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Denman Island Tea Winter 2020 – What’s Up With Us?

We hope this post finds you healthy, happy and hopeful for all the amazing opportunities that abound in 2020! For the new decade, a couple of great things have just unfolded here at Denman Tea HQ;

NEW CHAI LATTE,  ISLAND STYLE

Denman Island Tea’s new Chai Latte powder is an aromatic, H20 extracted, Indian black tea and masala spice combo. With little to no grit, the underlying Assam tea profile is clean and tannic free. It has received rave reviews as a creamier, smoother more balanced chai latte.

We call it: Island Chai Latte

Easy to prepare, super fresh, intensely aromatic and silky on the palate, what more could you ask for in a Chai? Oh, one last point, our new chai is also local, made right here in the lower mainland! Now available in 100 & 300 gm bags for both retail and wholesale. NEW MACCHA – ULTRA SUPERIOR GRADE We have paired with a new Maccha Garden in Japan. The Tiwane Garden in Shizouka Prefecture has been growing organic green tea for 13 generations. The quality of their maccha blew us away in taste tests. With our commitment to them, we achieved very fair pricing for an extremely high quality Maccha. It’s green vibrancy and superior freshness and distinct umami, will be immediately noticeable as you carve that perfect rosetta in the bright green foam! The net result of diligently searching for a better, fresher Maccha is that our customers will benefit from a ceremonial grade Maccha for a similar price people pay for ingredient grade Maccha. The difference is unmistakable.

Brendan Waye

Our chief Tea Sommelier? and Certified Tea Specialist?, Brendan has been steeped in the tea industry for the past 19 years. From founding Canada?s first teahouse chain Steeps Tea, to smuggling a traditional Chai recipe back from the famed mountains of the Karakoram (kind thanks to Sherpa Cook Rosie-Ali) that eventually became the ubiquitous ?The Chai Company?, we truly have been around the tea garden and back.
Favorite Tea: Phoenix Mountain Oolong
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The Perfect Tea for a foggy day

Here in the Pacific Northwest it seems as though with the arrival of October the last warm breezes of summer somehow slipped away without even bothering to wave goodbye. The leaves are changing as quickly as our wardrobes and even on a sunny afternoon an iced coffee or chilled tea suddenly feel so out of season! If light scarves and heavy sweaters haven’t already got you feeling cozy, then a twist on a classic cup of tea may be just what you need. Whether Earl Grey is your go to tea or not, with a couple of upgrades it just might be! How you might ask? Well, the simple solution is a London Fog Latte. According to local lore the London Fog was born in Vancouver, BC and Rumohr has it that it that in Scotland it’s actually called a Vancouver Fog! And, not only is this delicious latte warm and nutritious, it’s also so easy to make it’s almost silly. To make this tasty treat of a beverage, steep Earl Grey tea in a small amount of water while you warm, steam or froth your favourite milk. Pour the milk over the steeped tea, add a dash of vanilla, and sweeten it to your liking. The vanilla plays wonderfully with the slightly citrus bergamot oil in the Earl Grey, but if you want to get even fancier, you can add another flavour like lavender. Furthermore, to ensure the highest quality of tea opt for a brand that uses organic leaves and cold pressed bergamot oil, like this one, and you will definitely be able to taste the difference! FEEL IT This warming cup of comfort provides you with a little kick-start of caffeine and contains L-theanine too. This is an amino acid that promotes relaxation. So, it simultaneously wakes up the brain and calms the nerves. And, because Earl Grey tea is scented with bergamot oil, inhaling its aroma can help relieve stress and anxiety. If you are just starting out on your London Fog journey, you can try it out with your favourite Earl Grey tea and steamed milk. However, if you are looking for a tea latte with an expertly balanced flavour profile, consider trying something specially formulated, like Denman Island Tea Co.’s London Fog Blend. According to Cartems Donuts in Vancouver it is perfectly balanced between tasting rich and creamy and not being overly sweet. Other Earl Grey tea blends may overpower the taste of vanilla and milk with their floral aroma. ENJOY IT While a blend like Denman Island’s is technically unsweetened, the vanilla flavour lends a suggestion of sweetness. According to Stir Coffee House in Ladner, BC, it is very aromatic and delicious on its own, but an extra shot of vanilla never hurts either! Additionally, a London Fog blend can also add creative flavour to the finest of culinary delights. At Cartems the best-selling stuffed donut has a creamy London Fog filling and according to the owner they sell out of it every day. Earnest Ice cream uses it for their popular ice cream flavour too! So, as the days of fall get shorter and we feel more like bundling up and hibernating, why not try a London Fog latte? It’ll hit all of your comfort cravings while keeping your mood up too!  

Kailey Seabrooke

Kailey Seabrooke is an adventure loving health nut and freelance writer for hire. She draws on her expertise in the fields of holistic health, lifestyle design, and adventure travel to infuse character and credibility into content for digital spaces and print pieces. When she’s not playing with words you can usually find her getting creative in the kitchen or surfing in tropical waters. To learn more about Kailey or hire her for your next creative project, head over to www.contentbykailey.com
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3 REASONS WHY YOU’LL LOVE TEA LATTES

Are you trying to cut down on your coffee intake without hitting a wall? Or maybe you are keeping your morning cup of joe but are looking for new ways to add a nutrient boost to your favourite beverage. Well say hello to tea lattes! When you drink a tea latte instead of the traditional milk and espresso variety you can still enjoy the warm, rich, creamy experience that you have come to know and love, but with all the benefits and variety that the world of tea has to offer. Here are three reasons why you should give tea lattes a try.
  1. YOU GET YOUR CAFFEINE WITHOUT HITTING A WALL
The tea plant, camellia sinensis, is naturally caffeinated. But it is also the only plant that contains the amino acid L-Theanine which helps the mind and body relax. So, when you drink tea as a pick me up, you get the energy, focus and clarity that caffeine offers, without the anxiety, jitters, and crash that some people experience after drinking coffee.
  1. TEA IS REALLY GOOD FOR YOU
Tea has a ton of nutrients that your body loves! Most of its health boosting benefits come from polyphenols, particularly antioxidants. Antioxidants protect against cancer, are good for the cardiovascular system, and fight free radicals. Tea can improve metabolism, lower cholesterol and lower cortisol too! Green tea in particular is also very high in EGCG which has been shown to both prevent and treat neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s. And, while herbal teas don’t actually contain the traditional tea leaf, they are often formulated with ingredients that have their own nutritional superpowers, like vitamin C, magnesium and trace minerals, that can be steamed into a latte too!
  1. VARIETY IS THE SPICE OF LIFE
Because there are so many different varieties of tea, the flavours you can create in a tea latte are truly limitless! You can go with known and loved classics like a London Fog, a vibrant green matcha, or a spiced chai latte. Or, if you want to get more creative, try another tea from your cupboard. You might like a turmeric spiced golden milk for its anti-inflammatory properties or an iced hibiscus latte to cool you down on a hot day. GET FROTHING Sipping a tea latte is a delicious and nutritious way to enjoy any tea of your choosing. If you have a pot and something to heat it on (or a milk frother if you want to get fancy), you can turn any tea into a latte! You can have your local barista whip one up for you too. Most cafes offer London Fogs and Chai Lattes on the menu, but you can ask for any variety your heart desires. So, whether you are looking to upgrade your classic cuppa, are wanting to enjoy your favourite tea in a new way or are just looking for an enjoyable beverage to sip on, a tea latte might be exactly what you need. If you are in the Sea to Sky area check out Cranked in Whistler or Caffè Artigiano and Delanys Coffee in Vancouver to try Denman Island Tea’s deliciously creamy London Fog, Chai or Maccha Lattes! Or head over to our online shop to order your favorite tea to turn into a latte at home. www.denmantea.ca

Kailey Seabrooke

Kailey Seabrooke is an adventure loving health nut and freelance writer for hire. She draws on her expertise in the fields of holistic health, lifestyle design, and adventure travel to infuse character and credibility into content for digital spaces and print pieces. When she?s not playing with words you can usually find her getting creative in the kitchen or surfing in tropical waters. To learn more about Kailey or hire her for your next creative project, head over to www.contentbykailey.com
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WHY YOU SHOULD BE SELECTIVE OF THE TEA YOU DRINK

When the CBC program Marketplace did an expose on pesticides used in the tea growing industry, all of us in the Specialty tea business were quite surprised to see the test results. Most of the top supermarket brands had up to 22 different chemicals detected on the leaves and in the brew. In some cases, the level of pesticides detected in the tea, far exceeded the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s (CFIA) maximum tolerance. The full set of test reports can be found here: test results After almost 20 years in the specialty tea business, I am well aware that an agricultural product like tea will be subjected to an array of chemicals designed to fight and kill everything from leaf rot to spider mites. From what I have researched, there are up to 54 different chemicals used in the production of tea. Many of these are banned in numerous countries (DDT) and quite a few are highly carcinogenic. My concern here lies not with the growers, who should be adopting better methods to fight garden pests, but with the CFIA for not sounding the alarm bells and stepping in to regularly test and enforce that safe tea products are coming into Canada. According to the CFIA, unless you are drinking 75 cups of tea a day for an entire lifetime, these chemicals pose no danger to human health, even the brands whose tolerable limits were 6-10 times above the maximums. Well, I don’t buy it, and unfortunately never will. Some Pesticides are classed as POP’s, persistent organic pollutants, which have been proven to wreak havoc on delicate environments all over the globe. There is actually no place left on earth where these pesticides do not show up in the ecosystem. This sobering article in The Independent shows how far these chemicals have spread around the globe. Any amount of these chemicals consumed through the perceived healthy habit of tea sipping is too much as far as I am concerned. As a lifelong tea lover and regular sipper, I try my best to source the cleanest tea possible. I start with buying mainly organically grown teas. If it is not organic, then I request residue-testing reports from the manufacturer. If this is not forthcoming, then I move on and try to find a comparable tea that has been tested for chemicals. The second thing I do is purchase from small growers who are typically using some form of integrated pest management program. What is an IPM program? In a nutshell, if your garden has an aphid attack, rather than breaking out the chemical sprays, the release of a few hundred-lady bugs that feast on aphids is an ecologically friendly pest management control mechanism. The ladybugs eat the aphids and move on, just as nature intended. In 2018, we will be starting our own program to have all our teas regularly tested for any nasty chemicals. I hope that in the near future, every tea you buy from us will be given a thorough & clean bill of health from an independent lab located here in Canada. This is really the only way we can be 100% certain what we sell is will never pose any harm to the hundreds of loyal customers who trust in the tea they are buying from us. Our collective health as a nation and as tea lovers is of paramount importance for us here at the Teaguy, so as we grow and sell more tea, we are committed to selling the cleanest tea available.

Brendan Waye

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SATURDAY SIPS

Organic Sun Dried Yerba Mate When I received Olivia’s request to do another tea segment for Global, I was clad only in undies, dangling a tuna carcass over the side of a boat off the shores of Key West. I had managed to attract 4 to 5 large sharks who were making coy, teeth glaring attacks at my GoPro, which was underwater beside the bloodying tuna. It was a fantastic spectacle to witness indeed. Without too much thought, I replied to the email and said I was free on the 14th of Jan. I was sipping my cardamom chai on the deck of the boat and feeling somewhat blown away, it was 11 am, 31 C, I was being entertained by sharks & tarpon, my hotel room was a floating cabin cruiser and I had been, just an hour earlier, snorkelling beside a 120 year old shipwreck. So, I offered up Yerba Mate as a topic for Saturday Sips on that day 2 weeks into the future. Olivia agreed and said it was a perfect idea. The 7.12 min segment went really well, no jammed ice shakers, no lids flying off & spraying the hosts and no big loud gulps with nothing to say. I had with me 3 of my Yerba Mates, all of which are for sale on our site. I wrote a blog post in 2009 on my love of yerba mate and how it was making me feel. You can read the article here for more info on this liquid vegetable. They were: Sun Dried Argentinian Plain Most of Central America drink yerba. It is a national pastime and phenom. Most drink it plain, which is quite rough looking & tasting. It is definitely an acquired taste. I only started drinking yerba after stumbling upon a key factor in its likability, smoke dried vs sun dried. I’d only ever had smoke dried and would, from time-to-time choke back a mug or 2 simply because I knew it was good for me, not to mention the somewhat euphoric buzz it provides. The yerba we carry is indeed sun-dried. Its also aged for smoothness, and organically cultivated as well. I have not found many Yerbas as silky as this one. Cardamom Chai When I first started concocting tea recipes, chai blends occupied the bulk of my testing and sampling. I was in love with those 5 aromatic spices and would play with the ratios for months, tweaking my chai so that it had all elements I figured would captivate the North American palate. Ginger, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, and black pepper are Ayurvedic, a Hindu based philosophy of complete body wellness based on balancing entire bodily systems. Mix these fresh ground spices with sun dried yerba and you get a morning wake-me-up that not only nourishes the body but gives your immune system a true friend to rely on when a virus invades. Citrus Blast I have come to realize over the years that quite a few tea drinkers just don’t like the chai spice combination. It is simply too much of a stretch for their palates to wrap around, my dear mom is one of them. That’s ok, I get it. I don’t like Cilantro, it makes me gag. Not sure why, but when I come across it in food that I don’t expect to see it in, my stomach recoils like a startled horseshoe crab. S, with this in mind, I set out to create another Yerba that was based on something completely different. We choose citrus, and are we glad we did. This TG version of the Sun-Dried Yerba has been the one tea in our line up of great teas that has converted more morning coffee drinkers over the past 10 years then any other tea we sell. If you are aware that the day is quickly approaching where you will need to ween yourself off that muddy morning jolt, then Citrus Blast is the tea that will allow for a smooth transition, and lord knows, we all crave for smooth transitions these days. We hope you enjoy the yerba you have just received and if you find yourself with a few minutes to spare over a steaming mug of our tea, kindly leave us a review on our website. To Your Eternal Health! Brendan  

Brendan Waye

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DEMYSTIFYING LOOSE LEAF TEA

We’ve all heard it. We’ve all tried to explain it. Sometimes the patron buys into your pitch about the merits of loose over bagged, but other times it can be like talking to a wall. You know what I am talking about here. You might be able to sell them on the quality and taste difference, but as for the convenience factor of loose versus bagged? It can be a real crapshoot. Although loose leaves have made leaps and bounds in the past few years in terms of popularity, it still surprises me every day when a self-professed tea addict arrives in our store looking for bagged tea (and I am not talking about high-quality pyramid nylon bags that pack loose leaf). Yes, as scary as it may sound, these customers are looking for the generic, bleached paper sacks that house a substance that, in some cases, tastes no more like tea than coffee does. So, how do we emphasize the supreme benefits of loose leaf over off-the-shelf bagged tea? Here is what I have been verbally communicating for the past decade and it seems to work more often than not:
  1. Quality.  On balance, premium loose-leaf tea is of significantly higher quality than most bagged tea.  Do you want to drink foul-tasting crud, or do you want to drink excellent-tasting full-leaf tea leaves?
  1. Freshness.  The unfortunate reality is that most tea bags purchased off the supermarket shelves can be almost two years old, essentially stale.  Most people have no idea what fresh teas taste like.  When presented with a taste comparison, they are literally blown away by the flavor profile of a fresh loose-leaf tea.
  2. 3. Lower cost per serving.  This always freaks them out a bit.  Here is the math (which you can do right in front of them): The average cost of 20 gourmet tea bags in a cello-wrapped box in the supermarket ranges from $4.99 to $6.99.  Let us take the median of $5.99.  That is 30 cents a tea bag for about enough tea to make a 12-oz cup.  If you spent the same 30 cents and invested it in loose tea, you would end up with enough tea to make 2-3 cups of tea (depending on the type of tea as well).  If need be, I rip open a tea bag and dump it on a plate in front of the customer to show them how much tea they are actually getting for their 30 cents.  Then I show them 30 cents worth of premium loose leaf.
  3. 4. Environmentally Friendly.  That 30 cents you pay for the tea bag is contributing a hell of a lot of packaging to the planet’s landfills, just for the sake of convenience.  Think about it for a second. First, there is the cello wrapper on the box.  Next comes the box itself.  In the box are 20 individually wrapped foil or paper pouches.  And inside each pouch is a paper tea bag.  Attached to the teabag is a staple, a length of string, and a tag on the other end.  When you rip open the bag and dump the tea on a plate and compare it to 30 cents of loose leaf, the difference is quite startling.  On closer scrutiny, you’ll see that the actual tea in the bag is hidden behind four layers of packaging.  If all that packaging is not bad enough, the actual quality of the tea can be downright atrocious.
In one case, I ordered a Darjeeling and my colleague, Bob, ordered a Rooibos. Our tea arrived in less than three minutes in the trendy new BrewT teapot. The young lady took the time to explain the workings of the device and when to pour, I mean dispense, the tea (the device sits on top of your cup and drops the tea straight down into it). She also said we could refill the BrewT as often as we like. I would be lying if I told you that I kept my excitement in check with the spectacle unfolding in front of me.  I asked a couple of questions and let her run off to another table.  I looked around and saw many more tables with people sipping tea from BrewTs. It then dawned on me; this was the image I had in that steak house of what tea service might be like in the future.  Beautifully crafted loose-leaf infusions, properly prepared and served in modern brewing devices by knowledgeable staff. So, the future was happening here, now, in a hip bistro on Academy Road, in the bustling early morning in a 300-seat pancake house in the burbs, and in a large, renovated turn-of-the-century mansion whose many rooms were converted into plush dining nooks. It is time for the leaves to unfurl again, to escape the confines of the paper sac and wow the many unsuspecting palates of today’s sophisticated beverage generation. How can you help perpetuate this?  Ask for loose leaf every time you go out to dine, whether they have it or not. Demand now outstrips supply and with the added effects of climate change, traditional growing areas are either too wet or too dry at their peak season. Yield and quality fluctuate from year to year. There was a time I was quite determined to follow suit and adopt a go big or go home philosophy, but that was until the noxious whiff of corporate culture entered our small organization. We had 5 outlets operating in 2005 and I flinched and turned away.  I really was not keen on turning Steeps into the next Starbucks of Tea, even though our regulars were convinced we had conceived the model for a successful rollout. So, is bigger better, I am inclined to say no, and I mean that for most of the industries and products that service the human race.  The single benefit I see from Big Tea’s proliferation is that young adults, who would normally grab a coke or red bull are opting now for a cuppa over a can. This means that eventually, purveyors, blenders, and small-scale importers like us will see them in the shops we service.  One headache too many & simple curiosity will lead them to our tea bars. Once we demonstrate what good tea is, the way forward will be much clearer and more mouth-watering too. Brendan Waye is a Tea Specialist and Sommelier for TG Tea, Inc.

Brendan Waye

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MOVE OVER JOE BAG, HERE COMES THE FULL-LEAF LADY

The stinging disappointment of poor tea service used to wash over me time and time again in the 90’s. I particularly remember a time many years ago when a friend and I were dining at a swanky steak house in Edmonton. I had suggested we cap off the exceptional meal with a nice pot of tea to settle our stomachs, we had unduly gorged ourselves and I was feeling just a tad bloated.  Ike wholeheartedly agreed and I summoned the waiter for his tea selection.  He reappeared momentarily with a little wicker basket.  It yielded the following choices (I remember this clearly): Red Rose, Twinning’s Earl Grey, Stash Peppermint, and some unknown Chamomile.  I recall the feeling of being let down, disregarded, even placated. I looked at Ike, while he looked at me, both of us thinking the very same thing, what a truly lame offering from such a great restaurant.  Feeling somewhat like I was backed into a corner; I selected the Earl Grey and Ike chose the Red Rose. Less than a minute passed, and the tea arrived in those drippy flip lid stainless steel pots.  The water was barely steaming and had a fizzy foam on top.  I knew exactly what I was in for, stereotypical restaurant tea service (horrid).  If you recall, these small pots will lose a third of their precious cargo on the tablecloth while you poured.  It was ultimately a dismal failure from beginning to end. You may come back to this fine steakhouse for the Angus beef, but the whole tea experience is something best forgotten. However, I do not forget these things, and neither do a lot of my brethren.  Because tea is probably the last item your palate will taste before leaving any dining establishment, chances are it will leave more of an impression on you than the two sides accompanying the main course, or even the main course itself. And sadly, this is where most chefs completely miss the boat.  This is a squandered opportunity, a brief chance to raise the bar on a component of the dining experience that can leave an indelible impression. Fortunately, time has a way of healing all open wounds.  Today, nearly a decade since this memorable tea experience, I can see a small shimmering light at the end of that tepid tunnel. It was, nonetheless, a recent trip to Winnipeg that surely surprised the hell out of me.  I dined at three popular eateries in Winnipeg and was served loose-leaf tea each time.  We are not talking about those pseudo tearoom/teahouse restaurants that have a full menu, but call themselves a tea spot, but rather a cross-section of the entire dining spectrum.  I went to a crowded pancake house on a Saturday morning, a modern bistro, and arguably Winnipeg’s finest restaurant, 529 Wellington.  At the end of each meal, I was offered a full (and separate) TEA MENU, a well-written, nicely organized card with upwards of 30+ loose-leaf teas.

Brendan Waye

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THE ADVENT OF BIG TEA

When the thought of tea jumps into mind, even in this day where the leaf seems to be cropping up everywhere, we think of quiet solitary times, times where you may have a slight chill penetrating your bones.  It’s now you realize that wrapping your hands around a mug of steaming tea is just about the best thing you’ve done all day. This eloquent, peaceful and reflective ritual that millions partake in has recently morphed into a very wide, vast and deep corporate marketing message flogged by the largest beverage producers. Yes, sadly, our daily time out has been spun by the marketing gods into something that can be bought at any caf serving up any old cup of tea.  Experience the Zen of matcha as one coffee chain espouses in its hectic stores, oft at train stations and ferry terminals.  Show me Zen in a train station coffee kiosk and I’ll show you the Buddha himself sitting in the corner and chuckling madly. The transformation that has occurred in specialty tea this past decade is nothing short of extraordinary. Some of us not too long ago had a premonition, but the corporatization of specialty tea has been undeniably effective, in a yin & yang sort of way. It seems that every viable industry spawns from a humble grassroots genesis. They are usually bred from some burning passion or desire, a keen eye on trends and an innate sense to share the benefits of the product one loves. Many have witnessed numerous good start-ups grow and flourish well beyond their ma & pa roots. In this growth process, they are standardized and if I may conjecture, fiddled, and tweaked with by corporate bean counters to the point where the concept becomes no longer recognizable to its early adopters. Overnight, everything has morphed into a corporate milieu and is palatably different, with the keystone product taking the biggest slice in quality.   You have to ask yourself when a coffee chain has 10,000+ locations, each selling the same specialty cup of coffee, how good really are those beans?   To portray this as a small farmer, specialty coffee is like saying the Whopper ranks as a premium locally raised burger. From my vantage point, tea appears to have arrived at this stage.  There really was nothing anyone could have done about it; the industry has grown immensely since the early 2000’s.  With the media promoting its health benefits, its easy accessibility, and high profit margin, tea was destined to follow in specialty coffee’s footsteps. So, what does this mean in regard to quality and supply? For quality, I would suggest you go sip a cup of tea at one of those bloated tea chains and find out.  What you get is very low-grade tea wrapped up in a ton of artificial flavors.  Most people I know who have tried teas from these corporate chain stores either complain about the ensuing headache from the cup they had or that the information about the tea being disseminated by the staff was erroneous.  I don’t dare ever frequent them for fear that I might start interjecting and correcting the misinformed tea tenders.
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KENYA TEA PARTY: A PHOTO ESSAY BY THE TEAGUY

The team that taught the tea farmers how to make hand crafted tea. From left to right, Paul Bain, Ian Bain, Grayson Bain, Buddha Dev, Brendan Waye. The photo was taken in a small tea field, 15 minutes outside of Chavakali. One of Kenya’s numerous large scale tea gardens. In some areas, we noticed the fields went on for as far as the eye could see. The multinational tea conglomerates own 60% of the Kenyan Tea industry. A very typical Kenyan Shamba, or as we once called them over here, a homestead. The typical ones we found in the tea growing regions supported great diversity. Tea plants, corn, root vegetables, fruit trees, livestock, hens of all sorts and no outside inputs, such as petrol-based fertilizers. Here, outside Chavakali, are two shambas, side by side. Tea at the bottom, corn next, then bananas and fruit trees. The gifts of excellent tea growing soil, humid, warm, year-round climate, and an abundance of sun mean the bushes are plucked every 7-10 days. The annual yield is phenomenal in comparison to other growing areas of similar size. The famed and rare Purple Tea bush! A genetic anomaly, some orthodox factories in Kenya are experimenting with processing this colorful leaf on a commercial scale. Here is the OP set in full purple red hue. Look close, perhaps purple, white, tea? Strolling the Kangaita Tea Gardens. This farm and factory is owned by the KTDA and is one of the few that produce an excellent quality orthodox black tea. Paul and Grayson walk with one of our guides. Our first weeklong stay was in Sotik. Here we met Joseph (far right) who had 3.5 beautiful acres of prime camellia. His bushes were gorgeous! Standing behind Joseph is Pastor Albert, our bridge into the local community. He made sure we had everything we needed. On Josephs farm, both men and women are employed to bring in the harvest. As I watched these two, I was amazed at how quick their hands would move across the picking table. It would take just a few minutes to snip off and fill each hand with up to 35 leaf sets each. Every four to five hours, the leaves are transferred from basket to sack and carried off to a roadside weigh station. As I crouched down with my camera, none of the women would stop. Finally, after some pleading, this bright faced picker stopped and flashed me a smile. The other girl rushed by, giggling, with her hand covering her smile The typical tea leaf basket carried by pickers the world over. In Kenya, because the leaves are large, these baskets hold between five and seven kilos of leaves. This translates to just about one kilo of made tea. It takes two to four hours to fill this basket, depending on the experience of the picker. Pickers will fill two to three of these baskets a day and receive between 15 to 20 cents per kilogram. From the basket, we dumped the fresh plucked leaves onto the withering table as Paul clearly points out. We had just constructed it the day before, and it is the most laborious step in the making of hand-crafted tea is the hand rolling stage. We grab a handful of the withered leaves and start rolling them against a rough surfaced mat. We are using pieces of conveyor belt in this photo because the uneven surface sticks to the leaves and rolls them into tightly wound sticks. After the rolling stage, the leaves are separated and spread out again under plastic to oxidize. They generate some heat during this phase and a miniature micro-environment is created under the plastic sheet expediting this crucial flavor producing stage. Too much heat will cook the leaves, so turning the leaves every 30 minutes or so is a task that must be done like clockwork. We took advantage of the daily hot sun and spread the oxidized tea leaves over a piece of sheet metal in full sunlight. The reflected rays dried the leaves in less than four hours. In this picture the leaves are about half-way through drying. The aroma emanating from the steel sheet was heavenly: sweet, fresh tea in its purest form. The finished, hand-rolled, sun-dried, black tea. This small bundle of leaves is virtually unbroken, and when infused, the leaves re-open into the classic OP leaf set. The fresh tea aroma wafting off the leaves was palate-watering. We could not wait to start tasting what we had produced! Buddha, our Indian tea processing expert, takes the first sip of the made tea. All eyes are focused on his face. Justice the farmer in the red cap, looking at Buddha intently, has been growing tea for 35 years and had never tasted the flavor of his brewed leaves until this day. The Great Rift Valley. As you know if you buy Kenyan tea, one of the first questions you ask, is the tea from West of the Rift Valley? It is a common fact amongst tea buyers that once you cross this great divide, the tea growing gets better and the tea tastes better. We crossed the Rift Valley, and as we descended into its depths, we stopped so I could get a shot of the incredible expanse that has divided central Africa into two distinct areas.

Brendan Waye

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PHOENIX MOUNTAIN SINGLE TREE OOLONG

During April in North Guangdong province at an altitude of 4,500 feet, 100-year-old Oolong trees are harvested for their young shoots, which are than oxidized to 45%, fired under medium heat, and meticulously crafted all along the way. These single-branch cultivars from Chaoan County’s infamous Phoenix Mountain grow straight up and than fan out, creating an umbrella-like canopy. The tea pickers use tall ladders that run right up the center trunk to access the leaves. Recently, I received some of this magnificent Phoenix Mountain Single Tree Oolong from Jason Cheng in Seattle. This tea is also known as Feng Huang Dan Cong. It’s been a while since a tea like Phoenix Mountain Single Tree Oolong has crossed my palate, upended my senses, and tantalized my tongue in ways I had never experienced. You can closely examine the dry, twisted tea leaves, inhale their scent, and than put a little context to the tea you are about to sip. Consider, for example, a first-flush Darjeeling. When you pour out the leaves on a tray, shake them around, and than sniff the fresh bouquet, you will almost immediately get a sense of what you are about to experience in your mouth. The same applies to a well-twisted and evenly colored Sri Lankan, a tightly rolled Tieguanyin, or a Japan Sencha. Rarely does a tea that one examines in shape, quality, and aroma end up yielding something so remarkably different in the cup that it takes four cups before you can break it down. It is only than that you can you describe the variety of nuances your senses have detected. Phoenix Mountain Single Tree Oolong is just that kind of tea! It is one of those rare teas that when observed in its dry form seems to be of high quality and is wonderfully shaped; yet, it does not hint of anything extraordinary. Sight and smell lend nothing to what awaits the salivating palate. It has been said that when Phoenix Mountain Single Tree Oolongs are at their best, they are on a par with the finest Tieguanyins. This challenges me a bit because I have cupped numerous Tieguanyins over the past decade, but I do not recall encountering anything close to the magnificent flavor profile of this oolong. Its flavor introduces itself with the notes of floral Tieguanyins and than transitions into the strong peachy notes you would get if you tasted fresh Bai Hao Yinzhen. In between those two components, there is a nougat nuttiness that is more perceptible in the later steeps. I typically get five cups of tea from five successive steeps of the leaves. The last is like a palate cleanser because it opens my taste buds up to whatever my next taste experience might be! Here’s hoping you get an opportunity to try this incredible-tasting variation of our good friend, the Camellia!’  

Brendan Waye

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SMALL SCALE KENYAN TEA GROWERS NEED YOUR SUPPORT

As a guest, and resident tea sommelier for JusTea, I am finally heading out for my first trip to the Kenyan tea fields after a successful launch of some of the country’s finest orthodox tea, a country that is legendary mainly for its CTC black tea. But this trip is not just about inspecting tea bushes and tea tasting, JusTea is delving to the very heart of tea poverty, the terrible disconnect between the tea bush on the small farms of Kenya, and the cup of black tea that you and I enjoy. (Kenya is the world’s number one producer of black tea.) My friends tell me that in Kenya, anytime is Chai time, reminds me a little of the Inuit actually, except Kenya’s culture is a mix of the British tea traditions and the chai spices of India. This spicy tea is served from a thermos with most meals. I have to say that I’m looking forward to spending time looking out on the jade green terraces of tea fields after each meal, while sipping a hot cup of chai on the verandah as the seasonal afternoon showers wash over the gardens below. Grayson and Paul of JusTea, who I will be accompanying, want to invest in direct trade partnerships with Kenyan farmers. Starting with assisting them to become experts at making black tea and eliminating costly middlemen, we will set up and build a small tea-processing factory that will allow the Kenyan farmers to improve and advance their newfound tea-making skills. Much to my pleasure, I will be slurping and spitting throughout the whole process. Tea grower Davison is the farm where we will start our Kenyan tea safari. He is a classic case of a tea farmer living below the poverty line. His challenges to feed his family and send his kids to school could easily be alleviated if he could just add value to his family’s tea farm by hand-processing his wet tea leaf into malty black orthodox tea (that we so love on our side of the Atlantic), rather than selling off just the wet leaf to the KTDA and getting next to nothing. Air travel and ground costs do not come cheap, neither does setting up a small tea-processing kitchen. So, if I may ask the reader, can you help JusTea fund my journey and build the first-ever tea-processing kitchen at the farm level? You can join us, in establishing a direct relationship with families like Davison’s, so that you, the tea drinker, can experience true community with Kenyan tea growers and assist them in raising their standard of living through the creation of hand-crafted orthodox tea. Here are the ways you can contribute to this campaign:
  1. Purchase an amazing reward at www.justea.com, the tea is amazing!
  2. Share our story and campaign with as many of your friends on Facebook by visiting the Facebook page at Justeatea.  
With Gratitude & Thanks, Brendan

Brendan Waye

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SO YOU WANT TO BE A TEA SOMMELIER?

Sommelier, Tea Master, Tea Tender, Tea Specialist, there are most likely a few more monikers folks can acquire in the course of their careers as professional tea purveyors. Personally, I would never call myself a tea master.  In a lifetime on this planet sipping the leaf, I would still be a novice, still growing and learning about the art and craft of tea.  Adopting the name, tea master, hints of finality, like you’ve reached the pinnacle of tea knowledge.  I can honestly say after 12 years in this business, I see no pinnacle of tea wisdom in sight, and I thank God for that. In Canada, though, we have a Certified Tea Sommelier program.  Now that sounds palatable and even acquirable because it suggests that the process of learning about the leaf and all its incarnations is a journey and not a destination.  It’s like an apprenticeship, learning from hands-on experience through the course of decades, in some cases. The genesis of this program occurred six years ago at George Brown College in Toronto, one of Canada’s top culinary schools.  At the time, the two chefs who launched the program did an absolutely fantastic job, considering neither had any formal tea training.  A few years later, the Tea Association of Canada decided it was time to branch out beyond the confines of George Brown’s corridors, and move west with the program.  In doing this, almost all of the eight courses that make up the designation were re-written and updated.  We can thank Shabnam Weber from The Tea Emporium in Toronto for her countless hours spent combing through the extensive curriculum. Here in Vancouver,  the second city in Canada to offer the designation,  we are now in our second year of running the courses (VCC Tea Sommelier).  Of the eight courses required to complete your tea sommelier designation, which totals more then 150 hours of classroom instruction, four of the courses have been taught thus far.  In fact, the first two courses have had four rotations and each time they are offered, the numbers of students enrolling have increased. I have taught all the courses so far.  However, just this fall, we enlisted another instructor from a local teashop, who just passed the final exam for the designation.  Reza is finishing his first teaching session of the second course. In addition to the joy of talking about and cupping tea with a group of keeners two nights a week, there is the joy that comes with witnessing a juvenile tea palate mature and start to identify tea from all corners of the globe. When I teach, we cup a lot of teas. We spend at least half the class smelling, slurping, and discussing what we are tasting and how to put words to the sensations and nuances our palates are detecting. As I know from experience, this is one of the most difficult aspects of cupping tea, describing what you taste in no uncertain terms. In January, Course 5 of the eight-course series launches for the first time.  Called From the Bush to the Cup, this 18-hour course enhances your knowledge of advanced cultivation and processing methods.  I can’t wait to teach it.  With my little greenhouse tea garden up here in the mountains of the north shore, I need all the knowledge I can get. This is an incredible program, and I am humbled to have been chosen the lead instructor. I am highly impressed with the dedication and enthusiasm of the students who have chosen to complete one of the world’s only Certified Tea Sommelier designations. And, no, we don’t just learn how to tip our pinky up here in the great white north; we take tea a tad more seriously. I invite you to come find out and see for yourself.  

Brendan Waye

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JUSTEA – A VANCOUVER-BASED SOCIAL JUSTICE PARTNERSHIP WITH KENYAN TEA FARMERS

A few posts ago, I talked about a tea venture I was involved with in Kenya. Things have been moving along with the project quite well, so I thought I would give you an update on current happenings. The tea venture about which I am speaking is JusTea, a non-profit partnership with small-scale Kenyan tea farmers to produce premium whole-leaf tea and bring social justice to their industry. More than simply emerging as another social business, JusTea aims to start a social justice movement. The project encourages tea lovers to rethink tea, and to connect with its culture and the people growing it. JusTea’s goal in the fall of 2013 is to introduce orthodox handcrafting techniques to Kenyan tea farmers so they can process their own tea. Kenya is the world’s largest producer and exporter of black tea; production is around 300 million kilograms each year. The lion’s share of tea is grown by over 500,000 small-scale tea farms in the country, and then processed in large industrial factories. Consequently, the farmers only receive about 1% of what the consumer pays. This leaves the farmers in poverty and without a voice to change their circumstances. We are partnering with them to remove the middleman and give them the power to make beautifully handcrafted tea. Grayson Bain, the founder of Rocky Mountain Bikes, started JusTea in 2012, after forming friendships with Kenyan tea farmers. The team is volunteer-based, and currently consists of nine members based in Vancouver, with international collaboration from key people in Kenya. Grayson explains, “My vision for starting JusTea was to practically connect the rich 5% of the world with the 95% that love, build, and hope , but have so little real connection to us in the 5%. Furthermore, it was to enrich millions of tea drinkers by bettering the lives of thousands of African tea farmers.” On May 15, JusTea launched its Indiegogo Campaign and aims to raise $35,000 by June 15, 2013. This will enable the project to move forward with sending a tea-processing expert to Kenya in the fall and setting up the first handcrafting tea kitchen, on a small-scale farm. JusTea is all about relationships with the land, with the tea, and with the farmers. The first shipment of tea has arrived, and we cupped it in my office last week. It is exceptional indeed. A high-quality mixed broken leaf with a full-bodied bouquet, and bread dough freshness, which transfers to the cup. It’s malty and smooth with a clean tannin finish.  We were all quite astounded at the quality of tea we were drinking. The good news is you can get some of this high-quality Kenyan black tea by selecting one of the many rewards JusTea offers in its Indiegogo campaign. Visit www.justea.com to watch the campaign video, share the stories, and contribute! Here is an opportunity for us tea lovers to make a significant impact on the lives of small-scale African farmers, and wash our thirsty palates in amazing handcrafted tea.

Brendan Waye

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TEA FOR THE AILING

As the months fly by, and signs of spring slowly emerge from the warming earth, I pause for a quick glance back. What have I accomplished? Where (and how) have I spent my time? What do I have to show for my efforts? Is my life by design materializing? Or am I just wandering around, a little lost perhaps, stuck in a proverbial rut that never seems to relent? These are questions I am sure plague a lot of us from time to time. Last Friday night, I unknowingly stepped into a black abyss that I mistook for dark earth, and found myself airborne, before falling 12 feet down a cut-off slope and back-landing on a tree stump.  The impact was brutal.  I rolled over on my side gasping for air, sucking in tight, excruciating, miniscule breaths.  I pulled my legs up into a fetal position and laid there in the river muck, my head spinning and my chest tightening for who knows how long. Eventually, I realized that I had to get up and get my butt outa there.  I knew I had done more than just knock the wind out of myself.  The stabbing pain in my chest and the taste of blood in my throat were clear indications.  But I still had to climb my way to the top of the washed-out slope and get myself home.  I was in Lynn Valley and I had to walk up over Braemer Avenue, a high mountain ridge road to get home, a trip that, on a good day, takes me 25 minutes. As I groped through the darkness, my headlamp flickered on and off with each assured movement.  I eventually managed to crawl up the slope, grabbing roots to gain access to the trail that I had been happily running along earlier.  I was wobbly as I got up, wrapping my arms around my rib cage, taking short breaths, and telling myself to keep walking it was a long way home. Forty-five minutes later, I stumbled through my door and slunk onto the living room carpet. I wrestled off my shoes, slid out of my jacket, and crawled to the washroom where I pulled myself up in front of the mirror.  I was as white as a ghost.  Cold beads of sweat dotted my brow.  I heaved a wincing cough and spat out a wad of blood-soaked phlegm.  Oh crap, that’s not good, I should probably get to myself to a hospital, I thought. I felt woozy, as though I might be going into shock, so I dropped back down on all fours and breathed slowly and steadily.  I than crawled over to my phone, called a cab, and prayed I would be coherent when the taxi showed up. It was late the next day when the first craving hit. I was in the acute care ward at Lions Gate Hospital, and had not been out of bed since arriving there the night before. Through the haze of pain meds, I caught a glimpse of a tag fluttering beside a to-go cup held by a nurse whizzing by the foot of my bed. A cup of tea! I wanted a cup of tea. I needed a cup of tea. But how did I go about getting a cup of tea? I knew there was a caf downstairs, but I had arrived with no cash in hand. Grudgingly, I settled for ice water this time, but I was going to be in the hospital for four days, so I had to figure out a way to get a good cup of tea. When the dinner-order lady came to ask what I wanted for supper, I said tea first. She asked if I wanted anything to eat besides tea! I’ll take whatever is on the menu tonight, I said. When 6:30 PM rolled around and the food trays started arriving, I was handed a tray with a dark green dome hiding a horrible piece of fish, a blue bowl half-filled with something similar to soup, and a very small, very dry-looking tea bag sans wrapper.  I grabbed the little sac, pressed it to my nose and sucked in.  Not stale, but bad, really bad.  It was Argentinian for sure. Screw it,  it would have to make do.  I looked around for the cup and hot water.  Nothing.  I blurted out an expletive and saw the nurse look over from her station.  Are you in pain, she asked.  To which I whined, I’ve been waiting all day to have a cup of tea and they bring me a tea bag with no cup or hot water?  What am I supposed to do, suck on it?  I said it with more sarcasm than I intended.  It was certainly not her fault, yet I could tell in that moment any goodwill I may have garnered throughout the day with nurse Helga had now vanished.  It wasn’t until the next shift settled in well past 8:00 PM that the night nurse took pity on me and nuked some tap water in a plastic cup so I could finally dunk the scrawny bag.  It was indeed awful, but that really didn’t matter.  That cup of tea was about something else, something greater.  It was about reflection, solitude, and healing.  It was about gratitude. I have four fractured ribs, pulmonary contusions, and a lot of fluid in the left lung.  I am down for a long spell while my body mends.  Not to worry, though.  My bases have been covered with many helpful hands.  Friends in need are friends indeed, as cliché as that sounds.  I will absorb the downtime and re-acquaint myself with that side of tea that we really require, yet rarely find time to truly indulge in.  Tea connects us to ritual, to history, to something larger and more wonderful than our nanosecond of existence here on earth. As bad as that hospital tea tasted (and you can see from the photo that I added milk), I felt truly fortunate.  It was yet another near miss in the outdoors that I will eventually walk away from.  And, in the meantime, the tea afforded me the opportunity to sip and than savor the soft pillows at the back of my head.  The tea gods surely must have other plans for me , for which I kindly thank them.

Brendan Waye

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TEA AND CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE BODY AND THE SOUL

For the first time in more than four years, my body has succumbed to the seasonal flu virus. It’s really been about two decades since I have had a full-blown flu debilitate me for days on end. When others around me catch the bug and I witness how it affects them, I feel quite fortunate, thankful that I got off easy. I usually manage to kick the pestilence securely out of my body within 24-36 hours of first feeling that scratchy throat, mild headache, and achy joints.  My immune system seems to work really well, which I can attribute to my rock-climbing tours of Western Europe in my early and mid-twenties. While climbing in Switzerland in the 1980s, I ended up contracting a European flu virus, which was very persistent and debilitating and eventually managed to cross the pond.  It was so nasty that the elderly as well as some infants were succumbing to the aggressive virus.  My climbing partner, Martin Gollner, who was from Switzerland, caught the bug the same time as I did.  Once we realized what we had, we made a hasty retreat from the mountains to his parent’s house in Thayngen (the home of the Knorr soup company). I recall both of us being bedridden for well over five days.  I also remember Martin’s sweet mother lifting my head several times to try to feed me chicken soup and herbal infusions as I drifted in and out of sleep and cold sweats.  We were both essentially immobilized, and without the care and nursing of Mrs. Gollner, I surely would have been hospitalized.  I also recall losing a full layer of epidermis.  I peeled like a molting lizard during the ordeal.  For a week, the only thing I could keep down was mint tea and homemade chicken soup. Jump ahead two decades and here I am lying on the couch feeling slightly drained, yet knowing that the worst is behind me, a half day and night of mild headaches, a slight cough, and some dizziness.  As a result of that horrid bout in Switzerland, my immune system has been supercharged ever since. Last night before bed, I dug into my deep freeze and pulled out a bag of chicken soup I had made a few months back.  Funny thing ,I don’t normally make chicken soup (turkey, squash, and green pea are my regulars), so the soup gods must have had a premonition. The only year in the past four I have caught the bug, and I just happen to have homemade chicken soup in the freezer! And tea, how could I forget the 35 or so cups of tea in the past 24 hours?  That’s about triple what I normally drink, they say the body needs fluids, so what better way than to drown the virus in catechins, flavanoids, and other polyphenols.  Let’s see you swim your way out of that, suckers!! So, TGIF, I have the weekend to get my body back to normal, lay low, so to speak.  That’s just fine with me, as I am working on a new tea blend involving two very cool flavors.  I can now put this project on the table for weekend R & D, and enjoy a little workout for the palate, nothing too strenuous. But before I do, I would like to extend a warm and heartfelt New Year’s greeting to all the readers and contributors here at The Tea Guy.  I sense 2013 will be a very exciting year.  Realize your dreams, my dear friends.

Brendan Waye

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BLISS IN DISCOVERY

I was strolling through Chinatown last weekend, killing some time while waiting for a client to open a nearby shop. During my stroll, I ducked into a herbal remedy store to smell and gaze at the myriad concoctions and dried stuff that filled every corner of the pungent shop. Over on one of the sidewalls, my eye caught a glimpse of small bags filled with incredibly bright flowers. Being a tea blender, I could not help noticing how the buds popped.  I walked over and picked up a package labeled snow chrysanthemum.  I had never heard of or seen this type of chrysanthemum before, so I felt a tingle of excitement. After a quick study, I grabbed a medium-sized bag and headed to the checkout.  At this point, I couldn’t care less how it tasted; I was only thinking of how it would look as an ingredient in a potential new tea blend. Later that afternoon, as I was preparing a cup, I thought I would find out a little more about the story of the snow chrysanthemum and where it hails from.  I always find that taking the time to learn a little about an infusion or a tea before quaffing it greatly enhances my enjoyment of it. So, check this out,  the snow chrysanthemum lives 3,200 meters above sea level in the Kunlun Mountains of far western China in Xinjiang Province.  Just to put it into perspective, the Kunlun range is north of the famous Himalayan chain and south of the Tian Shan Range.  Here, on these remote slopes, at just about the snow line, these fragrant flowers bloom and fill the alpine valleys.  Oh, one can only imagine the site it must be! As it turns out, those powerfully vibrant buds are also endowed with 18 different amino acids and 15 trace elements that are highly beneficial to people suffering from high blood pressure and coronary heart disease. The fragrant snow buds offer up a lot more than just these two benefits, but I will leave that for you to research and find out. Finally, how does it taste? The true litmus test for whether it will become your new evening staple or not. When I opened the bag and buried my snout in deep, I was engulfed in a sensational sweet floral bouquet.  If this was going to taste anything like its gorgeous fragrance, my tongue was in for a rare trip indeed. Sweet, woodsy, with a hint of meadow flower honey and distinctive notes of turmeric and papaya, it has a clean full-mouth body that lingers as you swallow. It’s a fantastically textured infusion, solitary in its nuances and noticeably warming on the gastrointestinal tract.  It was (and is) as close to Zen in my mouth as any herb I have yet to try. As I wind down the evening, and drain the last drop from that clear mug you see in the picture, I feel blissful about yet another discovery of a tisane that for the past 15 years has eluded my radar screen.  Now, if I could only have just a few of those years back.  Serve this over the holiday season and you will be this year’s bright new tea star.
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EMPOWERING KENYA’S SMALL-SCALE TEA FARMERS

When you can get good orthodox tea from Kenya, it tends to be exceptional. I have enjoyed numerous cups of Tinderet and Millima, and the odd cup of Kamba purple tea over the years and always asked myself why I do not drink more of this. As it turns out, one of the most popular teas I sell is Irish Breakfast, which is composed of nearly 25% Eastern Rift Valley tea. Kenya’s teas are so incredibly good thanks to two variables, the country’s geographic location and the uniqueness of the soil.  Kenya is centered smack dab on the equator, so tea picking is a year-round activity, about every 7-14 days, depending on the elevation of the garden. A major reason why teas from Kenya are so good is the volcanic red soil, which rims both sides of the Eastern Rift Valley and appears in many other highland regions throughout the country.  These low PH soils are what the Camellia Sinensis bush thrives in, and with more than 50 cultivars created within the country, they’ve tailored these clones to each tea region. Unbeknownst to a lot of us, Kenya is the third largest tea producer in the world, but rarely appears on loose-leaf tea lovers’ radars.  The simple explanation for this is that almost all the tea picked in Kenya gets CTC processed.  And as we know, most CTC tea ends up in teabags, which many tea lovers do not buy. This is a shame because Kenya has the potential to create artisan hand-crafted teas that rival those that come out of China, Darjeeling, and Taiwan.  The reason we see so little orthodox, small-scale farmer, loose-leaf varieties from Kenya is because most farmers do nothing more than pick the leaves and sell them, with no value-added processing at all. The Kenya Tea Development Association (KTDA) represents over 500,000 small-scale tea farmers, who make up 60% of the Kenyan tea industry.  They look after about 70 CTC processing factories dotted throughout the tea-growing regions.  The other 40% is held by multinationals like Unilever and Lipton (which do little to improve the livelihoods of the small-scale farmer). What this system perpetuates is a guarantee that the small-scale farmer with a hectare or two of tea plants will always get nothing more than whatever the going rate is for unprocessed, wet tea leaves, which is a fraction of what made tea will fetch. So why my sudden interest in Kenyan Tea?  A local company named WOW Ventures approached me a few months ago about getting involved with them to help African tea farmers learn the skills necessary to start producing hand-crafted artisan teas.  I personally do not know how to hand craft tea, but I do know what it should taste like coming out the other side, and this is where I can be of assistance to the WOW group. The plan is to import the expertise from China or Taiwan to teach these small-scale holders how to take the wet leaf and turn it into something fantastic.  As I said, Kenya has all the attributes to be producing some of the best hand-crafted teas in the world, but the lack of initiative, leadership, and tea-processing skills means that farmers live just above the poverty line selling off their wet leaves into an unfair system that provides little more than a rudimentary lifestyle.  The KTDA and factory owners reap the biggest benefit from the sweat and toil of these small-scale holders. In January, I will travel to Kenya with WOW Ventures to help assess the quality of the tea bushes at the present moment and put into place timelines as to when we can start to see hand-crafted teas appear in the North American market. In doing this, we are currently searching for an individual or individuals from China or Taiwan with hand tea-processing expertise.  One of the best seasons for tea picking in Kenya is February, so we would ideally like to have a person or persons ready to join us in Kenya at that time to begin the process of transferring tea-making expertise to a select group of Kenyan tea farmers.  If you have a connection to anyone who might fit the bill, I would love to hear from you. This is an exciting project, as its impact on the livelihoods of small-scale tea growers cannot be understated.  In due time, I think we all will be taking a second look at Kenyan tea, it is certainly something exciting to look forward to in the not-too-distant future!

Brendan Waye

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THE PUSHBACK

Teaopia was a much better concept than Teavana from a customer’s perspective, although the idea for Teaopia was hatched after its founder was lured into a Teavana outlet at a Tampa megamall. With a keen eye for retail trends and a wealth of shopping-mall expertise, Teaopia’s founder took all that was good about Teavana and incorporated it into a Canadian equivalent with significantly better tea. I joined the team in Toronto about two years after the launch of their first store in Mississauga, Ontario two zealous Italians and I, hashing it out in the boardroom day after day. That first location was undoubtedly a work in progress and by the time I arrived and opened the Scotia Plaza shop on Bay Street, the design had fortunately evolved in the right direction.  I arrived just in time to lend my eye to the blueprints for the newest store.  After some brisk discussion, a few of my ideas were incorporated into the design.  Scotia Plaza was #5 in the Teaopia chain and in those first few months, we were steeping 350-450 cups of tea to go most days of the week. In addition to opening new stores, I took on the task of converting all the teas to certified organic and all-natural extracts where possible.  I suggested that if there was anything we could do at this stage of our growth that would set us apart it was to offer a tea collection that was 98% certified organic.  Of course, in doing this, we increased our costs, so some of that had to be passed on to the consumer.  The upside, though, was that we never had to defend our quality, and if ever pressed to do that for a customer, we had our facts straight. Now that Teavana has swallowed up our Canadian-made brand of tea retailing, customers are left scratching their heads.  What happened?  Well, a ton has happened.  I think almost all 44 Teaopia outlets have had their makeovers now , some of the last ones I presume are out here on the west coast.  Make no mistake, though, for anyone who has ever purchased tea at Teaopia and is expecting a similar experience at Teavana, you are in for a bit of a shock.  Welcome, tea friends, to the Teavana way to peddle tea to unsuspecting and somewhat gullible mall crawlers. As one would expect, I have a wide network of tea contacts up here.  Since the Teavana buyout, I have heard countless stories of negative experiences customers are having when they enter the new Teavana shops.  From overfilling tea tins to way more than what was asked to charging the client for the tin without telling them to staff giving erroneous information, the Teavana model of tea retailing has little to do with the promotion of a healthy lifestyle, and much more to do with satisfying the shareholders who anted up their millions. So up here in Canada, rather than moan and complain, we should just stop shopping there and take our business elsewhere.  We go out and support the independents.  We inject our tea dollars back into helping local entrepreneurs keep doing what they are passionate about, which is, for better or for worse, advocating for the countless virtues inherent in regular tea consumption.  They are here for us and not for some board of directors in a city in another country.  Your support allows them to hone their craft and provide you with a better product.  If we need a cue from our caffeinated cousin, take a look at local bean roasters.  Their followers are passionate and loyal. So the pushback is happening.  Teaopia’s tea offering has noticeably dropped in quality, the in-store sales tactics border on what you expect from a used car salesman, and the information being disseminated stretches the truth about loose tea’s health benefits.  I cannot think of one reason why I would ever consider frequenting or even buying tea from a Teavana shop.  Welcome to the world of corporatized tea, American style.

Brendan Waye

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A TEA LIFE

As I sit here, this first Saturday of September in my back yard, trying to compose a coherent piece of tea prose, I initially (as often happens) come up empty-handed. So, I get up from the patio table and head indoors to find a cup of inspiration in my cluttered cupboard of tea samples. The first box of tea my eyes fixate on is Steve Smith’s No. 45 Peppermint sample box sent to me by the man himself. Nope, not quite what I was looking for right now. I need stimulation during this time of day and although I love fresh peppermint, I reserve it as a before-bed or after-a-late-evening meal settling remedy. I suspect I am looking for a black blend, something that harkens me back to the tea I quaffed in the high arctic with the Inuit, a tea with those rich malty notes that you find in Indian and China blacks. As I continue to shuffle bags around and dig deeper into the back of the cupboard, a Teaguy label moves into the scrum. Handwritten on the bag is “East Frisian Sunday Tea.” Ah-ha, that is the one. I pull it down and go fill the kettle. Less than 10 minutes later, I am back out in the yard nestled behind my Mac and listening to the song of Black Capped Chickadees and Spotted Towhees fluttering around in the four majestic Sequoias that rim the back. It is a lovely place really, transitioning into West Coast Mountain forest. The space comes alive every summer morning. The choral symphony starts around 5:00 AM, so some neighbors close their windows, but for me it is a slice of heaven drifting through my wide-open patio doors. I digress? Back to the post and what exactly is on my mind today. I do not know if you noticed, but I’ve been away for four months. Life got too hectic in the spring and I was not inspired to put my thoughts on paper anymore. What could I write about that has not already been bantered about a dozen times in this blog? What tidbit or diatribe could I impart on the readership? What experience could I share that might prove beneficial or even enlightening for a very enlightened audience? The fact is very little, I surmise. I can only delve into my own life in tea thus far as I continue to try and shake up the status quo. We all have a life in tea here, and those experiences shape our perception of this vocation we muddle through year in and year out. From the painfully slow summers that I possess a love-hate relationship with to the frenetic weeks around Christmas when all you do is long for is a little downtime, a life in tea is not a get-rich-quick scheme, nor is it as entirely fulfilling as we so often make it out to be. All pontificating aside, I sell tea for a living. Its better than selling Kirby vacuum cleaners door to door (yes, I have done that too), but the truth is that I must get up every morning and think about how to get more people drinking my tea if I want to achieve my desired life. Not entirely how I want my association with the leaf to play out day in and day out. There is one certainty, though, which we can all agree upon: a good cup of tea provides much-needed inspiration and reflection on one’s daily life. From Emperor Nong to Lu Yu in 780 AD to modern-day saints and poets, the leaf has a wonderful ability to allow us to dig a little deeper, to sit back, reflect, and absorb the wisdom of the ages, to tune out the chaos that surrounds us, and to delve into our inherent gratitude we all share for being introduced to this wonderful plant. As I take the last sip of my pot of East Frisian Sunday Tea (without the traditional lump of rock sugar and heavy cream on top), the sun has finally poked its head out from behind the Sequoias. The warm rays of late summer sun are causing me to squint at the screen, and after looking closely in the mirror last night before bed, the last thing my face needs is more creases. The Frisian tea did the job, even if it was not consumed on the Sabbath. I hope the tea gods forgive me for this.

Brendan Waye

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WHEN LESS IS MORE

There are few consumer product sectors that, when reduced to their most basic form, offer you a significantly better experience. Imagine walking into a car dealership and telling the salesperson you want to buy new wheels with every bell and whistle available but were only prepared to pay their basic version price. You know full well the options available on the top-of-the-line vehicle will significantly enhance your ride. There is nothing stripped down anymore about an $80K vehicle. In the agricultural sector, a potato is not a veggie people eat like an apple or cut into fresh dipping sticks with creamy ranch dressing (yeck). In its most basic form, the raw potato does not rank high on my scale of scrumptious veggies to be nibbling on. But with a blast of heat and some red sauce, you have one of the world’s favorite snacks. Now enter the tea leaf in all its incarnations. We only need mention two of these manifestations to support the title of this post, supermarket tea and boutique shop tea. Before I lay out my case for you (because I am ultimately attempting to change your buying habits, especially if you are new to tea), I must acknowledge what the whiz marketers tell us, namely that packaging sells products.  Some of the most elaborate schemes devised to present tea leaves to the public fool you into thinking the external effort should somehow equate with the leaves inside.  How many times have you been duped so far?  You’ll know the tea was crap when you see it appear on the discount shelves of Winners the following year. So here are the key differences between the teas you will find stacked up in supermarket isles and those in sealed jars and tins lining the back wall of the neighborhood tea shop:
  • The serving cost of each cup of tea is pretty much the same, 30 cents per serving.  This is based on a two-gram portion of tea, which is about what’s inside the average tea bag.  Sometimes bagged tea can even be more expensive than its loose-leaf counterpart.
  • If you purchased the same kind of tea, let’s say an English Breakfast – from both the supermarket and the tea shop, they would taste nothing alike, nor would the Earl Grey, and especially not the Sencha Green Tea.  You would be either appalled at what was in the tea bag, or super impressed with what came from the tea shop.
  • Any reasoning individual would quickly realize that with all the layers of packaging from the supermarket, the tea inside would have to be of low value.  This is a fitting assumption, as the average price per gram of tea going into tea bags is 2-3 cents per gram.
  • The tea on supermarket shelves can be up to two years old.  The age of the tea in successful, busy tea boutiques is a few short months.  In some cases, and depending on your choice, it can be acquired within weeks after it was blended or harvested.  This is why you will undoubtedly find the boutique tea to be so much tastier than the gourmet box you shucked out $6.99 for.
  • If you’re a life-long tea drinker and have no plans of quitting anytime soon, how much of the packaging entering landfills do you want to take responsibility for?  It’s not a simple calculation, but to put it in a visual context, the average person leaves behind two large suburban-sized houses of garbage in their lifetime.  If you buy a tin from the local tea shop and bring it back for refills, there is no throwaway packaging, just fresh tea leaves and a whole lot of enjoyment.  Every little bit you do is part of the solution.
Now I must postulate, after the evidence presented, that contrary to what the marketers want, the less you focus on packaging and the more you focus on the leaves, the better your tea-drinking experience will be.  It’s simple really ? if you love tea and you love what’s left of our natural environment, then you will stop buying supermarket tea.  One more tree, one better cup of tea.

Brendan Waye

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THOMAS LOVE

When my 7-year-old niece comes to visit, one of the things she loves to do is swim and drink tea with her uncle. Her first choice for a swim is the ocean, but up here in Canada in January, swimming in the sea is best left to polar bears and spot prawns,  not skinny little girls with little fear of the cold. It is a trait she inherited from her late father.

A Chance Meeting

So due to the frigid waters off the British Columbia coast, we opted for a brand new community rec center with a pool that had all the trimmings, wading pool, waterslides, hot tubs, and even a flowing river that whisked you around the edge of the pool as you sat on a tube.  It took her all of 5 minutes to befriend another 7-year-old and an afternoon of aquatic fun was in the bag. After 45 minutes in the water, I retreated to the hot tub, where a few other Dads were keeping an eye on their daughters.  As I settled down into the steamy water, the guy next to me asked how old my daughter was, he’d been watching us.  I told him she was my niece visiting me from Edmonton for a few days.  He introduced himself as Theo in a thick Aussie accent and pointed out that Meeka, my niece, was having a blast with his daughter. Lost in Translation We struck up a conversation and I quickly found out that he was of Greek origin but had spent most of his life in Melbourne.  He was in the restaurant business and his wife was from Vancouver, which is why they had recently relocated to West Van.  He soon found out I was in the tea business and with that he shared a personal story about a friend named Thomas Love, whom he connected with as a teen.  The friendship sparked when Theo was 16 and roaming around the Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne with his sister, Petr.  Thomas was about 18 years old at the time and had hair that was dyed a bazillion colors.  He exuded a life energy that was unique and rare, even for an Australian.  The rainbow-haired guy immediately captivated Theo and they struck up a friendship that would last for the next two decades.  That eccentric, charismatic young man whose name I totally missed from Theo’s thick Aussie accent just so happened to be Tomislav (Thomas Love) Podreka.  We say lav as in have, they say lav as in love. I have not mentioned to Theo that I had no idea who he was talking about for the first 10 minutes of our conversation.  It was only when he said he founded Serendipitea that I realized why I was so confused.  It was to say the least, lost in translation. In Pursuit of Passion So according to Theo, when Tomislav was in his early twenties, he decided to leave Melbourne and head across the ocean to New York to seek his fame and fortune.  It was in the Big Apple where Tomislav tapped into one of his primary passions, specialty tea. Within a few years of arriving on the shores of America, he had founded the successful Serendipitea, a company still prominent in the U.S. today.  He was instrumental in creating the American Premium Tea Institute, where he also served as its President, was a lecturer at the Culinary Institute of America as well as the French Culinary Institute, and also gave inspiring and energetic talks at the “Take Me To Tea” trade shows (the precursor to the World Tea Expo). I attended that very first Take Me To Tea Expo and remember shaking his hand at the Serendipitea booth.  His charm and charisma was captivating and infectious.  It was clear to me that he was destined for success in his chosen profession. All through these eventful years, Tomislav managed to find the time to author a book, Serendipitea: A Tea to the End When Tomislav was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2003, he decided that to pursue treatment in the States would be prohibitively expensive, so he moved back home to Melbourne and took up residence at Theo’s parents’ family home. Theo recalls seeing Tomislav when he first arrived back to Melbourne,  skinny as a rake, his body emaciated by the sickness, yet a perma-grin attached to his face and his enthusiasm for tea and life as strong as ever. At the time, Theo owned a restaurant in Melbourne and within a few weeks after arriving back from the U.S., Tomislav had found his way into the kitchen and was instructing the staff on how to correctly make iced tea from loose leaves. Theo would walk in and find the entire crew in the kitchen, captivated by what Tomislav was showing them.  A few short months later, Theo’s restaurant became the premiere destination for iced tea in Melbourne and outsold every other establishment in that department by miles. The passion and dedication of a frail friend completely transformed Theo’s tea program. In the scheme of things, Tomislav succumbed to cancer rather quickly.  In fact, it was not much more than a year from the time that he was diagnosed in New York until he inhaled his last breath in Melbourne.  He had remarried and was now with a Venezuelan woman who accompanied him back to Australia when he was diagnosed.  It was she, along with Theo’s sister Petr, who nursed Tomislav up to the very end.  They recall that, even as his body was being eaten alive by cancer, his unique disposition and incredible charisma never wilted. Fond Memories If there is one indelible memory Theo’s family has of Tomislav it is that he was a man driven by a rare, bottomless pit of passion.  A foodie, a tea guru, a lover, and an avid outdoorsman, he was a man characterized by limitless innovation and charm and possessed a unique ability to spread that infectious personality he so justly owned. It has been eight years since his passing, my how time flies.  We in specialty tea can only wonder, if he were still with us, what would premium tea look like in North America today?  He inspired countless of us to pursue specialty tea, myself included.  That chance meeting a few weeks ago with Theo in the hot tub a world away and nearly a decade later from where Tomislav’s soul rests was pure serendipity.  One cannot help but think that from somewhere out there in the universe, he was watching and smiling.  I believe he had a hand in this.  See you again, Thomas Love.  

Brendan Waye

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THE HUNT FOR THE PERFECT CULTIVAR

November is when the tea bush drops its hazelnut-sized seeds and withdraws into winter hibernation. It is the last hurrah of the growing season in the northern hemisphere for Camellia sinensis. As my tea plants recede into protection mode from the harsh winter temperatures, I lift my head up for a moment and restart my search for yet another hardy varietal that will hopefully end up living out its productive life in British Columbian soil. This year, I am in search of the highest of high-grown Darjeeling seeds. As one would expect with any type of plant, the more extreme the conditions in which it can thrive, the tougher and more weather resistant the species should be. Now nobody has confirmed this to be the case (not directly to me anyway), but common sense and a little horticultural wisdom seem to suggest this could very well be true. It is quite well known that the Darjeeling region was cultivated with the Chinese varietal, Sinensis Sinensis, after many failed attempts with Sinensis Assamica. Those bushes that originated in China have proven to be a tougher species than those I now have growing, which are unfortunately Sinensis Assamica. If you recall from previous posts, my tea-cultivation experiment fired up rather quickly last winter with 300 sprouted seeds that had me leaping for joy. In the ensuing months, after frying half in direct sunlight one blistering weekend, then over-watering the remaining half, I am down to about 50 plants that range in size from five inches to a few that are over a foot high. I cut my tea-growing teeth on these first seedlings and now that I have purchased a greenhouse and understand a wee bit more about the ideal conditions in which to raise young tea plants, I am thoroughly excited about Round 2. How could a tea lover with a self-professed green thumb not be, I ask?  

Brendan Waye

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A CUP OF COMPASSION PLEASE

In the face of what on some days seems like a crumbling world, a planet in total chaos, we find ourselves retracting and hiding rather than confronting the fears that seem to be escalating around us. With daily catastrophes playing out in real life and in the media, it is easy to let fear creep into our consciousness and immobilize us, paralyzing us from becoming fully contributing human beings. One of the biggest problems with a society ruled by fear is that the one key emotion that unlocks the heart from its shackles and aids us in reaching out to our fellow men and women never finds the space to flourish. With the ever-present sense of fear, our compassion suffocates.  Our lives and our cities are in dire need of deeper compassion.  The odd glimpse I see of compassion whether in my daily treks or in the isolated feel-good clip at the end of the 6:00 o’clock news, never fails to move me, to stop me in my tracks to listen or observe what is transpiring.  I am quite certain I am not alone. So, I turn to my beloved leaf and seek solace in the cup.  This time, rather than it being a solitary ritual, I surround myself with other tea lovers.  When you are going to steer the conversation toward a discussion of compassion or the lack thereof, there is one tea that was truly designed for this unconventional get-together.  From a Buddhist goddess named Avaloki Tesvara Guanyin, woman with 1000 arms, comes the namesake tea, Iron Goddess of Mercy- she who perceives the sufferings of the world. This archetype Guanyin vowed never to rest until she had freed all the sentient beings of the world.  The name Guanyin is short for Guanshiyin, which means observing the sounds and cries of the world. Recently, as a group of us savored Tiguanyin, a reticent calm settled over the small gathering.  The subtle orchid aroma of the tightly rolled oolong wafted gently past our downturned faces.  It was the right moment to share a little history of this goddess tea and its meaning and why we need to gather and reflect on our lives and our planet.  It was the time to discuss the much-lacking emotion of compassion that we seem to be losing, not unlike the ability to nourish ourselves and to accept wholeheartedly the age-old responsibility of caring for our aging parents or the thousands of elderlies who have no one left on this planet. I believe compassion can be brought back through the ritual of sharing tea.  I have seen transformation in people.  I have seen hard, furled brows soften and recede, as the liquor of the leaf is swallowed one sip at a time.  There’s time in each and every day to invite your friends and your neighbors into the ritual.  Introduce them to the tea from our goddess of mercy and compassion and let them tell their stories.  In doing so, you can practice becoming a great listener, you can nod and re-enforce, and when all are done speaking, you can ask questions. Through this seemingly simple interaction, we can tap into our innate ability as humans to be compassionate, to be understanding, and to witness the goodness that resides in us all. A simple cup of tea can be the seed of change that inspires us toward even greater acts of compassion.  There is no doubt in my mind that this will be of paramount importance in the years to come. So, take a moment this week to share a pot of Tiguanyin with someone who needs your ear.  A little love goes a long way these days.  There is a life beyond fear.  Trust yourself on this.

Brendan Waye

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WORRIED YOU MISSED THE BOAT?

In the 12 years since I opened my first tea lounge back on that hot, dusty day in Edmonton, I had a vision of an industry whose trajectory would replicate that of our darker cousin. I had the sense after less than a year in operation, that within the decade there would be such things as corporate teahouse chains boasting retail outlets in the hundreds, all under the same moniker. From that period in the late 90s, I remember distinctly two conversations I had at Steeps in the heady days of our surprising growth, one with a gentleman who had flown in from another Canadian city to see our shop, and another with an eccentric artsy movie producer. They both sat on opposite sides of the fence, with regard to where they thought the future of tea in North America was headed. From that period in the late 90s, I remember distinctly two conversations I had at Steeps in the heady days of our surprising growth, one with a gentleman who had flown in from another Canadian city to see our shop and another with an eccentric, artsy movie producer.  They both sat on opposite sides of the fence about where they thought the future of tea in North America was headed. Go Big or Stay Small Chris, the guy from Winnipeg, had made the journey to try to convince my brother and me that now was the time to roll this out.  He offered venture capital and would assist in defining the exact Steeps model and opening locations across Canada.  Paul and I both realized this opportunity and knew that Chris was good on his word; he would deliver the capital for our growing business.  The dilution of our respective shares was whole other issue. Terry, the artsy movie producer, reflected on what Chris had said to us about initiating a rollout.  Being a regular at Steeps, he loved what we had going on and did not want to see it change.  His take on the industry was a little more guarded.  He suggested that people who appreciate fine tea will never frequent a MacDonalds of the tea world, we were simply too sophisticated a community and would shun wholeheartedly the corporatization of our beloved beverage. This was in early 2000, and, at that time, there were no multistore sipping houses in North America.  Tealuxe in Boston was the only entity I knew of that had successfully opened more than one location, breaking out of that mom-and-pop stereotype. So now looking back, who was more on the mark?  Chris, with the big expansion plans of being the first multistore teahouse chain six years prior to ratcheting up?  Or Terry, with his notion that teahouses for many more years to come would remain as one-offs, out-of-the-way, neighborhood sipping houses catering to those seeking only the finest cup of tea?  I think both were correct in certain ways, but as we can see when we look around, teahouses are probably opening at a rate similar to that of gourmet coffee houses a decade ago.

Seeing the Light

In my recollection, the light bulb seemed to click on in early 2005.  By that time, Steeps had five locations, and franchisees were showing up at our doorsteps weekly. Teavana was off and running and Tealuxe had somewhat disintegrated.  They were retreating back to their original outlets to lick their wounds.  It seems Tealuxe had tried what Chris had suggested in 2000, and the results were obvious in New England.  There just weren’t enough people drinking loose-leaf tea to support such a chain, or at least that was the industry consensus being espoused at the time.  I did not necessarily agree, based on the growth of Steeps.  In my opinion, it had more to do with the quality of the experience being offered.  This was one of the strengths of Steeps, and I believe now that we would have trumped any challengers of the day. A Saturated Market? What I am now sensing is a palatable concern that the corporate entities rolling out stores are going to saturate the market.  There will not be any room left for the little guys.  With the big three in Canada and the U.S. having well over 200 locations open, the sense is that the niche is filling up.  Teavana itself just concluded a massive IPO (let’s hope some of that capital goes into cultivation and protection of the growing regions and the skilled growers who make their business possible), so corporate money is flooding into the world of tea retailing.  With tea consumption being touted as a must for a healthy, balanced lifestyle and the low cost of a cup of tea, there is no end to the growth coming down the pipe.  The biggest limitation will be supply, which ultimately will affect price.  An enormous void remains to be filled when it comes to servicing today’s tea-hungry public. So if you are worried there won’t be any room left to open your little dream tea shoppe or regional chain, or even national conglomerate for that matter, breathe a sigh of relief.  You just need to flip a page in history and take a quick glance at what has occurred in the specialty coffee industry. The last I heard, there are now over 28,000 coffee houses in the U.S. and Canada.  There is only one Starbucks, but in the next tier down, there are tons of players all quite large, but nowhere the size of the green giant. The reason tea will not spawn a Starbucks is because most chains started around the same time and growth is occurring almost equally among the top three, it’s actually a full-on race that is taking place here in Canada. In Vancouver, a city of just over two million, we have around 200 Starbucks (an educated guess), four other coffee house chains, each with 30+ cafés, another dozen that have 5-10 stores, and then another 200 or so one-offs.  That is a total of just under 600, and I am not counting the 300+ Tim Hortons (similar to Dunkin Donuts) that service another group of coffee clientele.  How many teahouses are there in this market?  Not even a dozen. If you harbor any more thoughts that you may have missed the boat on getting in on the boom in specialty tea, you can put those silly notions out of your head.  The only thing you need to decide is how big you would like to get.  I wish you all the luck in your chosen path.
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BEING A PART OF THE SOLUTION

The increased use of loose-leaf tea in cafés and restaurants has been a most pleasing evolution to us tea aficionados. Not all cafés have dumped the stale bag for a better, fresher, more exotic offering, but the ones that have are indeed seeing an increase in the amount of tea they are selling. Simply by adopting a loose-leaf tea program will, in most cases, generate higher tea sales for your cozy, little nook. You need to ask yourself, though, how much of an increase you would like to experience with the loose-leaf tea you are now selling. Would you like it to go from 12% to 18%? Would that please you? How about an increase from 12% to 35%, or even as high as 45-50%? These numbers are achievable for any café owners who put a little thought into how they prepare and serve their loose-leaf tea offering.

Elation Turns to Dismay

When I walk into a café and see that they are using loose leaves and not a packaged line of teas, I almost always get excited. This initial elation is, for the most part, short lived, as I watch the servers scoop my selection out of the tin and stuff it into an open-ended tea sac. I know that without even trying the tea, I will get a compromised and muted version of what those leaves could potentially give up. If just a little extra care had been taken by the owners to prepare the tea so that all of it’s flavor and subtle nuances would be evident in my cup, I along with many others, would return to this spot again and again. A superior cup of tea is a superior cup of tea no matter who makes it and where it happens to be and is indeed a rarity to stumble upon in the café world.

Muted Taste or an Excellent Cup

In reality, it is simple to set up a system for tea service that you can repeat over and over, that has high production capability, and that will respect all the proper steeping principles that are essential to serving an outstanding cup of tea. Scooping the tea into a disposable tea bag is not the answer, no matter how much convenience you may think this provides to your establishment. The resulting cup of tea that you get from a tea sac is only a little better than what you get with a standard gourmet tea bag. If that is as far as you are willing to go with your loose-leaf tea service, then you should just save the effort, spend more of your hard-earned dollars and return to the excessively packaged bagged tea. Your loose-leaf program is really just an elaborate façade, nothing more than a way for you to make customers think you’re into tea, but really could not be bothered to take the necessary steps to prepare and serve it properly. If you think that I am overstating the importance of proper loose-leaf tea preparation in a busy café environment, I challenge you to do what I have done countless times. Make yourself two cups of the same loose-leaf tea, one using a tea sac and the other using a Brewt or Adagio’s Ingenuitea (a bottom-dispensing device). Keep all the variables the same. You don’t even have to be into tea to notice the stark difference between the two. If you were handed them blindly, you’d think you were drinking two different teas. So, you should ask yourself after this: Do I want to continue selling my customers a mediocre cup of loose-leaf tea, or do I want them to be blown away with a great cup of tea? I would love to be the recipient of the latter. When I get new customers started with a loose-leaf tea program, I teach them how to expeditiously prepare it so that a cup of properly steeped tea ends up in the customer’s hands about every 2.5 minutes, no longer than it takes to make any coffee or tea latte off the menu. Will the customer wait the 3 minutes or so for the perfect cup? The answer is yes, as long as it is in their hands within the 3 minutes, which is always achievable. If it were my café, I would be encouraging you to stay, have a seat, and let us bring it to you in ceramic. The Inherent and Hidden Costs The costs of using tea sacs are numerous, with the most obvious one being that you are adding about 7 cents onto your cost of goods sold (COGS). Couple that with the other problems inherent in using open-ended tea bags, like fumbly staff fidgeting with getting the sacs open and getting the tea inside, like the fact they wick the hot liquid up the paper and onto your hands or table, and like the fact that they alter and mute the taste of the tea. Add it all up and you’ll realize that there are no reasons to consider using them or switching to them. The Solution If you want to drive your hot tea sales into territory that you have never experienced before, here is what you need to do:
  • Stop serving your loose-leaf tea in tea sacs.
  • Adopt a pour-over tea bar that uses a bottom-dispensing tea steeper (numerous versions are now available).
  • Position the tea service area front and center for all the patrons to see.
  • Train the staff so that they understand exactly what they are serving and how to serve it properly, engaging the customer, if they can.
  • Let anyone who wishes to, sample any tea you have from your selection prior to purchasing.
If you adopt just these five steps in your café with your loose-leaf tea program, you will start to see your tea sales climb and reach levels you have never achieved before. I say this with good confidence, because that is what I teach newbies and that is pretty much what has transpired after the system is in place. Eliminating one more piece of manufactured packaging material that was born out of someone’s idea of convenience is always a step in the right direction, money in your pocket and one more tree left standing to help clean up our choked biosphere. I bet we would all rather be part of the solution, as opposed to part of the problem.  

Brendan Waye

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ON BECOMING A TEA FARMER

When the idea struck me some years ago that Camellia Sinensis might grow and possibly thrive on the west coast of Canada, I decided it would probably be best to keep it to myself. It was one of those epiphanies you get when you’re scrunched down in a muddy trench, reaching for a ripe bunch of blueberries that are just beyond your fingertips. Being the consummate berry picker, I thought about what it would be like to reach out and pluck two leaves and a bud off a tea bush in my own backyard. I felt the hair bristle on the back of my neck. It’s the same feeling I get every time a seemingly brilliant, completely unique and untried venture materializes in my grey matter. Not all of these flashes actually turn out to be quite so brilliant as one might imagine. As is the experience of most entrepreneurs, failure and reality are just around the corner and bound to catch up with any ill-hatched schemes.

The real estate bubble

There are days I feel that way about my latest plan to create a commercial tea garden in the vicinity of Vancouver, BC. Could I not have picked a more expensive place to purchase property of any sort. Vancouver has the dubious distinction of being among the three most expensive places in the world to buy land and a home. There is Hong Kong, then London, and then BC, good ol’ granola-eating, Birkenstock-clad Vancouver. Locals have renamed the city Hongcouver because of the out-of-touch land and home prices and the influx of Asian immigrants to our warm and beautiful shores. The cost of buying a chunk of land since I started my quest almost a year ago has increased by about 40%. I can share with you with some certainty that my income has not increased 40% in that time, so this disparate wedge is growing, and the dream is looking ever more far flung. I am, though, not one to toss in the towel too early.

The Survivors

Meanwhile, back on my patio deck, where 200 of the Assam P126 cultivars continue to eek out an existence, it has been a rough ride. If you recall from my post back in March 2010, I mentioned that I was going to attempt to grow tea here in southwestern BC. I ended up getting a kilo of seeds from a garden in Assam and initially I was ecstatic with my results. Nearly 60% of them germinated and sprouted. That equates to 450 seedlings that poked their heads above ground.     Six months in and I am down to just under 200 little bushes. Some seem to be thriving and a few are in decent shape, but the rest are slowly wilting away. Vancouver doesn’t get much sun in the spring, so the odd sunny day we have I try to take advantage of it and get outside and play. I thought my plants would love to do the same, but after spending a winter under grow lights, little did I know that the direct rays of a full late spring sun would fry the leaves on all the big ones and cook all the ones that were hanging on by the skin of their teeth. I returned that day from climbing in Squamish only to see the devastation the sun had wreaked on the little Camellias. Another lesson learned, bitterly I might add too.   So today was transplant day, they got bigger pots and fresh microorganism-filled soil. I have a greenhouse arriving next week and these remaining 175 plants will move into their new quarters as soon as I get the kit unpacked and built.

The not-to-distant future

At this point, if I get 10 to 20 that last another year, they will probably be around for the next 80. One can always graft and clone, and if the few remaining bushes actually do thrive here on the west coast, their offshoots will have a much higher probability of implanting themselves on a piece of land somewhere, and at this stage I have no idea where that might be. I am nowhere near being a true tea farmer. The question I ask myself is: Am I on the road to becoming one in the not-too-distant future? Or, is this just some ridiculous pipe dream that will never materialize into anything but a lot of time and money wasted and a lesson well learned? I am the eternal optimist, so there is nothing I can do but simply disregard what may be the harsh reality and continue to take steps (albeit sometimes backwards) toward the internal pull that I have to succeed at yet another crazy, but not ill-hatched, tea venture. Thanks for lending me your ear. The story is far from over.

Brendan Waye

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2011 ORGANIC WHITE PEONY ~ EXQUISITELY FRESH AND FRUITY

Some tea shops sell everything under the sun that is tea related, the be all-end all of tea, so to speak. Then there are other tea vendors who choose to sell only what they are passionate about, regardless of whether they have customers beating down the doors for that next, extra-fruity, aromatic candied rooibos infusion. I am not knocking the litany of concoctions and ingredients that now adorn flavored and blended teas, as they do have their place among the tea-sipping population. For one thing, they do wonders getting kids and teens hooked on drinking tea, which can never be anything less than positive in my books. When I get specific requests from clients for teas I do not stock, I always head to a small specialty shop. Whether it is a Taiwanese shop with 80 varieties of Ti Quan Yin, or a shop with ceiling-high piles of Pu-Erh cakes, specialty tea shops have always been the best place to start when searching out a rare or unique tea. And then, on occasion, you stumble upon a golden egg. Last week, I was on such a search for a mid-aged, milder Pu-Erh cake for a customer in Edmonton. I arrived at the shop on South Granville and knew that the next hour would be spent sitting at a small wooden table across from the owner, sipping many tiny cups of everything Pu-Erh. After countless slurps, I had the field narrowed down to two rich, smooth, and very dark cakes. I was trying to put myself in my customer’s shoes, a guy who had not tried Pu-Erh before, but was giving it a shot to see if it would lower his high cholesterol. He did confess to be a drinker of Chinese Keemuns. When I vocalized my decision, the owner got busy packing up my order. Glancing around the small shop, my eyes landed on a box that had something written in Chinese on the side, but also said 2011 Superior Grade. I just finished cupping a bunch of this seasons First Flush Darjeelings, but the results were quite mixed, so I was still searching for the cream of the early season picks.   I cleared my throat and pointed at the box. “What’s in there?” I asked. “It’s a new organic white tea” the owner replied. It just arrived on Tuesday. It was a foil-lined sealed box of white peony picked just three weeks prior, the owner told me. I could feel some excitement welling up inside me. She could clearly see this and asked if I would like to try some. Minutes later she pulled open the box, cut the seal, and scooped out a tray of the tender young leaves. I have never smelled white tea so fresh and peachy. The fruity notes were unmistakable, while the make and appearance were out of this world. By the time I turned around on my little wooden stool to watch her make the gaiwan of fresh white tea buds, she was pouring the first infusion. It was as expected, a pale yellow color slightly brighter than other peonies I had tried. When the first sip hit my palate, I almost thought I was drinking a flavored white. But I wasn’t, I was drinking a very superior grade Bai Mu Dan that was steadfastly growing on a tea bush just three weeks prior. It took me about five seconds to decide whether to purchase a few kilograms.  I wasn’t prepared for the price, but since this was indeed the best example of an unadulterated white tea I had ever tasted, I could not leave the shop without some. It was a stunning example of a hand-picked tea from Fujians excellent terroir and skilled craftsmen. I have been drinking it daily since I added it to my collection, and I have to say, there may not be any left for my customers, I think I must tell my partner to hide the box from me.  The best way to describe this season’s superior grade white peony is to compare it to the First Flush Darjeelings in 2008 and 2009, fresh, fruity, delicate, complex, and clean.  The reality is they should taste somewhat similar, as Darjeeling bushes originate from the Chinese cultivar. Well, there you have it.  Go get some and elevate yourself into tea-drinking bliss.  We won’t see one this good for quite some time.  

Brendan Waye

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BITTERSWEET TEA

I arrived at the office a little later than usual Friday afternoon and the box of Japan Sencha was waiting in front of the door. I had just purchased 55 pounds of the steamed leaf for my fervent customers. The whole lot was vacuum packed in a solid brick, the size of a small engine block and almost the weight as well, which I discovered as I struggled to muscle the box up into my arms. I damned near blew a gasket while getting it up to chest level. Down in my office, with the box positioned between my knees, I grabbed the exacto knife off the desk, while glancing at the time crossing the screen on my Mac, 2:35 PM Friday, March 11. I carefully sliced open the flaps of the box to reveal the ultra heavy-duty vacuum sac, which I hoped would contain fragrant, buttery, spinachy Japanese Sencha. I poked the knife into the top of the bag, and it inhaled the moist Vancouver air in one deep suck. As the sac inflated, I looked up and out the window at a single ray of sunlight beaming down through the perpetual dense cloud layer that defines a Vancouver winter. With the top now slit all the way open, I plunged my head into the tea and inhaled the fresh aroma through my nose and into my lungs. The notes of quality sencha were abundant. I was elated to say the least. Thank you, I thought, to that small distant tea nation for producing such fine green tea.

The Newscast

It was a few hours later when I heard the first newscast of the day. An enormous earthquake and tsunami had left a wrath of mayhem and destruction on this small ocean-engulfed country. The time of the quake? It seemed to have started around 2:30 PM on Friday. I kid you not when I say that the moment the vacuum pack of sencha was decompressing and sucking in the surrounding air, I had a clear and momentary vision of the pastoral gardens in Japan and the beautiful surrounding countryside. In my brief segue as I looked up at the beam of sunlight, I did not see a 22-foot wall of water and debris rushing across open farmland, nor did I not see quaint little homes being scrunched like houses of cards and ships getting smashed to bits under bridges. In my short journey, all was well, and I had their prized tea sitting between my outstretched legs. But now, how could I feel content knowing that the citizens and farmers who might have had a hand in the creation of this exquisite box of premium sencha might not have escaped the wall of churning, sludgy water that seemed to consume all in its path? The uncanny timing between the sac of tea taking its first Canadian breath and the thousands of unfortunate people (farmers) loosing theirs struck a cruel irony. The flippantly vocalized phrase we hear all too often, one man’s loss is another man’s gain echoed within the depths of my cortex. How on earth could I feel like I was the lucky one?

Our Hearts Are With You

In the end, as I try to put into words just how I feel about the devastation in Japan and my fresh box of sencha, I draw some solace from rationalizing that this harvest was probably nowhere near the heavily hit areas of the Northeast. The skilled hands that prudently steamed my sencha and rolled it to perfection are probably still with us today, albeit shaken up and more than likely looking for friends and possibly loved ones. Nevertheless, with strength and quiet perseverance, these skilled artisans rise another day to work their magic on fragrant, delicate tea leaves, coaxing from within subtle flavors and delicate nuances that define the culture and resilience of the Japanese people. I will drink my tea and with each sip, gracefully lower my head in a sincere bow to a nation and a culture that deserve our utmost compassion and empathy. From across the big pond to my home in North Vancouver, let me say that our hearts and souls are with you in your time of need.

Brendan Waye

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SHIPPING WATER AND SUGAR CROSS-CONTINENT – IT’S TIME FOR A SERIOUS RETHINK

I often find myself reflecting on the food industry, and in particular on the tea sector, as I have experienced it. I cannot help but deliberate on how we can move toward a greener industry, something that we can all do here in our own backyards, a better way of building our businesses so that we are treading as lightly as possible. Those closer to me know that two of my biggest beefs with the business of tea are:
  • Excessive and unnecessary packaging of the product
  • Shipping water and sugared tea products around the globe in the form of tetra-pack sweet concentrates

Creating a chai experience

At the end of the 1990s, I started to open teahouses.  My time was spent in the store pretty much every day, learning about the tea business while trying to offer my customers the best tea experience they’d ever had. In doing that, one of my ideas was to steep my own chai concentrates in a back room on a hot plate.  The offerings from the local wholesalers were so dismal that I was forced to brew it myself.  After all, I thought, I’d been to Pakistan and had experienced delicious fresh-made chai, so I did have a reference point.  Its heady aroma wafted throughout the teahouse and people were captivated upon entry. At some point in life and in business, we all metamorphose into something other than what we were when we started out.  With expectations high and energy levels at their peak, we dive headlong into our tea businesses, thinking only of ways that we can keep our fledgling operation afloat. My headlong plunge into wholesale liquid chai brewing was right on the heels of Oregon Chai’s success in the U.S.  At Steeps on Stony Plain Road in Edmonton, my brother and I brewed up 16-liter pots of the delightfully pungent beverage.  It was in a word, heavenly.  We prepared it two to three times a week from scratch and it was never pasteurized. Customers regularly commented on the spicy smells permeating the small store.  It was my chai in my place and nothing more as far as I was concerned.  Little did I know that I had inadvertently stumbled onto something that was beyond the scope of my then-limited knowledge of how products are packaged and created, how they are transported around the globe, and how they end their life cycle. The seed is planted Then one day that changed. An owner of a coffee house in Edmonton’s downtown core snuck in while I was in the back filling four-liter milk jugs with fresh brewed chai.  I was walking out to the front with them in hand when I almost ran right into him.  It seems he was following his nose.  Jim was his name and he wanted some of my Chai to sell in his coffee house.  His customers had been pleading with him to go get the Chai at Steeps. Standing there with two hot four-liter jugs in hand, I couldn’t very well say that I did not have any.  He stared up at me with his piercing little eyes and I quickly understood that he was serious and quite ecstatic that he had caught me red-handed. I said to Jim that I didn’t sell the Chai outside of my store.  I didn’t know if it would be legal, considering it was a made on a hot plate in an office. He glanced down at the dark jugs of fresh brewed chai.  “Can I take those two?” he asked, as he started going for his pocket, from which he pulled out a wad of bills as thick as a banana. I paused for a second. “This is all I have” I told the little stranger. “Well, how much do you want for those?” he said. Cash strapped and struggling, I paused for second.  “$60.00 for both?” I told the man, pulling a number out of thin air. He slapped the cash in my hand, grabbed the Chai and said he’d be back in a week for more. The seed was planted.  There was a local business to be tapped into with manufacturing and wholesaling liquid Chai.  I could actually grab the local market from Oregon Chai.  And yes, Jim did come back, more and more often, and his orders got larger and larger as well. Much to my dismay I cannot say that I have covered all realms in tea, far from it actually but I do know deep in my core that there is a right path with regard to product creation, as well as a wrong one.  The peeves I listed in my opening paragraph have always struck me as rather asinine and ill thought.  Much to my chagrin, though, years ago I led the creation of Canada’s largest manufacturers of liquid Chai concentrates.  It’s not an industry that I am entirely proud to say I was immersed in. Who would have envisioned that today, over a decade later in North America and around the world, thousands if not millions ? of coffee houses, restaurants, and tea chains are predominantly using a liquid-based chai from a laminated box.  This equates to hundreds of millions of tetra packs and plastic bottles dumped into landfills every year, as most depots still do not recycle tetra packs.  In North America, a mere 18% of tetra packs are recycled.  The rest are destined for overflowing landfills. I really like TreeHugger Emeritus Ruben Anderson’s description (referring to wine in tetra packs): First, even if you can get the drunkards off their lazy asses to join the mere quarter of the North American population that recycles, few places recycle Tetra Paks. Second, the places that say they recycle Tetra Paks are liars. What does re mean? It means again. Can a Tetra Pak be made into another Tetra Pak? No. Tetra Paks are seven incomprehensibly thin layers of paper, plastic and aluminum. The poor suckers who try to recycle them use giant blenders to mush the paper pulp off the plastic and metal, then they need to separate the plastic from the metal. What idiot thought this would be a better idea than washing a bottle and refilling it? This single packaged tea item has become ubiquitous in its category and with this distinction it carries the heaviest stomp on our suffering planet.  A small coffee chain in western Canada admitted to me that last year, they threw out over 160,000 tetra boxes and have been doing so year in and year out for almost a decade.  Here is what a large green grocer said to the people at Heart of Green: The Aseptic Tetra Paks used for soups, juices and more contain 6 alternating layers of paperboard, polyethylene plastic, and aluminum foil. As Whole Foods San Francisco told me this week, these must be trashed. There is no green hope for these overzealous fusions. The Ludicrousness Aside from the stupidity of tossing an incredibly expensive constructed box after pulling just eight beverages from it, there is also the ludicrousness of packaging water and sugar from somewhere in Vancouver, for example, and trucking it thousands of kilometers to Montreal and beyond.  Do the cities of Montreal and Toronto and points beyond not have faucets?  Don’t grocers sell sugar out there?  On what planet does this make sense? Considering I am partly responsible for the growth of this industry in Canada, I must now make my formal apology for the impact this product is having on our biosphere.  The umpteen millions of tetra packs ending up in landfills and the endless gallons of stinking fossil fuel that are spent to get you a decent Chai latte have to stop.  It is so completely unsustainable and so easily eliminated.  If you just spent a moment contemplating what you are doing now, you would slap yourself silly. It’s as bad or maybe worse then bottled water, another unnecessary product developed and peddled to an increasingly lazy, docile, and gullible civilization, eternally driven to find the easy way out. Back to basics I am quite certain there is a better way.  It’s about going back to the basics, brewing your own Chai if you can, or buying freshly ground, dry spices and tea and reconstituting it yourself.  It also means saying no to products that arrive on your doorstep already in liquid, sweetened form. Chocolate connoisseurs know that great chocolate does not arrive as syrup in a plastic bottle, but rather in a ground, gourmet, powdered format.  Another parallel we can make is with matcha.  We know that powdered green tea is in a class all its own and yet to date, there are few, if any, boxed liquid matcha products that have gained any kind of loyal following.  I doubt they ever will, as who wants bad tasting, sweetened, oxidized, and liquified maccha? We can all reduce our carbon footprint on this single tea item by:
  • Making our own darn Chai
  • Sourcing and buying freshly ground, dry concoctions that we reconstitute ourselves (they are now available)
  • Refusing to buy tea products that come to our door with water and sugar already in them, period
There, I have that off my chest. Now I can rest for a bit and hope and pray that some part of my call to our collective common sense will resonate.  You can, if you choose to, diss my ranting as that of a spirited tree hugger, but you cannot ignore your bottom line.  By that I mean the thousands of dollars you are paying in freight costs to transport heavy, sickly sweet, over-pasteurized liquids to your doorstep. Outside of some twisted notion of convenience, there is not one single attribute from this class of tea products that will reduce your carbon footprint and keep plastic and foil boxes out of landfills. So, how green do you purport your company to be?      

Brendan Waye

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SEEDS OF HOPE AND GRATITUDE

Quite a few posts back, I mentioned that I had this wild dream of starting a tea farm on Canada’s west coast. At that time, I was searching for suitable land to plant tea, which for the most part, thrives in warm damp climates. The west coast of Canada is definitely moist and, compared with the rest of the country, quite warm as well, but will tea actually grow and prosper here? I am embarking on a path to find out. Yesterday, my first kilogram of Camellia Assamica seeds arrived fresh from the upper Assam valley. P126 as it is called, with the P representing the small city of Panitola and the 126 representing the specific hybrid is a cultivar of the Assamica variety known to produce an incredible cup of classic Assam tea, which at some point in the next three to five years I am hoping to share with my local market and fellow tea lovers. Apparently, the first two years are the hardest to keep the young shoots alive and healthy. The kilo of seeds that arrived contained 455 brown hazelnut-sized balls. If I get them in the ground in the next week or so, the success rate will be much higher than if I wait until spring. So, with that knowledge, our downstairs rec room is turning into a nursery these holidays and through until spring, at which point we will move them to a greenhouse. We’ll make it a family thing, setting up the cups of soil and carefully placing each seed, eye down, into the fresh organic soil. Then we will wait, and wait some more. And then finally, after about five to six weeks, we should see a sprout breaking the soil surface. Would anyone care to throw out a guess or two as to what my germination success rate will be? These future tea-producing shrubs will forever be my Christmas trees. They arrived during the onset of this hectic season, and as my gift to them, they will be given a small patch of fresh earth and lots and lots of TLC. My hope is that they will nestle in and begin the cycle of life that we all still find a miracle each and every time it happens. As I close out this tumultuous year, and look forward to 2011, I would like to thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts and experiences, my deep anguish, and my elation for the leaf through a few simple monthly paragraphs. We have a great community and I look forward to sharing a cup of tea (preferably mine ;-)) sometime in the near future with each and every one of you.  

Brendan Waye

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TEA LATTE ART STEPS UP TO THE CUP

Latte art has become a very cool phenomenon in the coffee house industry.  With perfectly textured milk poured into rich espresso shots and finished with a barista’s insignia, it’s no wonder people line up for a latte made to perfection. Sadly, this care does not exist in tea cafes that serve up their repertoire of lattes.  Inconsistency in preparation, weak tea flavor, and burnt and sloppy milk frothing all plague our industry.  Where is the pride in the beverage that you have just handed the customer?  Where is the to-die-for latte that good coffee houses prepare en masse? Latte art has become a very cool phenomenon in the coffee house industry.  With perfectly textured milk poured into rich espresso shots and finished with a barista’s insignia, it’s no wonder people line up for a latte made to perfection. Part of the problem lies with the equipment and products we have to choose from. There are few reliable extraction devices available for tea cafes that will pull the essence from the leaves in an espresso style. Add to this the lack of excellent ground tea products and you have a hot drink that is light years away from superior consistency. This is too bad really, and I feel a twinge of envy each and every time I see a barista carve a beautiful rosetta on the top of my macchiato. Why can’t we do this for our tea customers, I keep asking myself? With this in mind, I created two tea products and discovered another that allowed skilled tea baristas to create their latte art magic in front of the customer. The top three-selling tea-based lattes in Canada are Chai Latte, London Fog Latte, and Rooibos Vanilla Latte. I wanted baristas to craft a drink that they would take as much pride in as their best-poured coffee lattes. I finally had these three new creations in hand a few weeks back and brought them down to Arthur Wynne, a champion barista and trainer with Wicked Café in Vancouver. Much to my delight, he came up with a number of perfect designs on the top of a Chai Latte, a London Fog Latte, and a Rooibos Vanilla Latte. The customers standing around were duly impressed. Taking that first sip of the lightly textured cream on top with hints of the spices and bergamot was heavenly. This is what people WILL line up for.

Brendan Waye

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THE CANADIAN COFFEE & TEA SHOW AND A BREAKTHROUGH PRODUCT

I just spent the last three weeks preparing myself for our country’s biggest expo in the hot beverage industry.  Its a show I have been involved with for the better part of eight years.  During that time, the Canadian Coffee & Tea Show has evolved into an exciting and vibrant showcase of the latest trends in our industry. This year’s show proved to be one of the best I have ever attended.  The anticipation was palpable a sense that there was a major shift happening in consumer drinking habits. The first year I attended, which I think was 2003, it felt like a get-together for the coffee roasters and espresso machine geeks of Canada, a private men’s club so to speak, where seasoned roasters, suppliers, and machine importers got together to pick apart each other’s offerings.  There were few, if any, tea vendors sporting their wares. The tide has certainly shifted.  The leaf has come rolling in and is now going full steam ahead.  I got the chance to slip out of my stall the last afternoon and walk the aisles of the show floor.  I didn’t count, but I did notice that at least every second or third booth was related to tea in some way.  The amount of representation the leaf now gets at our humble little show has quadrupled since the early days.  The buzz here is all about the tea business.  Other than the bohemian group of professional baristas vying for a national championship at the show, coffee appears to have taken a back seat to the innovations occurring in tea.  For someone like me, who has been immersed in the business for the past decade, I could not be more elated. My booth was 356, right next to where the national barista competition was taking place.  It was at the end of the long hall opposite the entrance.  The qualified attendees had a long line of outstretched hands bearing trays of god-knows-what to pass before reaching the Teaguy booth.  By the time they did get to me, they had sampled so many liquids, hot, iced, whipped, blended, and so on – that their palates where completely abused.  How could I coax them into accepting yet another miniature cup of Chai? I was there introducing the world’s first micro-ground instant chai latte mix.  This product is so darn good, it stops people dead in their tracks.  With elation written all over their faces, those who sampled it exclaimed simply, “OMG this is instant?” I have talked to a lot of people about tea, I have presented numerous times at various trade shows, and I now teach a Tea Sommelier Course at Vancouver Community College.  But I have never wagged my tongue as much as I did at Booth 356 about this breakthrough product.  Tipu’s Chai was certainly the hit of the show.  Bipin Patel, the creator of this fabulous product, was in the booth with us helping explain why his bold, spicy, and completely delicious Chai was so different than all the other instant Chais on the market.  With too many features and benefits to list, let’s just say that as a coffee house or tea shop owner, there is little reason why you would not want to jump all over it. If you get the chance to sample Bipin’s incredible micro-ground instant chai, do so.  It will forever alter your perception of the term “instant Chai”. Exciting times indeed in this wonderful world of all things tea.

Brendan Waye

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THE POWER OF ENGAGEMENT, OR THE LACK THERE OF

The other day I stopped in at a relatively new coffeehouse downtown. I had heard pretty good things about it and they apparently served loose-leaf tea. I stepped through the door and walked into a very contemporary modern art space that was truly a gallery-slash-café. It was inviting, bright, and nicely furnished. The smell of fresh espresso wafted throughout, and the chill case had slices of apple strudel that made my mouth water. I stood at the bar, peering across at the shelving suspended from the back wall, and noticed a bunch of little tins of various sizes and a box of tea sacs. This was undoubtedly their loose tea selection. The minutes ticked by and no one approached me. I turned around to scan the café            for an employee. In the far corner, a younger lady was sweeping the floor and moving furniture around. I walked over to her and asked if I could get some service. Without a word, she put aside the broom, and headed toward the service area. When she got behind the counter, I asked about her loose tea selection. Her response was “What do you want?” “What do you have?” I asked. “We have lots” she replied. I then asked, “Do you have any white tea?” “What is white tea?” was her reply. After a pause, I said “OK, I’ll have an espresso macchiato then.” I paid her and she disappeared behind the machine to pull me a shot of what I hoped would be local roaster’s finest espresso. By the time my espresso macchiato was ready, over 15 minutes had elapsed since I entered the café. In that period, the only dialogue I had with the lone staff member was the conversation highlighted above. My thank you when I picked up my drink went unacknowledged and as soon as it was in my hands, she disappeared back to her sweeping. I sat there gently stirring the macchiato, wondering how on earth a place like this managed to hire such a poor, uninterested, and unenthusiastic staff person. It boggles the mind actually, because everything else was so well put together. In the teahouse and café business, connecting with the customer, no matter how brief this interaction may be, is absolutely paramount for your long-term success. Should I say it again? Connecting with the customer is EVERYTHING. Have you ever wondered how you successfully and quickly build a loyal customer base? You basically open your doors and you start with nothing. All you have is that one shot to bridge a connection with a new patron. Think back to all the times that you have either been shunned or welcomed. Which place did you ultimately return to? If you hire staff who are more interested in sweeping floors or chatting with each other behind the counter or who are simply poor people-people, you are essentially handing the success of your café over to them. Before you know it, you’ll find that regardless of how great your tea or coffee offerings may be, your doors will rarely be swinging open. During my tenure with Teaopia, I did a lot of hiring of staff for new stores. In one case, I conducted over a hundred interviews in a week to find just five good staff. Why was I so picky? I was searching for a certain personality type, I was looking for a people-person. After hundreds of interviews, you learn to detect whether a person is an introvert or an extrovert. I typically hire the extrovert. That is the person with personality plus, the person who smiles a lot and is genuinely interested in what you are doing and how you are doing it. They want to be part of what you got going on and will jump into the team quickly.  In most cases, with the right probing, you can also get a good sense of the true personality of the prospective new hire and can dismiss the concocted one that is only fabricated for the interview. There is little as important to the success of your fledgling café as having smiling, engaged staff greeting your new customers and talking them through the myriad drink choices you offer.  This is the reason the staff are there in the first place.  It is the only way you’re going to build your business for the long term.  These new hires are essentially ambassadors of your concept, your dreams, and your aspirations. I would not be leaving this in the hands of someone who shy’s away from engagement or would rather sweep the floors. So, hire right, conduct tons and tons of interviews, commit to good training, and do not hesitate to get rid of the dead wood.  If they are not helping you build your business, they are, for the most part, detracting from it.  It’s your money and your store, this is no place for sentimentality, unless, of course, they are doing a great job!

Brendan Waye

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TEA LATTE ~ A COMING-OF-AGE FOR AN AGE-OLD BEVERAGE

While traveling and enjoying the incredible weather up here in beautiful British Columbia this summer, I’ve taken notice of a growing trend percolating throughout this great province of ours. The menu boards in teahouses and cafés are now offering an incredible array of tea-based lattes. Even in some of the most off-the-beaten-track hovels, there is a good chance that their liquid offering will sport three or four lattes that are based on some form of tea. Those of us in the business are aware that for the past decade, the only tea latte that was standard on most café           menus was the ubiquitous Chai Latte. I know this all too well because, for a good part of my life in tea, I owned a company that supplied liquid chai to cafés all over Canada. Now, as you peer up at the menu board, right there alongside all the classic coffee lattes are new breeds of bevies that are, much to the delight of the patrons, not derived from a roasted bean. Aside from chai, you will see the increasingly popular London Fog, a creamy Earl Grey-based latte with vanilla and foamed milk. For the non-caffeine drinker comes a rooibos caramel latte that is essentially the ultimate dessert replacement, and so yummy, one café? owner told me that most people cannot seem to stop at just one. A great little teahouse in the interior of BC called Chai Baba offers their own twist on a London Fog, substituting jasmine green tea for Earl Grey and appropriately naming it a Jasmine Fog. It just so happens to be one of those to-die-for beverages you stumble upon every now and then. So why this increasing presence and popularity of tea-based lattes? Is the classic coffee latte under fire from its healthier cousin? From my experience as a teahouse owner and operator for the better part of seven years, I can say that the tea latte is an essential first step in the conversion of a coffee drinker to a tea sipper. Most die-hard cuppa joe-a-day folks will not simply switch from a cup of coffee to a cup of orange pekoe just because they know it is healthier. The tea latte, because of its similarity to a coffee latte, is a great first step for the customer who is making an effort to cut down on his/her coffee consumption. If the tea latte is rich, strong, and incredibly flavorful, there is a good chance that you will captivate the palate of the java head and lure him/her into the world of fine tea.   I have been witness to it hundreds of times and in some cases the patron has given up coffee altogether and converted entirely to tea. Tea lattes are an essential part of the café menu and with the hundreds and thousands of tea and tisanes available, the tea café owner has few obstacles aside from a good imagination. The key requirement of your tea latte offering is that it be darn good! There is absolutely no room for mediocrity here. When I train a new café owner on producing tea lattes, I always ask after he/she makes it, is this the best you can produce, and does it knock your socks off? If the answer is no, it’s back to the drawing board. We are on a mission here folks, and none of us in the tea world will rest on our laurels until the world wakes up to the taste of our healthy tea beverages. Now go and create something fantastic from your tea wall. The world is at your door.

Brendan Waye

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ZOOMING OFF TO VEGAS FOR THE FINAL STI COURSE

Rarely can you hop on a plane from Vancouver, fly directly down the coastline to LA, and encounter nothing but transparent skies. But during a recent spectacular four-hour flight, I was treated to such awe-inspiring highlights as the volcanic chain of snow-capped peaks starting at Mt. Baker in northern Washington and the majestic Mt. Rainier. The captain flew at 43,000 feet that day to avoid turbulence, setting his course for the most scenic of plane rides. I was heading to the city of too-many-lights to finish a project I embarked upon about two years ago. I was completing my final Level 3 course for the Specialty Tea Institute’s (STI) Certified Tea Specialist (CTS) program. The last component is Oolong Tea and I was quite psyched to splash those fragrant, slightly bruised, multi-rolled, larger-than-life leaves across my palate. As I gazed out the plastic portal, a thought came to mind, a business term nonetheless, ROI (return on investment). Was I getting my money’s worth? Was all the traveling worth it? That’s a difficult question to answer in this short piece, and it may be a bit premature. After all, who can predict what doors may open and what opportunities may lie ahead? I figure you have to put yourself out there, soak up all the knowledge, learn from the pros, and fill that grey matter with everything tea. However, I can attest to the fact that the certification process came at a substantial price tag. Flying to the U.S. from Canada six times in two years is not easy on the bank account. The course fees are also a pause for thought, adding up to a $4,000 investment spread over seven courses. Of course, there are also the other expenses, including lodging, food, trade show fees, and entertainment. I surmise that at this point I have shucked out nearly $10,000 to acquire the designation of Certified Tea Specialist. So now that the money has been spent, the certificate hangs on my wall and my knowledge of the leaf and all its diverse growing regions, processing methods, varietals, and taste profiles has increased substantially. Just being in the same tea-sipping space with instructors like Yoon Hee Kim, Phil Parda, and Eliot Jordan was altogether exciting. You could sense the osmosis occurring in the room. I also made some great friends in tea, like-minded people who share a real passion for the leaf and are now embarking on their own amazing and innovative journeys. This is where I found incredible value that you can’t put a price on. I would not have befriended all these high-spirited tea sippers if it weren’t for STI, so, of course, fees and airfare aside, I am elated that my tea brethren have increased ten-fold during the two years I spent traveling to complete the STI program. What will the new designation do for my chosen vocation in tea? At this point, very little I suspect, but I am the eternal optimist. I will set aside any premature judgment, and let the industry, my clients, and the local area that I serve determine if the knowledge I impart is worthwhile, current, and relevant to the people who might want to listen. I would be interested in hearing from other people in the industry on the relevance of STI’s Certified Tea Specialist program, and how it has impacted their life in tea. I wish you all well on your journey.

Brendan Waye

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ORGANIC TEA VS. QUALITY TEA

Shop owners are looking for it, customers are demanding it, and numerous gardens are working toward it. The future of organic tea production is looking very bright, yet there are still some issues to be explored. Paramount among them is whether or not we are compromising quality in switching to an organic line of loose tea. This is a conundrum for the shop owner who wants to carry the best teas in their class yet has an increasingly large customer base demanding more organically grown tea. In switching to organic teas, are you really offering your customers an inferior tasting product? Are you sacrificing a little flavor for the assurance that none of the known 193 pesticides used in the agricultural sector are coating the tea leaves you will be sipping? Eight years ago, when I made my first attempt to go down the road of switching to organically grown tea, I was so dismayed by the quality that I abandoned the effort after cupping more than 40 different organic teas from all regions of the globe. Most were undrinkable and some resembled the quality you found in the supermarket aisles. It was a fruitless effort. So, what constitutes organically grown tea? In Canada and the U.S., we have similar bodies that regulate the sale of products deemed organic. The NOP (National Organics Program) adopts guidelines set out by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). These guidelines state:
  1. The farm emphasizes the use of renewable resources.
  2. It does not use most conventional pesticides.
  3. It does not use fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge.
For those of us in the industry, we let our developed palates guide us as to what constitutes a fine cup of tea and not whether it is organic, fair trade, or biodynamically grown for that matter. We all know that higher-quality teas are found in high altitudes away from human activities. Camellia sinensis tea plants like it wet. They thrive in high mountain areas with moderate climates, damp conditions, and rich soil. These prime areas are dwindling, so tea production is moving to lower-lying areas. A low-lying plantation that follows organic farming will compare poorly to its high-altitude cousin. Recently though, after years of converting higher-altitude gardens to organic production, the quality of organic tea has now reached a point where it is easy to find a great cup of organic tea. I am in the midst of cupping 50+ organically grown teas for my new catalogue. Unlike my experience eight years ago, this time around I am impressed and, in some cases, extremely delighted with the flavor emanating from the cup.   It seems that finally, after years of reworking conventional gardens and planting new ones according to organic specifications, the teas that are being produced are very drinkable, and in some cases better than their non-organic counterparts. Along with this increase in quality comes the piece of mind that you are drinking clean tea. It has taken eight years for me to finally come to the conclusion that there are now camellia bushes out there growing in pristine, chemical-free environments that produce a worthwhile cup of tea. The absence of residue on the leaf and the increased customer satisfaction in your product offering are reasons why wholesalers and retailers alike should not readily diss organic tea at this juncture. Let your palate guide you and you may just be enlightened and converted.  

Brendan Waye

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SO LONG MY BROTHER, MY TRUSTED FRIEND

During my tenure on this planet, I’ve lost loved ones, close friends, and a few work mates. You grieve for them, you feel hollow for a time, and you experience deep sadness for sure. But when you lose your only sibling, your childhood buddy, you feel an immeasurable swath amputated from your being. My brother, like a lot of us, wrestled with demons that kept rearing their heads. On the evening of March 29, he decided to deal them a final farewell. It arrived as a shockwave throughout the arctic and within our own family. The phone rang at 8:17 PM that March evening. It was Sarah’s voice on the other end. She asked where I was. I said, “I am at home making dinner and Janna is at yoga.” She asked if I was sitting down. A sense of dread rose from the pit of my stomach. Something was wrong, terribly wrong. In a nervous voice, I asked her, “Why? Why should I be sitting down?” And then she said it. “Paul is dead, Brendan. I just found him an hour ago. He’s gone.” A few weeks have passed since that night and the tightness, the bottomless pit in the abdomen is receding. I do, though, get jolted back to all our moments together, all the laughs, all the heartache an endless slide show of our life, clicking away in monochromatic memories some fresh, some faded. There was the time in Pond Inlet when Paul and I were horsing around and accidentally broke a beautiful Inuit carving of our Dad’s. Our parents were out for the evening. After assuming the worst consequences, Paul decided we must run away from home. If you know where Pond Inlet is, you know that this is completely asinine. We were but 7 and 8 years old, and through the tears of our pleading babysitter, we dressed for the -45-degree weather and ran from the house. We found a hiding place in a skinny, distorted culvert bridging a river not far from our home. There we stayed, shivering, teeth chattering, defiantly for what seemed like hours. Eventually, Fred Hunt, a family friend found us and convinced us that we were not going to be skinned alive if we returned home. Fred deposited us at the front door, where Mom laboriously undressed us. We had six layers of socks and equal layers of underwear, as well as hats, snow pants, and every mitt we could get our hands into. My pockets were stuffed with burger bits, the crunchy canine food of the day (don’t ask). Ours was a childhood filled with experiences that few have lived. We were raised in the high Canadian Arctic among the Inuit. My Dad, a school principal, and my Mom, a homemaker, loved the north. We couldn’t have had a better existence in an incredibly pristine environment alongside an ancient aboriginal culture. Both of us hacked out the local dialect from a very young age and drank tea everywhere we went. I used to make fun of Paul’s pronunciation, as he stuttered a bit. When I devised Steeps the urban teahouse in Edmonton in 1999, I asked Paul to join me as a business partner. His computer contracts for the newly minted Territory of Nunavut were drying up, so he was looking for something else to occupy his time. He wanted to come south. So that September, with a fist full of cash, he joined me in Edmonton and became my business partner at Steeps. With this union of two siblings, we simply became known as The Two Teaguys. Steeps grew and expanded, two brothers out to recreate what people thought they knew about tea. I was the front guy, the trainer, the dealmaker, and the speaker. Paul was the money guy, controlling finances and reining me in when I became a spendthrift. Simultaneously, behind the scenes, Paul and I were perfecting a pungent, captivatingly good masala chai. It would waft throughout our stores and patrons always wanted to try it. This little Chai-brewing operation now goes under the moniker The Chai Company. I brought this recipe back from a climbing excursion in the Himalayas a few years prior. Our base camp cook, Rosi Ali was gracious enough to let me crawl into the cook tent and watch him prepare it. Paul and I, both foodies, set out to perfect and define the art of micro-brewing artisanal chai. As I now try to put some closure on my brother’s short time here with us, I see a man who was an incredible humanitarian with a deep connection to people and the land. There was never a time in his life, nor mine, that I can recall him ever judging anyone. It was quite remarkable really, no matter who you were or what walk of life you came from, he took you at face value. This was Paul and it was evident in some of the people he hired to staff our teahouses and man the Chai-brewing pots in our production facility. I would want to un-hire them right after he gave them a position, and sometimes it turned out that way. But other times, he called me aside and told me that the person he hired needed a job, needed to feed themselves, and needed a chance because they had no where else to turn for viable employment. So now, our family has laid my brother’s ashes to rest in a serene sheltered cove on Gander Bay in Newfoundland, our childhood summer home. I am going to miss him terribly, beyond what words I can muster here in this short post. We had tentative plans to farm tea together in the future, a venture that I am now slowly embarking on. With Paul missing from the equation, I am forging ahead alone, knowing that he will always be here with me and my family, with the countless friends in the high arctic, with his little girl Meeka who lives in Edmonton, and with every single, fresh, young Camellia Sinensis sapling that I will tenderly place into the fertile earth of our Canadian soil. Rest in peace, dearest Bro~

Brendan Waye

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GROWING TEA ON VANCOUVER ISLAND

I guess it was somewhat inevitable, my destiny so to speak. With the revelation that I possess a thoroughly green thumb and a lifelong love of the tea leaf in all its forms and manifestations, I now find myself on a land-buying quest for a dozen or so acres to attempt the cultivation of Camellia Sinensis on Vancouver Island. After this bold statement, I suspect a lot of you are chuckling to yourselves. Growing tea in the frozen north of Canada? Is this guy completely off his rocker? However, I am not one to fuss over geographical semantics, and have yet to back away from any challenge. The ball has begun to roll and there is little else I can do but chase it. After visiting the Charleston Tea Plantation this past September, the idea that I could potentially grow tea in Canada has moved from a distant fantasy to a burgeoning reality. Climate change, for all its negative repercussions, has moved the tea-growing belt further north as the planet heats up. This is great news for me up here in an area of western Canada known as the banana belt. And speaking of such, the University of Victoria recently announced that they successfully grew their first batch of real bananas on Vancouver Island. Who would have imagined? I have also heard talk of an experimental tea farm in northern Washington. Personally, I have never been, and know little of it, other than what other tea people have told me, which is that a camellia Sinensis cultivar has successfully taken root in the Pacific Northwest. In fact, T Ching featured a post about it several years ago. Discovering this was simply the icing on the cake for me. So, this past week, after combing the raw land listings for Vancouver Island, I jumped on the ferry and started the process of locating a suitable parcel of land. The prime growing region on the Island is the Cowichan Valley, about a 45-minute drive north of Victoria. It has the warmest annual climate in Canada and already supports a very successful wine industry. The other very cool aspect of the Cowichan is the abundance of south-facing mountain slopes, which we in the tea business know is highly prized for tea cultivation. My search of more than a dozen properties yielded two potential parcels, one just over 10 acres and the other around 16 acres, both on sloping terrain. Just recently, a tea grower in the Nilgiri Hills in India informed me that he produces around 1,000 pounds of orthodox tea a month from his 45+ acres. This is a yield of 22 pounds per acre. At 10 acres, my little tea garden could potentially produce 220 pounds of orthodox tea a month. The downside, of course, is the painful wait as my little saplings take root and grow into mature tea bushes, a wait that I’m sure will pass with a surmountable collection of challenges. I’m not getting any younger here, so I’d better get going. I’ll let you know when the first, first flush is ready for harvest. However, don’t hold your breath unless you can do so for at least seven years.

Brendan Waye

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RATCHETING UP TEA QUALITY IN RESTAURANTS VIA TEA TRAINING VIDEOS

It was a chilly fall day in the 1990s in Edmonton when a group of my friends gathered to indulge our foodie nature in some wonderful eats. The restaurant was known for its succulent cuts of local Angus beef, aged to perfection and served up to your exact specification. We had duly filled ourselves and now our tummies were in need of some calming tea. There were three options, orange pekoe, peppermint, and chamomile. I could see them sitting over by the coffee station in three wicker baskets. White flimsy tea bags, most likely stale beyond belief. When one of my mates inquired as to which had no caffeine, the server was at a loss for an answer. The tea arrived at our table a few minutes later. The water, which was in one of those flip-lid drippy tin pots that were (and unfortunately still are) the norm in restaurant tea service, had white foam on top, a tell-tale sign that it came from the red lever found on the front of the Bunn coffee machine. I will not go into detail about how lousy this water is for making tea, one sip of the acrid brew will tell all. I mentioned in a previous post how this single event catalyzed my desire to do something about the murky quality of tea service in the food and beverage industry. This is a classic situation in which a little knowledge can go a long way. How can a chef at a 5-star restaurant put so much effort into an excellent food offering, yet completely and utterly disregard the finishing touch to any meal, a simple cup of tea.
  There are two reasons actually:
  1. They do not receive any tea training while completing their chef designation.
  2. There are very few people knocking on their doors offering them a premium tea service for their establishments.
With this in mind, I decided to create a series of training videos that chefs, restaurateurs, and managers could use to train their staff. Give them simple, concise, and factual information and maybe, just maybe, the tea service in their dining establishments would improve over time. I know this is somewhat self-serving, but I love tea, particularly after a great meal. I want to see restaurants ratchet up their tea service at least a dozen notches or so. I have banked much time and money creating this video series that provides the information free of charge. It would be sad not to see it utilized. All I ask is that you pass the series on to anyone in the restaurant and café business that may need a little help and information about tea and how to improve it. I have to fess up as well and tell you that I think one of the reasons I was put on this planet was to help reverse the trend on overpackaging everything. Seeing as I have chosen tea as my vocation, my target is the lowly, dreaded teabag. I make no apologies. Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank my gracious hosts for the use of their wonderful teashop in Toronto, Michael and Laura at Tealish Tea Boutique. They have a great store, drop in and say hello if you ever get to Canada’s largest city. So let the videos begin.

Brendan Waye

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THE DECADE THAT TEA WOKE UP

May 3, 1999 Edmonton, Alberta. Steeps the Urban Teahouse opened its doors for business on a hot and dry prairie morning, 1000 square feet, 28 seats, 78 teas, 2 pies, 2 cakes, 3 kinds of cookies, date squares, and an antique sideboard where you could choose your very own tea cup to sip from. It was shiny and new, and I was beside myself with glee. I was convinced I had created a winner. This was going to be the era of the hip, modern tea lounge, and Steeps was leading the way. As far as I could tell, I was opening the first tea-only café that served all 78 of the teas we sold and did not have a full-service food menu. It was, as I was later quoted, kind of like the Starbucks of tea, loungy, warm, great music, awesome nibblies, and even better tea service. Between my 1997 discovery of Dobra Cajovna in Prague and the success of chains like Starbucks, I conceived the notion to build such a tea lounge. All I did was borrow the successful Starbucks café model and apply it to tea. Take what they do really well and switch from the bean to the leaf. It seemed like a no-brainer to me, but 11 years ago I could not find a single shop embarking on that path. I inevitably survived and over the next six years I opened four more Steeps tea lounges across western Canada. I am ecstatic to say that the shops introduced thousands and thousands of people to the joys and life-long benefits of drinking loose-leaf tea. Today, there are modern tea lounges all over this great continent eagerly and quietly changing the lives of millions.

Transparency and the leaf

A decade later I peer around the premium tea universe and I am overjoyed with what I see transpiring. Tea entrepreneurs are finally thinking outside the box; they are realizing not unlike specialty coffee did 10 years ago that customers need and want information about the product they are consuming. For our industry to separate the wheat from the chaff, we need to share the story of our tea and provide transparency on its origin where it is picked, how it is grown, what kind of flavoring is used, and how the workers are treated by the garden owners. I have been peddling tea long enough to know that tea sourced from countries that have poor human-rights records, that have trashed their natural environment by dumping toxic waste into the soil, and that have sprayed a host of chemicals on their bushes are not countries I can comfortably buy tea from. In the end, tea grown under these conditions is probably harming us more than helping us. One of the largest exporters of tea to the western world is doing just that. Tea drinkers need to know this information, and it is our job to educate and promote gardens and tea companies that have enshrined in their constitutions the welfare of their workers and of the natural environment.  

Finding Opportunity

Tea truly has come of age; its popularity and demand have never been higher. There are hundreds of opportunities still waiting to be tapped with this wonder leaf. We have a whole generation of kids and teens now choosing tea over soft drinks and coffee. They love the stuff, albeit with a little too much sugar at times, but it is the start of a lifelong ritual. Who or what is going to lead their palates? If you love tea like I do, that is, if you love to help people change their personal health for the better, and if you are enthralled by teas origins, its cultivation, the culture of its pickers, and the geography of its growing regions, than finding your niche in the big wide world of tea should be no further away than your next contemplative, steaming cup. Now go put the kettle on; 2010 eagerly awaits you. All the best for the next decade of tea.  

Brendan Waye

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DISCOVERING THE BEST TEA STEEPER

Over the years, I’ve read numerous reviews in various coffee trade magazines and on websites about what brewing devices make the best cup of coffee. Coffee-holics usually arrive at a similar place when they cup the strong brew in today’s conventional devices. If my memory serves me correctly, the French Press usually ends up on top. To my knowledge, I have not seen a similar review done of tea-steeping devices for loose-leaf tea. Sure, we all have our personal favorites, and we can speculate on what device might brew the best cup of tea, but has anyone actually taken the time to cup a few teas side by side with the more popular devices available today? This quest for clarity and knowledge got the better of me this week, so I cleared my Sunday afternoon slate to focus on determining which popular loose-leaf steeper renders the best cup of tea. I decided to choose the top four steepers that are being used in homes, cafés, and restaurants across the country. These are the T-Sac paper filter, the French Press, the stainless mesh infuser ball, and the BREWT. If you know of another that is in wide use, I would love to hear about it. Being just a tad bit of a tea lover, I happened to have all four in my tea cupboard. Before I submit my results to you, I will briefly explain my methodology: I chose two teas, a China Golden Rain Black and a Pai Mu Tan scented with hazelnut and rose buds. In addition to solidifying in my mind which of the tea steepers makes the best cup of tea, I also wanted to see if the various steepers brewed scented tea differently than unscented. I used two teaspoons of tea for each brewing device, 400 ml of hot water, and a three-minute steep time for each pot of tea. So, without further delay, here are the results of my exercise: China Golden Black Rain
Pai Mu Tan Scented with Hazelnut and Rose Buds
  1. T-Sac:  The T-sac wicked the tea up the paper and then proceeded to drip on the counter.  The resulting brew was weak, lacked any subtleties, and tasted somewhat washed out.  Not a very impressive cup of tea.  Have you ever tried to stuff fluffy white tea into a small T-sac when you are in a hurry?
  2. French Press:  The French press was easy to use, pull off the plunger, drop in the tea, and add the water.  The resulting brew was robust, flavorful, and perfectly steeped.  The liquid felt clean and fresh on the palate.  It did lack some maltiness and there was a hint of metal, shiny stainless metal.
  3. Mesh Infuser Ball:  The tea was weaker and lacked the same robust flavor of the French Press, but was not washed out as with the T-sac.  There was a hint of metallic, which I could only surmise came from the mesh ball.
  4. BREWT:  The tea was excellent.  All the subtleties of the tea were evident, a classic hint of smokiness, the caramel notes, and the fine tannins that come out in the end.  This device was easy to use and easy to clean.
 

Summary

If it is a priority of yours to drink or serve the best cup of tea possible, then much to my surprise, the new BREWT tea steeper won on all accounts. I could not detect any transference of flavors, or any metallic taste. It was a perfectly steeped cup of tea. This particular model is made with a BPA-free, food-grade resin. The runner-up was the French Press, but because the whole plunger apparatus in the press is made of various steels and plastics, there was a slight difference in the taste between the BREWT and the French Press. The tea made with the French Press lacked the ultra clean taste that the BREWT tea had, but the French Press is easy to clean out.
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HOW TO DEEPEN YOUR ROOTS IN TEA

tea fieldIt floored me a little when I thought about it. Eleven years of all things tea and I had yet to visit an actual garden. They remained just images and visions, pictures that I have poured over for what seems like decades. Those pristine gardens of Japan where Fuji shimmers in the foreground; Darjeelings and Assams that rim the mountain slopes of the Himalayas; and Ceylon where the land rises up from the sea to an apex in the south center. I’ve never been to any of these places, but their imagery is firmly implanted in my brain. I am certain though that one day I will visit the great tea-growing regions of the world, and there I will enhance and embrace all those old (and new) similes. Interestingly though, my path towards this larger journey began this past September right here in North America, I kid you not. Way down in a little corner of South Carolina spread over about 260 acres, is a snippet of what transpires in those other faraway lands. Here, about 40 minutes south of Charleston, is the home of American Classic Tea. We toured the garden as a group from this past series of STI courses, which were being held in Charleston. One of the first things I noticed was how flat the plantation was. It spread out horizontally over vast cultivated cubes, all pruned to the optimum height. Different varietals planted side-by-side, enabling top blends to start right at the picking level. The lushness of the plantation was also striking. The bushes were dense and healthy. No chemical sprays are used at the garden and this was clearly evident in the incredible number of insects that call the garden their home. Spiders almost the size of my palm had spun huge traps on trees rimming the cubes. You could actually detect tea aromas wafting off the Camellia bushes. It was fresh and entirely familiar. When I finally got the chance to walk over and wrap my hand around the two live leaves and a bud, it was a cathartic moment. Numerous pictures started scrolling through my head, image after image. Here it was in front of me, propagating, crooning to the sun. I leaned in to visually dissect the new leaves. I saw the white down on the unopened bud. The smooth yellowish fuzz summoned a taste memory. I could feel my palate water slightly. I was feeling quite connected and fully absorbed in the moment. Here was my first intervention. Our tour took us inside to the production facility. When you set foot inside the gift shop and reception area, your senses are immediately overwhelmed with the aroma of tea. The air is thick and fragrant. I inadvertently broke into a huge grin; there was no mistaking the smell of fresh tea leaves. It was reminiscent of just-poured green tea and the aroma of rich Assam leaves directly after steeping. Just inside the production facility behind large panes of glass was the machinery that magically converts newly harvested tea leaves into the beverage that you and I so love and enjoy. I could see the withering bed, roughly the size of a large swimming pool gently shaking the leaves, bruising them. As they fell off the withering bed, I watched the leaves enter the Roto Vane. Here they would be altered forever, cut by sharp blades into a fine green mulch. The small bits of tea were then laid across an oxidation bed, where they ever so leisurely glided along, turning from a light jade green to bright amber. I lost sight of them as they entered the ovens. The firing process stops the oxidation and darkens the leaf through a low-temperature bake. On the other side, the dark, broken leaves exit the ovens and are ready for sorting. It was one, continuous, automated system. There were no hands involved and the whole process was occurring with not a body in sight. So, now that I have been to my first tea garden, I feel a more visceral connection to the leaf. I think about it more, I read about it more, and I enjoy tea just that much more. I remember when I planted my first veggie garden in the middle of urban Toronto two years ago, and I started to enjoy its bounty. The sense of reward and gratification, that connection to the earth, has now transferred itself to my daily intake of the oh-so-desirable leaf. Life is good folks; drink tea and see

Brendan Waye

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MY JOURNEY IN TEA CONTINUES

Brendan Waye tea guyWhen I was asked to move to Toronto and join Teaopia a little less then two years ago, it gave me great pause for thought. I hemmed and hawed and after several months of this and much discussion with the owner, my belongings and I left BC (British Columbia), and shared a U-Haul across several time zones to Canada’s largest city. So, here I am now, finishing my tenure at Teaopia and contemplating my next step in tea, my passion and chosen vocation. It was a whirlwind ride here in TO. Eight store openings in 16 months. It’s hard to believe we pulled it off, but the stores are open, staffed, and running well. My immediate co-worker, Frank, became a good friend and trusted comrade. Teaopia is thriving and on a solid track for consistent growth. I am elated and happy that I was a part of it. Ultimately though, my spirit lies in the west. It calls me all the time and near the end, it has been like a slow creep, poking its head up everywhere, reminding me to go west again, to go back to where it all started for me in tea. In the meantime, though, there is so much to see. So many new openings, so many new tea concepts have sprung up and are springing up. Creativity in this sector is infectious right now -and so it should be. We must think outside the box, challenge the status quo, and present tea to the masses in all its forms – wild, hip, trendy, stoic, traditional, healthful, relaxing, contemplative, and tasty. The world is catching on to tea and as retailers, we must be ready to offer up the best concoctions we can. Now look across the street. See those long lineups at Starbucks in the morning? How many times have you wished you had just 10% of that business? But why just 10%? Why not 50%? Is it achievable people? Can we do it? I believe we can, and the way it is achievable is by recreating what it was that brought those salivating regulars across the street in the first place, the beverage. So, as I tour around the next month or so on my move back west, I am hoping to visit as many tea bars as I can. I want to taste your best. I want you to pull out all the stops and go create something fabulous. This is my challenge to you. It is the peak of the iced tea season, nothing can fail now! Call me if you need some help.

Brendan Waye

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THE LIQUID VEGETABLE

yerba mateI have to be completely honest and admit that I did not and could not drink Yerba Maté for the first seven years I was in the tea business. Unlike my brother, who liked it from the very first sip, I could simply not wrap my palate around that smoky, earthy bitterness. I tried my fair share of brands, varieties, and flavors, roasted and unroasted, with herbs and without herbs, scented, flavored, latted, and everything in between. But the dense, thick, herbaceous, and intense flavor of Yerba Maté was something I thought I would never really like. I knew it was good for me though, all my research pointed to a beverage unlike any other for its medicinal benefits I didn’t know quite what it was about the flavor profile that I didn’t like, but I still managed to sell it, espouse its benefits, sample it, and give it away to all my friends without indulging myself. Then one day, a bearded gentleman entered my shop clutching a big green foil bag close to his chest. It was a brand of Yerba Maté from a company called Maté Factor. It was bright green, organic, and the freshest Yerba Maté I had ever smelled. He wanted me to make us some, pointing out that my Yerba was way too refined, somewhat stale, and smoke dried. Needless to say, I was blown away by the smoothness of Maté Factor’s Yerba. It was flavorful, clean, and very green, lacking the smoky harshness of other Yerbas I had tried. Finally, after almost seven years, I had stumbled upon a Yerba Maté that worked for my palate. So I needed to find out why this particular yerba tasted so different from all the rest I had sampled over the years. As it turns out, Maté Factor’s yerba is not smoke dried, and believe it or not, this makes ALL the difference (at least it did to me). In my opinion, smoke drying the leaves adds nothing to the taste profile of yerba (unlike Lapsang, which I truly love as well). I now drink copious amounts of Yerba Maté and I am more than feeling the health benefits of this three-year addiction. The smoke-dried versions,  which pretty much make up all of the other varieties have a much harsher, more astringent taste and are definitely harder to acquire a palate for. The freshness of a regular air-dried Yerba Maté makes for a tantalizing and somewhat intoxicating beverage. In South America, they call it the liquid vegetable. Its nutritional profile is unmatched by any other tea-like beverage, packing 15 essential amino acids and tons of nutrients. Yerba Maté is also high in antioxidants, and its generous supply of vitamins and minerals (including chlorophyll, Vitamins A, B, C, and E, Magnesium, Potassium, Iron, Pantothenic Acid, and much more) make a cup of Yerba Maté an excellent immune-system booster. When I assist women and men who come into our stores looking for diet and weight loss teas, I always recommend yerba because it is also regarded as one of natures weight-loss secrets by speeding up the metabolism, curbing the appetite, and helping the body to release excess calories rather than storing them as fat. It has been said that Yerba Maté has enough nutrients, vitamins, and amino acids that if one were to consume nothing but Maté (say if you were stranded on a deserted island with no food), you would live indefinitely. Yes, you would be skinny as a rake, but you would survive. And finally, lets talk about the energy boost. Of course, I drink lots of tea, the odd espresso, and various other energy boosters that are available off the shelf. But Yerba is by far the best. The metabolism boost takes about 10-15 minutes to kick in after you drink it, but it lasts for hours, much longer than coffee, but without the jitters and that awful crash your body experiences when the caffeine buzz is gone. For the caffeine addict, it makes the transition from burnt coffee beans to the world of tea much more graceful. In our shops, Yerba Mate is the fastest-growing segment on the tea wall, beating out Green Tea and Rooibos. If you are going to indulge for the first time, take my advice as a convert and start with some of Maté Factor?s unsmoked green Yerba Maté. It’s organic and the quality is unmatched. Your body will thank you in more ways than you can imagine. Happy sipping.

Brendan Waye