True handcrafted tea has a story, a journey that reflects the local flavors of its homeland, infused with unique experiences and influences gathered along the way, and transformed into the purest, most finely tuned blend of tea. Imagination is where it all begins, say the Master Tea Blenders at Rishi Tea, as they give us a glimpse into their craft, sharing the art of palate memory in creating a flavor profile, how hoteliers can create an impressive tea menu, and just how many cups of tea they drink a day.
How do you create a tea blend? What is the process? How long does it take to get to the right blend?
The genesis of a new blend always begins in the imagination. Our blenders have an incredibly rich palate memory, developed over the course of years of intensive daily tastings and blending exercises. With hundreds of organic ingredients in our repertoire—most of which we actively source from multiple unique origins—our range of flavor profiles is truly vast. In developing a new blend, we often begin with a collaborative, creative discussion on the potential directions for the blend’s essential flavor profile—it’s raison d’être. We consider the flavor and energy of the core ingredients, then debate which exotic or curious layers of mid and high aromatic notes to introduce as complements. The whole process can take minutes or days, weeks or months—however long it takes to achieve a perfect balance that satisfies our entire tasting panel. We are proud of our originality and creativity when it comes to creating new blends.
What does it mean to be “certified organic”?
Rishi has been an organic tea company from our very foundation in the late 1990s, before there existed a standard for organic certified tea in the U.S. market. We believe that organic agriculture is so important for humanity to rediscover in order to protect the long-term health of farmers and consumers, and to help restore ecological balance. For us, being certified organic means that a tea, a farm, or a partner is accredited to the USDA NOP organic standards. Today, over 95% of Rishi’s products are certified organic. In essence, organic tea and herb farming means that any use of pesticides, fungicides, and chemical fertilizers is prohibited. Farms undergo annual inspection by independent certifying agencies to maintain an active organic certificate. As a direct trade tea company, Rishi complements these independent reports with our own quality control checks made by our buyers at the tea farms throughout the harvest season. Additionally, Rishi is itself USDA NOP certified organic as an importer and manufacturer. We also undergo annual inspections to ensure that our importation procedures, warehousing, blending, and labeling are all in compliance with regulations. With our firm footing in organics, we are excited and inspired by the rising popularity of organic foods throughout North America.
How would a hotel or hospitality operation approach the crafting of their menu?
The world of tea is just as broad and diverse as that of fine wine, distinguished by the hundreds of cultivars, growing regions, and artisanal processing methods that make each single-origin tea unique. Add the hundreds of exotic organic botanicals like ginger, hibiscus, lemongrass, valerian or lavender that are artfully harmonized into delicious, balanced herbal teas, and you have a limitless palette of flavors to discover. So we often say that the more we learn about tea, the more we realize there is yet to learn.
With such a range of profiles to work with, we typically recommend that a hospitality operation consider approaching their tea menu much like a wine or craft beer menu, with a core set of bestsellers including classic black teas, green teas, and caffeine-free herbal teas that remains more or less permanent, complemented by a healthy rotating seasonal set where trending ingredients and flavors can take their turn in the spotlight. With tea, it is important that the energy of the blend pairs well with the local climate and season. Our staff, thoroughly trained in the arts of tea, are here to help you with that.
In its ancient past, tea was traditionally consumed as food and taken as a medicine before it became the exalted beverage of the East that it is today. Many teas and herbs have an effect on the mind or body energy. For hotels, it is important to consider the various occasions in which their guests will enjoy a pot of tea, and to offer teas that will not only taste delicious but leave the drinker feeling refreshed as well.
How do you make the perfect cup of tea? Is there a method, or is it personal preference?
The secret to brewing and serving truly excellent tea involves a combination of several elements. When the stars align, the results can be extraordinary. The range of aromas and flavors that can be expressed from a single botanical, Camellia sinensis, is unbelievable broad. With such diversity, there is no perfect, go-to standard for brewing tea well—it is more important to develop a set of senses and skills that will enable you to determine the best method for each type of tea. It begins with selecting the most premium quality organic tea leaves you can find, fresh in season and made with care by artisan farmers. Next, find yourself a source of fresh spring or filtered water. Since a brewed cup of tea is made up mostly of water, the purity of the water itself is crucial to unlock the complex flavors and aromas of your tea. Third, choose a set of quality teaware that complements the style of tea you have chosen to brew. Consider the cultural harmony between the origin of your tea and teaware. Finally, and most important, cultivate a positive energy and mindfulness as you begin to prepare the tea. Rinse your teaware with warm water to purify the vessels before you begin brewing the tea. Empathize with the tea leaves to sense the appropriate water temperature and infusion time that will work best to coax out the most complex flavors. The process of brewing tea essentially involves rehydrating tea leaves that were originally dried during their processing at the farm. There is so much freedom in the methods that can be called upon as you brew. This artful, intentional preparation of tea is known as gongfu or “skill” in many tea cultures.
How important is your sense of taste?
We use all of our senses in the Rishi Herb Lab where our creative experimentations and product development run nonstop.
Paramount of course are the senses of smell and taste. Both are equally important when it comes to tea. It is now common knowledge that our ability to taste is dependent not just on our taste buds but also our olfactory receptors. We can even detect aroma via olfactory sensors located in the back of our soft palate, and on the roof of the mouth. Ever heard a wine snob or tea geek slurp when they taste? They are ‘aspirating’ the liquid by drawing in oxygen very rapidly, which releases the aromatic molecules in the tea or wine. The aroma is sensed via the olfactory receptors located inside the roof of your mouth. With tea, we often ‘taste’ with our eyes before we take a sip. It begins with the dry ingredients. They should be wholesome, pure, and richly textured. More important is the infusion color of the brew. Whatever the hue, the liquor should be luminous and attractive. From the golden saffron color of turmeric tea to the brilliant ruby infusion of hibiscus, the colors of tea are a treasure to behold.
The sense of touch comes into play during the brewing process. The teapots, cups, and vessels used to brew tea leaves can add a range of natural textures, from clay to celadon to the finest porcelain, that enhance the ritual of tea.
And what about the sense of hearing? Any tea connoisseur will tell you that the sound of a kettle on rolling boil is never far away.
For additional information about the experience of taste, check out the work of Dr. Virginia Ütermohlen at www.tastescience.com
How many cups of tea a day do Rishi tea blenders drink on average?
We professionally taste (by the spoonful, not the cup) somewhere between 75 -100 teas per day, depending on the season. At the peak time during the spring and summer crops, we may taste well over 100 teas. We are true tea maniacs and cannot help but sip around the clock!