Artisans of the leaf

posted on: Monday, 3 March 2014

Artful tea leaves

Two years ago, I didn't even drink coffee. Now I've got a can't-live-without-it daily habit and tea has somehow fallen by the wayside. My mate, Zen Habits guru Leo Babuata recently wrote about swapping his daily cup of joe for a month and reported that it wasn't that hard. His trick? Replacing the old habit with a new, better version. So I've also taken some time to get reacquainted with world's best teas that make tea time just as appealing as an amazing espresso from Climpson & Sons.

Samovar Tea Lounge in San Francisco is actually owned by Leo Babuata's buddy, Jesse Jacobs. Jesse is a true connoisseur and has curated one of the most incredible selections of herbal teas in the world. He offers teas to match mood: oolong from the cliffs of Southern China to concentrate on a big task, or milky, frothy green Matcha, eaten not sipped, for a boost of inspiration. Ironically, Samovar, which got turned down by 71 banks before finding an investor, now happens to be a hangout of choice for Silicon Valley's highest flying entrepreneurs including Tim Ferriss and Gary Vaynerchuk. For us Australians, Samovar Tea is available online too.

Pukka Herbs originated in my favourite 'West Country' destination, Bristol, and believe it or not came about as a result of a classified newspaper advertisement. In 2002 Tim Westwell placed an ad seeking a like-minded person to start an organic herbs business. Only one person replied. It was the right one person though because now Tim and that responder, Sebastian Cole, run a million dollar company that makes one of my favourite teas. Their Detox blend with fennel, aniseed and cardamom is a perfect recharge after exercise.

The legendary hour-long breakfasts at the Ballymaloe Cookery School in County Cork always included steaming hot mugs of Barry's Tea, a classic Irish black tea developed in Cork in 1901. Not generally a lover of the traditional black tea, I became an instant convert. It's as warm and powerful as a full-strength hug from an Irish mammy. I'm not at all surprised to learn that Barry's accounts for 40% of all tea consumed in Ireland and is so in demand internationally that Woolworths in Australia have recently started stocking it!

After visiting the Isle of Olive in East London, I was introduced to a more earthy version of tea through their Greek blends. They have scoured rocks near beaches and climbed mountain tops to get their hands on Calamint, Dictamo and St John's Wort leaves. They talk a lot about the healing properties of each of the herbs and when I tried a Calamint and Mountain Tea blend I felt lulled into a state of absolute calm. Their foraging reminded me that I have a litany of herbs in my own garden. My favourite blends include Thai Basil and Mint leaves steeped in hot water for a morning wake-up call, and for a wind down in the evening I prepare soothing, warm rosemary tea.

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