Beyond the Leaf
Behind the Scenes
One of the great perks of my job is working with people who know a lot more than I do. On June 19th we presented the latest in the TeaSource Tea Masters workshops featuring Chaminda Jayawardana, the managing director of Lumbini Tea Factory, Deniyaya, Sri Lanka. Lumbini is one of the most awarded tea gardens/factories on Sri Lanka.
Chaminda and I had an absolute great time working together—and once again I came out of these workshops learning far more than I knew going in.
But before the workshop we had to stop and get some tea; at TeaSource in St Anthony, MN. Chaminda was traveling with his close friend, colleague, neighbor, and direct competitor Dissanayake Mudiyanselage Harris Ukkika Mahadiulwewa (henceforth referred to as “Harris”). One of the many things I love about the tea business is that competitors can be close friends; and neither the business nor the friendship has to suffer. That’s me on the left, Harris in the middle, and Chaminda on the right.
Chaminda and Harris had never tried high quality Taiwanese Jade oolongs before, so we indulged with some Tung Ting Light Roast Oolong.
Ringing Chaminda up at the St Anthony TeaSource. He saw tea paraphernalia he had never seen before, and yes, I gave him a discount.
Me, Chaminda, and Harris at St Anthony. Harris was impressed when he saw wooden tea chests from Lumbini (and other tea gardens) throughout the store.
And I got to play tour guide, taking Chaminda and Harris for a walk along the Mississippi, exploring Minnehaha Falls, visiting the Stone Arch Bridge Festival and Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis (we do have 10,000 lakes after all), and ending up at Guitar Center in Roseville, they don’t’ have Guitar Center stores in Deniyaya, Sri Lanka and Chaminda is a musician in addition to being a tea master.
Back at the TeaSource warehouse in Roseville. In preparation for the 50 people coming in for the workshop, we scavenged every chair and table throughout the building and arranged them in the open warehouse space for participants—which meant that we had nothing left in our offices/cupping room etc. Chaminda had brought 2 new samples of tea he wanted me to try. So rather than cupping them up in our cupping room (which at that point was just an empty space with no chairs or tables), we decided to sample and evaluate these teas on the customer ledge by our office administrator’s desk. We were sampling two Lumbini samples of grade OP1 grade Ceylon black tea, for some blending we will be doing later this year.
The warehouse tour for workshop participants. It always surprises me how many people want a tour of our work space.
Chaminda and I start talking about tea. Chaminda’s role was to be the expert and to make sure everyone (including me) walked out knowing a lot more about growing Ceylon tea, than we knew coming in. My role was mostly comic relief and amazement at the tea-maker’s craft. We had a lot of fun together.
Lumbini Estate (and all Ceylon tea gardens) had only dealt with tea brokers until I convinced Chaminda to bypass brokers and sell directly to wholesale customers. Chaminda and Lumbini now sell direct to more than 15 countries across the world. TeaSource was first.
This Lumbini Silver Needles is the first tea I bought from Chaminda. I brought back 2 gigantic duffle bags stuffed with this tea when I flew back from my first visit to Lumbini. To me the most amazing part of this tea is the fact that Chaminda had never heard of Chinese Yin Zhen (Chinese Silver Needle white tea), when he created his own Silver Needles.
The TeaSource infographic on Ceylon and Ceylon teas. It shows all the major growing regions, and Lumbini Tea Factory.
I took a couple of minutes to read from my great grandfather’s memoir. He was in Ceylon in the 1860’s and 1870’s helping establish the first tea gardens.
“I will mention here a few things a young tea planter should learn as soon as possible. First and foremost he must learn to speak to the coolies in their own language - the Tamil. He must learn how to make nurseries from seed or cutting, how to prune and care for the crops, drain and make roads in the new plantation. He must also learn to design and superintend the building, whether in wattle and dab for the coolies’ “huts” or in brick and stone for his own building. He must learn something of sickness and the simple medicines to give. He should, by all means, know enough to sew a button, in an extremity ….
I wish here to remark on my affection for the kindness, and “bon comradie” (sic) of all the tea planters I met in Ceylon. We used to meet at each other’s bungalows and have a “sing a song.” Each one had to sing a song and tell a story, or drink a glass of salt and water. I shall never forget those days.”
From “The Life and Travels of Augustus Waddington”
an unpublished memoir, 1870
Augustus Waddington, Welsh tea man in Ceylon
Chaminda examining the leaf, and explaining the detail of why Lumbini teas are so special and have won so many awards. They are all hand-plucked and orthodox processed, i.e. minimal use of machines during processing. It is so much fun to listen to someone who is expert and passionate about their field.
Everyone sampled six Ceylon different teas (and went home with a couple of more). One of the amazing things about Ceylon teas is that while it is a small island: the diversity of tea styles, flavors, is huge.
- Lumbini Silver Needles | White Tea
- Oodooware Estate, Pekoe | Black Tea
- Gonapitiya Estate, FBOP | Black Tea
- Ceylon Blend Mid-Grown | Black Tea Blend
- Ceylon Burning Sun | Black Tea Blend
- Inverness Estate, FBOPF1 | Black Tea
“Stick your nose in the cup.” During workshops I say that a lot. Tea is as much an olfactory experience as it is a taste experience.
The community of Twin Cities tea enthusiasts has grown quite large and is …. well …. enthusiastic. And it is a whole lot of fun when we all get together and sample and talk teas.
And of course, since this was a celebration (of Ceylon teas) everyone had to walk home with some swag bags.
Me, autographing a Ceylon tea poster—that was a little unusual, but wisely the participant had asked for Chaminda’s autograph first.
Chaminda and one of the many appreciative attendees. People did seem to have a great time.
Good tea makes good friends. Lumbini is some of the best tea, so it’s not surprising it has led to one of the best friendships.
Summit Brewing Company of St Paul called us to talk about a new beer they wanted to try brewing. Brewer Nick Hempfer, Star Trek nerd, wanted to try brewing an Extra Special Bitter Ale with Earl Grey tea; in honor of Jean Luc Picard (aka Patrick Stewart) always ordering “Earl Grey….. Hot !” from the replicator (ok, we have some Star Trek nerds around here also). It would be #19 in Summit’s Unchained Series and aptly named “Make It So.”
Earl Grey White Tip, used to brew Make It So
We sent them a few options of Earl Grey tea (as you know, we have a few) for their trial brews. In April, we were invited to Summit for a tour of their facilities and to taste the test batch. (Read more about the initial tastes from that hour-long tasting session at Summit’s .)
Next came the day for the final brew to be canned. We were there for that too.
And then, we celebrated with everyone! Summit hosted a Release Party for Make It So at their Beer Hall. We handed out samples of Earl Grey tea while Summit poured Make It So and Star Trek fans geeked out over the costume contest and real-sized Star Trek props (some had real lights & sounds!). Eden Prairie manager, Georgia, and TeaSource owner, Bill Waddington, at the Make It So release party at Summit's Beer HallStar Trek costume contestTeaSource staff enjoying Make It So and the Star Trek transporter with brewer Nick Hempfer
Now, Summit and TeaSource have teaming up for this month at area liquor stores. We are playing carnival games and giving away prizes in celebration of Make It So and Canned Beer Month! We hope you join us.
All of this talk about tea and beer inspired former TeaSource manager, Jess, to share her experience with homebrewing beer with tea. Before her move to Portland, Jess wrote a about using tea in her brews for Beyond the Leaf. She also sat down with Chip Walton of Chop & Brew to record an episode for his web series on .
We had a lot of fun with Summit Brewing Company and Chop and Brew and look forward to future collaborations!Cheers!
Rajiv Gupta (founder of Lochan Teas) in presenting almost four hours of workshops digging deep into that sub-category of black teas, Darjeelings. Rajiv was born on a tea estate. He managed many of the most famous Darjeeling tea gardens for almost 20 years before opening his own tea brokerage, and his knowledge of Darjeeling and its teas is vast. And it was my privilege and great joy to teach a class with him.
We delivered a 90 minute Darjeeling tasting workshop at the World Tea Expo and then did a two-hour tasting workshop in Minnesota on the teas of India, focusing on Darjeeling. Here are some photos from the Minnesota workshop, where nearly 50 people toured our new warehouse, tasted some amazing tea, and had the chance to mingle with a true tea master. The attendees got a behind the scenes tour of our entire warehouse facility including the break down room, blending room, and the aisles of the pick line filled with tea and merchandise.
We converted the receiving area of the warehouse into a classroom.
Over the course of the evening, attendees tasted 7 different teas.
The Giddapahar Spring White Peony was one of the favorites. Only 22 pounds of this tea were made, and TeaSource bought it all. (It’s going fast, so make sure to pick up a bag!)
As we guided the group through each new tea, Rajiv provided wonderful context and knowledge about the region, processing, and flavor profiles.
We ended the night with caffeine free chai samples and a shopping experience. We made our famous TeaSource Chai with Rooibos instead of Breakfast Assam, which is a fantastic option for late night chai drinking.
Take note: We are expecting three new first flush Darjeelings to arrive on our dock any day! Make sure to check the website for new arrivals.
Spring produces the highest grade and most sought after white teas; but what about a spring INDIAN white tea? We have the first 2015 Indian white tea and it might be the best white tea I have ever had, made outside Fujian, China. It’s a Bai Mu Dan (White Peony) style white tea from the Giddapahar Tea Estate in Darjeeling. They only made about 12 lbs. and we were lucky enough to buy it all. The Giddapahar tea garden is the smallest garden in Darjeeling, still owned by the same family since the 1880’s, And they make amazing teas. One advantage of being small is that they can experiment, be creative, and break the rules: like making Chinese style white tea in Darjeeling. And they produce some of the most wonderful teas in all of India. This tea is INCREDIBLY fresh (the leaves were plucked off the bush about 3 weeks ago), powerfully aromatic, sweet, floral, with a long lingering delicious aftertaste. It will be available in the stores and on the website as of this Wednesday, April 29th. Check out the arrival of this tea below.Bill opening up the box of the brand new Giddapahar Estate Bai Mu Dan white tea from India.Ryan and Bill check the aroma of the newly opened bag. It smells AMAZING and incredibly fresh.The leaf is deep green, large, wiry, and unprocessed.Cupping up the tea in our standard cupping set for 5 minutes with boiling water. It’s sweet, herbaceous, and has great mouth feel.
TeaSource is proud to sponsor the TEA MASTERS series. TeaSource will host world renowned tea growers, tea brokers, tea tasters, and tea authorities as part of this ongoing series. We will present forums/settings/workshops where our customers and the general public will have a chance to taste teas, learn from, ask questions, and in a loose sense just hang out for a few hours with TEA MASTERS from across the globe.
DON’T MISS OUT ON THIS ONE TIME ONLY SPECIAL EVENT
Experience a tea tasting tour of Darjeeling, India! Guided by a former Darjeeling tea estate manager, Rajiv Lochan, and myself, Bill Waddington, you’ll explore the flavor differences and quality characteristics of numerous north Indian teas. You’ll learn why Darjeelings are some of the most expensive teas in the world (justifiably so). And you’ll also learn why and how these sensory differences occur. Rajiv Lochan has worked in the Darjeeling tea industry for almost 40 years, including many years in the tea gardens. His resume includes time at: Longview, Seeyok, Phuguri, Avongrove, Jungpana, Ambootia and many other tea gardens. He has been an independent tea broker for the last 15 years.
Sunday, May 10th, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
*Arrive at 6 p.m. for a tour of our new warehouse facility
Class cost: $15.00/person
TeaSource Main Office & Warehouse
2616 Cleveland Ave N Roseville, MN 55113
(just south of the intersection of Cleveland Ave N & County Road C)
Recently I had the privilege of hosting three guests from the Otsuka Green Tea Co. of Shizuoka, Japan. It was a very short, very fun visit.
The best part of my job is people. Make no mistake, I love tea. I’m obsessed with the leaf. I swoon over the liquor. But the best part of what I do is the people; our customers, our suppliers our fellow tea-travelers. The people are amazing, and sometimes I have a day where it feels like I’ve been wandering around the city of Oz.
Visiting at our Roseville, MN warehouse/office, was the wife of the Chairman of Otsuka, Mrs. Hiroto Otsuka (a Japanese tea ceremony expert), and 2 other Otsuka employees, Kokei Sugihara, export manager and Haruyuki Nagata, sales manager.
This visit was a chance to build a growing relationship, learn from folks who know more than I do, and party hearty with fellow tea geeks (this involved drinking a lot of tea, and four flights of Minnesota craft-brewed beers).
Otsuka Tea Co. was founded in 1869 in Shizuoka, Japan. It’s owned and run by the same family, for five generations now. I met these folks two years ago, when I was in Japan looking for tea growers. Their teas and their warmth bowled me over from the beginning.
We started off with an exchange of gifts, of course. From me to Mrs. Otsuka, a copy of The Book of Tea, Bruce Richardson’s edition with never before seen photos of early 20th century Japanese tea workers.
And I received one of the most beautiful ceramic pieces I have ever seen. A tea bowl, for use in the Japanese tea ceremony. Mrs. Otsuka apologized because it was not very traditional, but kind of modern and edgy. It has hand-made papers infused into the glaze.
Next a tour of our new warehouse- I was a little bit like a proud papa.
Pictured (right to left): me, Mrs. Otsuka, our own Queen of Wholesale Eri Abrams (who did an amazing job of translating for a day and a half), Mr. Sugihara, and Mr. Nagata. There was a lot of laughing throughout this visit.
Then it was time to taste teas.
Some amazing and sumptuous green teas from Otsuka. The color of these leaves takes my breath away.
And then the most amazing part of the visit, Mrs. Otsuka serving tea –Japanese tea ceremony style – to myself, and a number of TeaSource employees.
All of us taking some of the traditional sweets that accompany a Japanese tea ceremony.
A little like Necco wafers, but a lot better.
Ready to make tea.
Measuring the matcha.
A demonstration of grace and focus, whisking the tea.
Keeping her arm very straight, without touching the bottom of the bowl.
Artisan vs. truck driver.
One of the things I most love about tea; it gives you pause.
Then Mrs. Otsuka passed out wondrous origami figures that she had made for all of us. It was like opening Christmas presents.
Origami fighting sumo wrestlers.
Then it was everyone else’s turn to be served tea.
Sarah, learning to turn the bowl.
Elliot (our senior tea blender) learning to “sit like a samurai.”
Whew, we didn’t embarrass ourselves.
Then I took our guests to visit our stores.
We finished a long day, with some sight-seeing of the Twin Cities, they LOVED St Paul’s Cathedral, and then steaks at Jax (they also loved that). The whole visit was just a great time, strengthening an already healthy relationship. Wonderful people who make amazing tea. And if you haven’t tried their teas, do yourself a favor. We will follow up this post with another about this Otsuka visit: How to be the recipient of a tea at a Japanese tea ceremony (who knew this was a thing?).
Thanks for reading. Comments are very welcome.