One of the best parts of the pandemic is having the time to explore new things. Armed with Netflix, Audible, and my trusty sidekick Google, I have been diving into food trends, international recipes, flavor profiles, techniques, and food history. Lately, I have turned my sights off the plate and into the cup.
And who knew? It’s overwhelming. Understanding tea and coffee is as complex as wine, a matter of taste, history, technique, and terroir. There is an astounding variety and the artisanal coffee and tea movements are forever morphing.
Devoted to my morning coffee ritual, I feel closer to coffee trends than I do to tea. I have lived the coffee movements but I never really integrated tea into my life in a serious way. Now I suspect I am missing something important.
The coffee movement, in its “third wave”, led by both manufacturers and consumers, takes the experience beyond the cup. My first wave of coffee began with Folgers (cue the jingle). The second wave was Starbucks; lattes with soy milk, two pumps of sugar-free vanilla, and my name on my cup. But third-wave coffee allows drinkers a heightened artisanal experience with exotic bean cultivators, growing techniques, cultivation, extraction and roasting methods, vacuum pumps, water quality, and temperature, and Oh! a conical Burr Grinder. And the list goes on!
Enter my next-door neighbor, Sebastian Beckwith. (Next door, used loosely since we both live on more than 200 acres.) He is a wonderful neighbor, forever giving me gifts of exotic and artisanal teas… that I know nothing about. Turns out, my neighbor is one of the foremost experts in the world on tea and is forging the swell in third-wave tea. He is an importer and expert and supplier to the world’s best retailers and restaurants offering the most sought-after tea experiences.
Like coffee, tea movements morph. My first wave of tea was Lipton. The second wave was Teavana, housed in practically every mall in America (then bought by Starbucks.) Third-wave tea in the U.S. is artisanal, a return to form, with an emphasis on purity and accessibility. It’s simply tea, unadulterated and directly sourced from farmers, that Sebastian ferrets out from around the world. There’s no need for two pumps of vanilla. Third Wave Tea is about craft, authenticity, and accessibility.
The problem is… tea is complicated. Tea, like coffee, has complexity, flavor notes, and profiles. It differs from coffee in the complexity (and ritual) of the preparation where tea types, water temperature, and steeping times vary. Super expensive teas can, according to Beckwith, taste like garbage, if improperly brewed. And that scares the average American off.
In a recent conversation with Sebastian, he hit the nail on the head for me and my reluctance to embrace tea. And he said it’s why tea is in its 100th third wave. “Americans feel like they have to get it right.” Some cultures, if they don’t get it right, will try again. Americans will give up. “If people could just be more chill,” he said, “then maybe tea could take off.”
So, on a quiet morning, I gave it a go. I boiled, brewed, steeped, and drank. And to my surprise, it was amazing; like serenity in a cup. Pure, unadulterated pleasure.
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