Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Tea Punk Moment

It struck me recently that in the specialty tea world, it's easy to focus solely on all the amazing boutique tea brands and retailers in the marketplace and turn up our noses at anything that could resemble the "commercial." It reminds me of the underground punk rock scene of the late 90's and early 2000's where music venues like 924 Gilman Street wouldn't allow bands who had a record label contract perform. Case in point, when their prize pupil, Green Day, "sold out" and could suddenly be heard on the radio, they were no longer allowed to darken the doorway of their home music venue.

The tea "scene" right now is a little bit like that. The purchase of Teavana by Starbucks has divided the nation. It's the equivalent of an indie band getting signed to a major record label. Now everyone knows and recognizes them, but their original fans feel a little bit betrayed. Kind of like having your secret fishing hole be discovered by the Travel network.

The thing is, however, that we can't have it both ways. As tea enthusiasts, the more people who discover and enjoy the wide variety of teas (which is what most of us strive for), the more tea behemoths will appear. And more unique, boutique ones as well. What we're having a hard time embracing is that big and well-known does not equate to "bad."

One of the questions that I am often asked is, "What kind of tea would you recommend? I really like (enter descriptive word here) kinds of tea."

And I'll offer my opinion and suggestions. And then they'll ask, "Where can I find that?" And most often, the answer is, "Well, if you go online to..."

Not long ago, I was reminded of one of those breakthrough, major record label tea companies that I, too, have easily dismissed as having "sold out." The Republic of Tea had sent me some of their new Hi-Caf teas, and it effectively snapped me out of my elitist state of mind that I had unwittingly acquired. The Republic of Tea displays are everywhere - from my local grocery store to my local donut shop. One of my mom's and my go-to teas forever was their Ginger Peach tea. For the simple reason that they are easy to find and (in my mind) are primarily a tea bag producer, I somehow conveniently forgot them. The teas they sent me were excellent, however, and I loved learning more about their vision. In my correspondence with them, the subject of loose leaf teas came up and I was informed that they have an extensive collection of them.

Shortly thereafter I received  a package that basically made it feel like Christmas.

Three tins of loose leaf Breakfast Blends from The Republic of Tea: Lucky Irish Breakfast, British Breakfast and Organic Assam Breakfast! Be still my beating heart!! I could hardly wait to dive in. And when I did, I was even happier than when I first opened the package. Full bodied, robust, wake-me-up-in-the-morning goodness. Irish has the deepest, strongest constitution, British coming in 2nd in full-bodied strength, and Assam as the smoothest that still packs the wallop I look for in a Breakfast blend. Bottom line is that nearly every morning for the past 8 weeks, my first cup of tea in the morning is one of these. It alternates. I love them all excessively.

So, more recently when I am asked that question, "What kind of tea would you recommend? I really like (enter descriptive word here) kinds of tea," I now provide two answers. The first begins with, "Well, if you're looking for something you can pick up at the grocery store, The Republic of Tea has a great ___ tea that I bet you'd enjoy. Or, you can find ____ online at this URL."

The thing is, there were reasons certain punk rock bands were signed to major record labels back in the day. They were just that good. And there's a reason The Republic of Tea is so easily and readily available. They've worked hard to build their Republic, Sip by Sip, as they say. They're just that good.

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