I often feel it is the continuing task of those of us in the Premium Loose Leaf tea world to keep in mind we are really showing Americans a different way to “do tea”. We have to give some thought to the fact that most Americans, when thinking of tea are not thinking of the wonderful, delicious and unique tastes of the teas – from all around the world – which we are privileged to enjoy every day.
I came to realize this while at an event several years ago. I had put out a couple nice black teas. One Assam and a nice Blackberry Keemun. Several people spoke up and asked “What is this?” At first I simply responded “This is a Keemun with blackberries” or “… This is an Assam.” My response left a bit of confusion on their faces then it struck me. They didn’t realize THIS is what REAL tea tastes like. This was fresh, unique and tasty!
I started to think about my own journey to real tea. I’d been a tea drinker for many years, unfortunately what I grew up knowing as tea was the chopped up, dry leaf “bag in a box” teas that came 100 bags to a box for $4.29 at the local grocery. I would pull out the little square bag and daggle it by the string into some warm or hot water bounce the bag up and down for a couple minutes. Perhaps I would toss in some honey or maybe squeeze in some lemon and enjoy. I remembered often after enjoying some bag in a box tea I would noticed a slight film on my teeth and a strange after taste.
Fast forward from those good ole tea days to a wonderful weekend in Boulder, Colorado. One of my favorite cities in America – and I was only there for a weekend!!! My wife and I had the opportunity to attend the wedding of family so along with our young daughter we were off to Colorado excited to participate. On the afternoon before the “wedding on the mountain” we were invited to the Dushanbe Tea House. Wow. An enchanting wonderful ambiance greeted us as we walked up to this fabulous tea tasting experience. A small brook runs past inviting outdoor seating just steps from the street. The tea house itself is a fabulous work of craftsmanship from wood workers in the sister city of Bolder in Tajikistan. The mood was set nicely even before we sat down.
On that particular afternoon I wasn’t aware of it but the experience would be life changing. I was about to taste the past, the present and the future and drink a drink enjoyed by folks from all walks of life all over the world. We were presented an impressive menu of teas with then unfamiliar names like Darjeeling, Anxi and for heaven’s sake something called “Monkey Picked”. I don’t recall but I probably closed my eyes and put my finger down on the menu and picked out something of which I had no clue what to expect regarding taste. Soon the knowledgeable server came with that first pot of tea and began to pour the slightly red liquid into my cup. I got a light whiff of aroma. I put cup to mouth and experienced unique and wonderful flavors never before tasted. I put the cup down and said – to no one in particular – “What is this?”
Since that wonderful afternoon at the Dushanbe Tea House I have concluded that many Americans when thinking of tea picture grandma pulling out a box of bags from the rear of the cupboard, then creating an interesting concoction by spicing up the drink with lemon and honey or milk or cream. Others may picture wealthy elderly British women wearing white gloves and large brimmed hats sitting around tables dressed in fine linens drinking from fine China cups. Still other Americans think of flattened tea pots pouring green tea into little cups from designed and made in Asia. So I guess we should not be surprised that Americans are a bit schizophrenic about the world’s second most enjoyed drink.
Well, fortunately we have the cure even though the task ahead will keep many of us in the loose leaf tea business busy for years serving up these wonderful, unique and varied tasting delights from places like China, India, Japan, Africa, Turkey or one of a myriad of countries that now grow tea fine loose leaf tea. James Norwood Pratt put out the idea that the loose leaf tea curve will be mimic that of wine 30 years earlier when American wine was kind of chuckled about and very few Americans knew the difference between a Red a Rose or a Shiraz. Mr. Pratt put it something like this discussing the future of tea. This is not a quote but you will get the flavor and it really struck home to me. He said something like this; Americans will be able to go into a restaurant and order a Darjeeling or an Assam and know what they are ordering just as they know the difference between a Shiraz and a Burgundy.
O.k. so I better get back to my work. I have met a wonderful young man who I so want to introduce to a lady named “Margaret”. She is from Darjeeling. When most Americans can read the preceding sentence and know to what I refer, those of us spending our time and patience reintroducing tea to America will have succeeded in our task!!! I put this thought forward in the spirit of Mr. Pratt’s prophetic words.