I feel it’s the continuing task of those of us in the Premium Loose Leaf tea world to keep in mind we are really reintroducing tea to America. I’ve come to realize that to many Americans, when thinking of tea are not thinking of the wonderful, delicious unique tastes – from all around the world – which we are privileged to enjoy every day. They think of “bag-in-a-box” teas.
What is this?
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.” I noticed that 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 dangle it by the string in some warm water and 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 or milk. 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. Yuck.
The Dushanbe Tea House
Fast forward to a wonderful weekend in Boulder, Colorado. One of my favorite cities in America. My wife and I had the opportunity to attend the wedding of family so along with our young daughter we were off to Colorado. 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.
I wasn’t aware of it then, but the experience would be life changing. I was about to taste the past, the present and the future participating in a ritual shared 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”. After ordering “blind” we were soon served with a fresh pot of tea. As the slightly red liquor was poured into my cup I got a light whiff of aroma, put cup to mouth and experienced unique, 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’ve concluded many Americans, when imagining tea, see grandma pulling out a box of bags from the rear of the highest cupboard shelf and creating an interesting concoction of lemon and honey or milk or cream or other interesting spices. Some folks 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 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.
We have the cure and those of us in the loose leaf tea business look forward to serving up these wonderful, unique and varied taste 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 education curve will mimic that of wine 40 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. I will paraphrase Mr. Pratt like this; Americans will be able to go into a restaurant and order a Darjeeling or an Assam and know the difference in 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 wants to introduce to a lady named “Margaret”. She is from Darjeeling. When most Americans can read the preceding sentence and know to what to what I refer, those of us spending our time and joy reintroducing tea to America will have succeeded in our task!!! I put this thought forward in the spirit of Mr. Pratt’s prophetic words.