Keeping it real
When someone comes into the tea salon for the first time, I usually give a quick tour of the tea leaf gallery, aroma bar and show them the Steampunk machine. Then I ask “what type of tea do you like to drink?” My favourite response is “I like all types” but I will often hear “Earl Grey” and “Jasmine green tea”. This is when I explain that we don’t add any ingredients to our teas, with the exception of our Ceylon Chai, so everything that you smell and taste in the teas comes from the growing region and how the leaves were processed.
Adding milk and sugar to a black tea blend is the norm in Canada (and sugar is added to everything from ketchup to jarred pasta sauce), so it’s a challenge to convert some people’s palates to a pure tea experience. I’ve had customers add honey to oolong and white tea, sugar to green tea and even milk to Tulsi. I don’t discourage their preferences and I believe that, over time, they’ll be open to trying something new. I spoke with coffee café staff who shared a story of a customer who added milk, sugar, syrups, etc. and after one year, this same customer surprised them by ordering a pour over. The curiosity piqued his interest and he now prefers the taste of pure coffee.
Tea salon customers enjoying the natural aromas and flavours of pure teas
I haven’t always been a tea purist. My love of tea began with chai and to pay homage to the tea blend that started it all, we offer Ceylon Chai which is a blend of six spices and a Ceylon tea from Kenilworth Estate in Sri Lanka. But when I created the blend formula I was adamant that the ingredients were balanced so you can still taste the tea while enjoying the quintessential chai flavour. And one day when we were handing out samples of Ceylon Chai someone who tasted the tea exclaimed “there’s orange in this! I’m allergic to citrus!” After I reassured her that dried orange peel was not added to the chai blend and that Ceylon tea has a natural citrus flavour, she bought a pouch to take home. She was thrilled to be able to enjoy flavours that she usually has to avoid.
I heard this again from someone who avoids dairy and loves Jin Xuan, our milky oolong. She doesn’t miss the taste of dairy; she misses the creamy mouth feel that just isn’t possible with almond or soy milk. I never thought that allergies would be a reason to drink pure tea, but it makes sense to crave flavours you can no longer taste…and explains how pure tea can hold its own against a glass of wine when it comes to pairing.
Pairing pure tea with pure chocolate brings out the best in both
We’ve hosted two tea and chocolate pairing events and paired our pure teas with several Sirene Artisan Chocolate bars. It was my first time tasting pure bean-to-bar chocolate and my palate celebrated and panicked as the first piece melted on my tongue. I immediately thought how will I pair a tea that won’t be dominated by this flavour? The cocoa beans used to make the Sirene chocolate bars come from Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Madagascar, Tanzania and Guatemala. And just like with tea, the terroir affects the cocoa beans and they impart a myriad of different flavours depending on where they’re grown and how they’re processed or roasted.
Creating a pairing that enhances the best flavours of both the chocolate and the tea is obvious when it works as it’s a synergistic and joyful taste sensation. It keeps the integrity of the products and helps them shine in their pure form. The first time I realized this was pairing our Lung Ya green tea with Sirene’s Bolivia bar. The taste from this bar seemed to be tattooed on my tongue (I panicked again!) and I wanted to cut the slightly sharp taste. And as soon as I sipped Lung Ya, a burst of freshness exploded in my mouth. The vegetal notes from the tea and the subtle, wild fruit flavour of the chocolate were enhanced and this pairing highlighted the best of both. Who knew that cocoa beans from Bolivia and tea from Taiwan could work so well together? I’ll gladly do more pairings if it helps people make the switch to pure tea.
Tea pickers on Alishan Mountain, Taiwan
So what is it that I like about pure tea? Well it highlights the differences in terroirs (I call it a journey in a cup) and the craftsmanship of the tea masters, and heightens your senses. Each tea has a unique flavour profile and this would be lost if the tea was blended with a long list of ingredients. And how do you know if you like tea if all you smell or taste is coconut, pineapple, goji berries, etc.? Tea should not be like sangria where you can get away with using the cheapest wine because the juice and fruit mask the flavour and inferior quality.
The work that has gone into creating tea deserves respect and it seems like an insult to not showcase and enjoy its natural aromas and flavours; just like adding salt and pepper to a plate of food that a well-trained chef has worked on perfecting. Reality TV cooking shows often talk about the protein – beef, chicken or fish – being the “hero of the dish.” Well tea should be the hero of your cup.