It couldn’t be more perfect timing that January is National Hot Tea Month.
Research presented last year associates tea drinking with maintaining a healthy body weight, while reducing the risk of heart disease and certain cancers, and supporting healthy brain function, according to the Tea Council of the USA, Inc.
With those statistics in the kettle, students pledging resolutions this new year may have found a cure-all. Those thinking about buying bagged tea at a coffee shop may want to visit Temple’s newest tea specialist instead.
Legs crossed at a table inside Tea Country, owner Howard James sipped Maghreb Mint, his wife’s favorite loose-leaf green tea. James wasn’t slacking on the job; the laid-back atmosphere comes with the territory.
“Tea Country is about good relationships, good health, relaxation and learning about what tea culture is all about,” he said.
Moments before, James explained how to correctly brew green tea to a new patron. A few lessons later, his knowledge earned the promise of the customer’s return.
“There’s so much to learn about tea, it would be a lifetime before you’d learn it all,” James told the customer.
Many are surprised to learn that white, green, oolong and black teas all come from the same bush, the Camellia sinsensi. Like good champagne, the difference is in the age.
White and green teas are made of young leaves, but more maturity gives green teas a stronger flavor.
Oolong and black teas are older and are oxidized. Black tea is so named for its darker, longer fermented leaves. Herbal infusions, like Rooibos and Chamomile, contain no true tea leaves.
As a consumed beverage, tea is ranked fifth in the nation behind water, coffee, spirits and soda. Worldwide, tea is second only to water. So why is tea ranked so low in the United States?
“I guess it all started with the Boston Tea Party,” James said.
Located behind Avenue North on the northeast facade of the Edge, it’s easy to miss Tea Country, which opened in October 2007.
Inside, Japanese art and tapestries depicting geisha hang on the mint-colored walls of the cafe. Four-ounce black porcelain tea cups, each adorned with a stroke of light pastel, are set on petite tables organized around the cozy room. Beyond the cafe, display cases are filled with the store’s sandwich and dessert selection.
Nearby, a bookshelf lined with glass jars containing 32 exotic teas gives customers a chance to see and smell blends like Plum Oolong, Lichee Congou and Jade Fire.
Ask about them and you’re likely to find out more than the price.
You may learn that Adam’s Peak Rare is named after mountaintop of the Himalayas where it is supposed that Adam wept when he fell from Eden. Or you may learn why there is a shortage of Dragonwell, one of the store’s staples, in China. With any luck, James may even share with you his recipe for tea sandwiches.
His research began when he and partners Richard Miller and Duane Higginbotham first developed the idea of opening a tea shop for a venture MBA project at Eastern University in 2000.
“We found out that tea consumption was increasing at a faster rate than coffee, and that got our attention,” he said.
After going live with a tea store on the Internet, they opened their first shop on East Oak Lane in 2004. James and his partners then looked to Temple’s neighborhood, hoping that foot traffic and growing student interest would fuel the business.
“We compared it to Ardmore, Jenkintown, West Chester, Elkins Park,” he said. “They were all trying to get us to come there. But it’s like the commercial: We could have gone anywhere, but we chose Temple.”
With the opening of Saxby’s on Liacouras Walk, several nearby Starbucks locations, and a Dunkin’ Donuts right around the corner, one wonders if competition will be tough.
“Their tea can’t touch ours to be honest,” James said. “We’re specialists in tea. Here, not only will you get tea, but you’ll get an education on tea.”
Brian James Kirk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.