Given the particular and passionate nature of what we do, we are very selective over who we partner with and how many partners we take on. That said, when a partnership begins, we are committed to going the distance: making sure your tea program is all you envision it could be for the long run. Take a cursory glance at our list of our friends in Specialty Coffee and Hospitality and you'll notice it doesn't change often. We like to think there's a reason for that.
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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.
The bastion of specialty coffee is slowly upping its tea game. This in itself would not be possible if there wasn't consumer demand for better tea. Who's leading the charge? The young, of course.Read More