Spirit Tea

Earth Humanity Heaven

An uncommon selection of handmade teas, each reflecting a unique moment in space and time.

Buy Black Tea Online | Black Tea Around the World

When it comes to black tea there are so many different cultures around celebrate tea in different ways.  Over the course of many years we have had the fortune to observe many of these first hand.  

One thing that has become apparent from day one is that many cultures appreciate varying levels of astringency.  Astringency is the drying sensation that occurs on your palate after drinking tea. Often times depending on the origin, or improper steeping methods it becomes really easy to over extract tea and make it way too dry on the palatte. 

As a result of varying levels of astringency and primary countries that tea is sourced from you start to see cultures responding to black tea in different ways.  

Black Tea in England: 

 Black tea in England is often enjoyed with milk, lemon, and honey.  This has to do with the astringency levels they experience from their tea. 

Black tea in England is often enjoyed with milk, lemon, and honey.  This has to do with the astringency levels they experience from their tea. 

The British are almost always regarded as one of the highest tea consuming countries per capita as anyone in the world. Yet why is it that they almost always are seen enjoying tea with lemon and milk? Well normally their tea is being imported from countries like Sri Lanka and Southern India where the tea receives open sunlight most of the year.  The more sunlight and the more catetchins which leads to more astringency. 

Black Tea in China:

While Black Tea in China is super region dependent I am going to focus on the primary ways we have seen citizens enjoying tea there.  For the most part the 'designer' teas for the moment are coming from Fujian.  These black teas primarily have low astringency and are pretty easy to drink without milk or sugar.  The mouth feel is heavy and thick.  For the most part we see many people drinking tea out of gaiwan there. Steeping multiple infusions on top of eachother. 

 Most people in China enjoy tea using a Gaiwan and with multiple infusions 

Most people in China enjoy tea using a Gaiwan and with multiple infusions 

Black Tea in India

Chai Tea in India.jpg

In India Black Tea is almost always taken with milk in a local form known as Chai.  India is one of the biggest consumers of tea in the world, but the majority of the country's production gets exported to other countries in high demand, particularly Europe.  For this reason the Indian people have added spices and milk to their tea to make it more palatable to drink. 

Black Tea in the United States

Sadly the USA Tea industry is primarily consuming bottled tea beverages.  USA is a culture of speed, large quantities, and convenience.  For this reason most people have become accustomed to drinking tea with plenty of sugar added.  In many cases this also is a result of the price driven culture in the U.S. people have been accustomed to drinking black tea with addititves as a result of getting very inexpensive commodity teas sourced from Argentina, Sri Lanka, and Kenya.  




Making the case for an Oil Free Tea Menu

If you have been following our work at S P I R I T you may notice something peculiar about our offerings. If you scroll through the list of teas on our website you might see a category missing that you will find on most other tea vendors, 'flavored,' or 'blends.' 

You may think we are crazy, after all this is America, the land of the free, and the home of the big gulp.  The general consensus appears to be if you want to make tea 'interesting,' simply add flavored oils to them.  Stroll by most mainstream tea shops and be greeted by a wave of incense, sugar crystals that look like meth, and lexicon that is nothing short of rampant orientalism. 


Our approach at S P I R I T is different - to us the only oil appropriate for tea is the natural volatile oils that are part of the genetic heritage of the tree itself.  Depending on the terroir of course you can find floral, malt, fruit, sweet, and vegetal notes harnessed within the leaf itself.  

We will make no attempt to be 'mainstream' as we feel any artificial elements go against the very essence of what tea is all about.  

One of our proudest moments was watching one of our accounts cross out the flavored teas off their menu: 

Best White Tea | What is White Tea?

When it comes to considering the best white tea to add to your collection you may want to consider a couple of important components for consideration.  

First and foremost is the tea you are looking to purchase fresh?  So few tea companies online have a seasonality focus and it might not be obvious from the appearance but it sure is in terms of aroma, body, and taste. 

Seasonality of White Tea Harvests

Seasonality is defined as a sourcing model that coincides with the seasonal harvests at tea plantations at origin.  Though tea has a shelf life of nearly two years the leaves have the most intact chemical compounds soon after the harvest ends.  The seasonal reality is that creates the most nuances in the tea that you are about to steep.  There is a huge difference between old stale tea and fresh tea leaves.  

Depending on the white tea you are looking to consume there is different harvest periods: 

Silver Needles:  the best time to harvest Silver Needles is typically the last two weeks in March. Most people do not often realize that tea comes from an evergreen tree and that this tree will for survival go into dormancy during the winter period.  When the tree(s) go into dormancy they begin to store nutrients to stay alive.   Therefore after this winter thaw and the first buds start to come up - the new fresh buds will have these white downey hairs called trichomes.  These are what give the tea the fresh silky mouthfeel and sweet taste.   


White Peony: this tea goes after so many names - drum mountain white cloud,  bai mu dan, and white peony to name a few.  This is also a great spring harvest and typically consists of a bud and two leaves.   Great harvests have an almost sweet corn flavor to them.  

What is the best way to brew white tea? 

When it comes to brewing your white tea the most important factor is the temperature of the water.  White tea is generally best at about 180 degrees.  The compounds inside the leaves are delicate and to best accentuate these nuances it is best to ease off on the water temp.  

In terms of time White Tea is best served with a long steep time.  Ideally one that will showcase the polyphenol content in the leaves.  

How to cold brew white tea? 

If you are looking to cold brew white tea - we suggest a 24 hour steep time with filtered cold water.  Do be mindful that the shelf life for cold brewing tea is about 3 days.  The microbial content in the leaves are not eliminated because you are not using cold water.  




What's the Matter With Jasmine?

Nothing, if this is all you read.

So why doesn't Spirit carry any jasmine, osmanthus, orange blossom, magnolia (the list goes on and on) chrysanthemum or rose teas? In most coffee shops and groceries—scented are far and away the top movers in the green tea category. Almost every restaurant with a decent tea program carries a jasmine. The potential is huge—why not carry just one?

And actually, the craftsmanship behind great scented tea is no less intense than the craftsmanship behind many of our most beloved green and oolong styles—so it can't even be argued that they are lackluster or artificial (if done traditionally, many tea companies apply 'natural jasmine flavor' to low-grade tea leaves). 

Tea is very sensitive to its environment. It's what's called hygroscopic, meaning It readily absorbs smells and moisture from what it's exposed to. Any tea will, to an extent, absorb a bit of the ambience of its growing, plucking, cooking (if applicable), withering and drying environment—functioning as a sort of living memory of the leaf.

Using this to their advantage, producers of scented tea will expose tea leaves, usually by showering them in in the intended flower sometimes three, four or more times until the hygroscopic properties of the tea do their magic and the two tastes (of finished tea leaf and scenting) are inseparable. What you get is a delightful tea style with a vibrant yet balanced floral quality, in best cases—or a very, very loud flower taste half-masking mediocre, astringent tea, in most.

The latter is the reason why we insist on only unscented tea leaves. As you know, at Spirit we celebrate the qualities of the pure leaf above all else, this means no flavorings (artificial or 'natural) or blends with non-tea leaves. It also, for the moment, means no scented teas. We just launched a line of herbal blends (online soon!) but even these do not rely on the shortcut of flavoring, only the ingredients themselves.

The beauty of the tea leaf is its natural ability, perhaps better than any plant on earth, to sing with so many different aromas and flavors. Processing plays a part here, but a lot of it has to do simply with land, climate and seasonality. Many of these aromas are inherently floral—lilac, jasmine, rose—without the leaf being scented. Of course, if you were to scent these teas, say our Iron Goddess of Mercy Purple Peony, with Magnolia—all of its delicate honeysuckle nose and lingering rose finish would be completely lost under the loud, monochromatic note of the jasmine and likely many of the other distinct vegetal qualities it possesses would be muted. We want our drinkers to have the courage to discover the variegated, natural floral quality of the tea leaf, without other justifications.

As of today, we are the only Chicago tea company to offer no flavored teas. We are also the only Chicago tea company without scented teas. In this sense, we're one of the only tea companies in the nation to fill either of these categories. So we're probably out of our minds. But we have our mission, our ethos behind doing so.

This isn't to say that we're idealistically opposed to jasmine or hate companies that source scented teas. Quite the opposite. It's not out of the question that we eventually source an exemplary jasmine or floral-scented tea—a good business is a dialogue with its customers, not just one-track decisions.

So next time you're sipping our Silver Needle, sip slowly, listen to the tea, find those natural, vibrant florals and know that in the future scented teas are not out of the question at Spirit. For now, you have our answer.

Wholesale Tea for Coffee Shops Part 2

In my first installment we talked a bit about the economics of switching to a higher end specialty tea vs. a commodity grade basic option.  If true tea is to take hold in the United States it must happen in a venue that already features higher end options.   

Now in this article we are going to talk about the operations in logistics to making a tea program successful in your coffee shop.  

Let's start with a few questions: 

  1. Is your cafe higher traffic with many rush periods or is it slow and steady with an occasional rush? 
  2. Do you have multiple hot water options? 
  3. Do you plan on steeping the tea behind the bar, or putting it in the sachet and offering it to the customers? 

The first question deals primarily with the question of operations - can your customers afford to wait for their tea?  How do we ensure a fast and readily available speed of service? 

We often draw a parallel here to coffee.  If your cafe currently offers pour overs that process typically takes about 5-6 minutes if you include the time to grind the coffee, pre warm the chemex, and then pour the hot water on top of it.   The idea here would be to steep the tea behind the bar - with proper specifications to ensure that the tea is not overextracted - it is this sort of attention to detail that will keep your customers coming back again and again.  

Here are some examples of how to brew the tea behind the bar: 

 This cafe does brew to order and the tea is made behind the counter and served to go

This cafe does brew to order and the tea is made behind the counter and served to go

Now that we have covered the service piece lets dive a little deeper into the equipment you might need to make all of this magic happen.  

Truly elite cafes will have multiple hot water towers available -  here is an example of this - in this way you can do on demand - white teas, green teas, oolong teas, and black teas without skipping a beat or waiting for your water to cool. 

Of course this type of equipment is not cheap - so one way to cool the water faster is to decant it into cooler vessles to bring the temperature down.  

The most important element for all this is making sure you have the right partner that will work with you on how to make the tea behind the bar - training, education, and dial in are critical to making the tea program at your coffee shop a success.