatel notes with less caffeine as the tea plant enjoys the more easy and normal weather conditions.
But then, when you mix the terroir with generations of tea-growing knowledge, each family leaves their signature flavor stamp introducing our second story, the tea growers.
Families have been perfecting tea cultivation for generations. They know how to get the best tea possible in their environment.
For instance, farmers in Nilgiri have learned to work with the elements to create a very special Frost Tea. Though a typically hot climate in Southern India, Nilgiri experiences occasional frost which typically spells disaster for the tea harvest. However, these farmers learned that they can create spectacular tea if they quickly harvest and process the leaves before they defrost. By processing these frozen leaves, these farmers discovered a way to trap more flavor and create a tea with delightful notes of fruit, honey, and even ripe apple. They took any otherwise failed tea crop and transformed it into one of its best expressions.
Tea makers also pass down generations of knowledge to not only harness the best expressions but also incorporate their family flavor stamp.
In Darjeeling, the Balasun and Margaret’s Hope tea estates sit on opposite sides of the same river in the sam region high in the mountains. But, they produce two completely different teas. Balasun produces strong tea with vibrant muscatel notes, perfect with the accompaniment of milk. Whereas Margaret’s Hope creates a dryer, refreshing brew with light muscatel, grass, and pine notes. Same plant, same location, but different families crafting different flavors.
Then there are tea sellers and blenders continuing tea traditions and some adding their own stamp into the mix.
The subtly smoky flavors of Russian Caravan originate from the campfire smoke of merchant camel caravans. The nightly campfire smoke gradually seeps into teas from China and Formosa carried along the Silk Road to St. Petersburg. These flavors are a tradition that Russian Caravan tea makers pass on in every batch.
New adventures are constantly inspiring teamakers. Paru Tea’s Okinawa Sugar Reserve is inspired by the milk teas the founders sampled while traveling throughout Japan.
We have tea creators developing mixes to reflect their hometowns and fond childhood memories. NYA Tea has an Elysian Park tea with a blend of coconut, pineapple, and green tea as an homage to an LA hidden gem. Paru Tea's Pandan Waffle is a nod to the flavors and memories of visiting Vietnamese bakeries.
With each brew, we taste a story of the land, the hands that harvest the tea, and the makers and blenders who add their stamp. With each sip, we find an adventure, explore a different world, and even create new memories and stories, which brings us to the third story- yours!
Tea is a journey and adventure. It can be the memories of trying a special tea for the first time with friends, the brew that was served when visiting grandma, or the cup that you make in your happy place. Because a simple tea can tell the stories of people around the world in a single sip. It’s no wonder, that it's the most popular beverage in the world.
Special thanks to Adam and Isabelle Rosevear of Rosevear Teas for sharing their knowledge on the history and world of tea. Thanks to Amy Truong and Lani Gobaleza for sharing their tea stories.