Fresh Cup Magazine, providing specialty coffee and tea professionals with unique insight into the trends, ideas, products and people that shape their world.
Issue link: http://freshcup.epubxp.com/i/71652
I f selling quality tea is something you take pride in, you and your staff undoubtedly have a handle on the specifics of tea's six classes—black, green, yellow, white, oolong and pu-erh. These broad categories and the distinctions between them in taste and processing provide a basic order to the sometimes bewilderingly wide-ranging world that is Camellia sinensis. But how do you bring café customers and wholesale accounts deeper into this world of tea categorization? Americans' desire for better tea seems to be growing, but because the product is still so new to so many, a basic level of Camellia educa- tion is often frustratingly lacking. "We'll have people who ask, 'Do you get the leaves and then dry them?'" Jeffrey Lorien, CEO of Austin tea shop and packer Zhi Tea, says with a laugh. "Uh, no. We don't dry the leaves here on our roof in Texas." People don't need to have a huge depth of knowledge to be able to start to approach the subject. We've had cus- tomers who evolved slowly in relation to their palate just by having access to many different teas. tea is plucked, the interaction between oxygen in the air and the chemical composition of the leaves causes those leaves to darken and develop different taste and aroma properties. At some point, the manufacturer exposes the leaves to heat or steam to "fix" the process—that is, to stop oxidation. Greens are fixed almost immediately, so their oxidation is next to nil. White and yellow tea is slightly oxidized. Oolongs can be oxidized at a variety of levels, depending on what the tea maker is looking to bring out in his or her creation. And black tea tends to be oxidized fully. According to tea-education experts, the key to lead- ing customers to a more nuanced view of tea and its six categories is to take such questions in stride and use them as a chance to build the conversation. Go beyond simple facts and descriptions, and get different types of well-sourced, well-prepared tea into the hands of cus- tomers so they can taste all the colors of the tea rainbow. Somewhere in the mix, they're sure to find a brew that speaks to them. In addition, smart operators will find ways to bring rele- vancy and simplicity to the seemingly complex issue of tea categorization. "You have to take it out of the abstract," says Austin Hodge, owner of Seven Cups in Tucson, Ariz. "People don't need to have a huge depth of knowledge to be able to start to approach the subject. We've had customers who evolved slowly in relation to their palate just by having access to many different teas." Below, find some tips on how to develop your customers' tea- type knowledge in a fun, user-friendly manner. OXIDATION ON THEIR TERMS The natural starting point when shining light on the differences between tea categories is to clarify the notion of oxidation. Once To the experienced tea buyer and taster, the above description only scratches the surface of the many variations within the oxidation realm (the process can involve all manners of tossing, twisting and rolling the leaves to encourage the chemical inter- action in different ways). But to the inexperienced customer, the very moment science enters the discussion, eyes may gloss over. The best way then to get the discussion going may be to talk about oxidation in more day-to-day terms. Like, say, in relation to apples. "Oxidation is what happens when you cut an apple and continued on page 34 freshcup.com July 2012 33