Lauterborn Blog Search

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Tea Tasting Tickles Tastebuds

Tea Tasting Tickles Tastebuds
(Appeared on 12/5)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – Health challenges were her inspiration to develop a line of tasty teas and now she’s sharing her knowledge and a cup of tea-based punch with thirsty holiday revelers.

While miniature trains clattered along tracks early Saturday afternoon in the lobby area of the Fairfield Museum and History Center on Beach Road, Certified Tea Analyst and Tea Master Jane London stood by peddling and sampling her unique Tea Beyond teas to facility visitors.

London’s main offering this day was Blooming Tea Punch, a festive expression of her tea line, which she ladled into small paper cups from a large crystal bowl. The base ingredient was green tea to which a combination of apple juice, strawberry slivers, ginger ale, grapefruit, lemon, and small splashes of tequila and vodka had been added. It was a refreshing and surprising concoction that seemed apt for the holidays or any celebratory occasion.

“Wow! That’s really good!” said visitor Nick Heasman of Fairfield, enjoying a sample. “It would even be good in the summer time.”

Heasman added, “I love tea. I’m a tea drinker and enjoy a lot of black teas.”

London explained that the recipe was inspired by sailors of olden times who, when at sea, often had nothing to do but drink mixed drinks with spices. They called these beverages “punch”, which derived from an East Indian word meaning “five”. The number is significant, said London, in that it represents the five kinds of tastes the drink is meant to communicate – bitter (the tea), sour, sweet, weak (water) and arrack (the alcohol). The original punch was more alcohol based – London’s version is primarily fruit and tea based.

Celeste and Bill Vanderlip of Fairfield nodded in approval and purchased some green tea after sampling. Celeste commented, “My son is demo’ing a train in the train show, so we came to visit and taste some teas as well.”

London emigrated from northeast China to the U.S. in 2008. She was unable to find good quality teas here and so began drinking strong coffee. After only a few months, she was diagnosed with heart palpitations and advised to eliminate coffee. The diagnosis was not surprising as she had endured a lifetime of health woes and frailty that often resulted in hospitalization. She felt it was time to find a lasting solution for her health challenges, and that returning to tea would help.

“Tea is part of Chinese tradition and I grew up with tea,” said London. “My grandfather would drink giant mugs of it every day. It has such history.”

On trips back home to visit her parents, London would buy pounds of tea leaves and bring them back to the states for herself and friends. She joked that her purchases were like a “holiday” for the Chinese merchants due to the quantity she would order.

“Everyone loved the tea,” said London. “I decided to learn more about it. My parents were in the medical field and I asked them lots of questions and did a lot of research.”

London then made connections with suppliers in China, obtained her certifications and formed Tea Beyond. Now London works with a few tea farmers who process and ship the tea leaves to the U.S. to be packaged. Her talents extend to her package designs, which reflect the vibrancy of the product combined with a dash of fashion.

A typical package includes two to four bundles of teas that each consist of whole tea leaves, to which a dried flower has been hand sewn. A tea enjoyer takes this bud and drops it into boiling water – ideally in a glass teapot – causing the flower to “bloom” upon contact. In the process, the flavors and aromas from both the tea leaves and flower are released into the water for a perfect blended result.

London offers two collections – Tea Fame and Grade A. Each offers a choice of four teas with names like Intimatea and Royal Red and different flowers like jasmine and amaranth. London favors the Tea Fame line as the leaves are hand picked in pristine mountain areas, while the Grade A is a stronger, more mature tea. Each tea has a different health benefit, from detoxification to soothing the soul.

Black Rock resident Lee Walther, an independent buyer that introduced London’s teas to Fairfield Museum, is a big fan. “This a really unusual item with exquisite package designs that also provides an amazing visual experience.”

Best of all, the teas achieve positive health changes. “I’m much more energized than before and haven’t needed medical attention in years,” said London.

Tea Beyond is sold at the Fairfield Museum and History Center gift shop and through London’s website