How Raleigh’s tea scene turned me into a tea lover.
I’d never been a big fan of tea.
It’s something I always wanted to love but couldn’t really get into. A self-proclaimed “coffee person,” my knowledge of tea was slim before I began researching—I knew tea only as the loose leaves you find in miniature porous packets, which, to me, lack in flavor. But after exploring Raleigh’s burgeoning tea scene, I’ve learned there’s much more to tea than I knew, as well as a bunch of tasty options available that I wouldn’t mind ordering instead of a cup of joe.
For starters, there’s a lot more to tea than the standard tea bags we’re all familiar with. Nowadays, tea comes in a variety of forms and is made using several innovative methods. At Tama Cafe on Fayetteville Street, tea is available frozen with chocolate, flavored like a mojito or even in a carbonated drink that goes by the name of Sparkling Tea, a new offering that’s quickly becoming a go-to for tea and sparkling water lovers alike (sorry La Croix, but Sparkling Tea is way more my jam). The drink–which comes in Mango Verde, Lemon Lavender and Peach Pear—is made with green tea and real ingredients like dried fruits and herbs, and contains the same amount of caffeine as a soda (35 milligrams).
“We just wanted to make something that we’re proud of,” says co-founder Rocco Quaranto. “It’s an interesting product and we’re really excited about the possibility of where it can go.” Quaranto sees Tama’s Sparkling Tea as becoming a big trend in the near future; it was a finalist for New Hope Network’s NEXTY Award in the “best new tea or coffee” category, a national award for innovative natural products.
Other current tea trends popular around Raleigh include matcha—Heirloom Brewshop offers a high quality, ceremonial grade of matcha grown on a Japanese farm that has harvested tea leaves for 200 years. Co-owner Chuan Tsay says that matcha can be misunderstood, and sometimes faked, so it took him four months to find a partner he could trust to provide an exceptional product at a good price. At Heirloom, matcha lattes are prepared using a traditional hand whisking method in order to smooth any graininess in the tea.
Another emerging Raleigh tea trend is boba tea, a Taiwanese tea-based drink consisting of tea, milk, sugar and tapioca pearls—chewy balls of tapioca starch that deliver a fun boost of flavor. Several specialty boba tea cafes have opened in the past year, including Bumble Tea on Avent Ferry Road, Budacai on E. Martin Street and a new spot, MÖGE TEE, coming to Hillsborough Street this fall.
For those who like to stick to the basics, Raleigh has a great variety of traditional loose leaf tea suppliers as well. At Liquid State, owner Sy Sourisak offers 32 classic loose leaf teas, ranging from a standard English Breakfast to a fruity Savannah Sunrise. During a one-on-one tea tasting, Sourisak tells me that tea is very much like wine—tea leaves, like grapes, produce different flavors and can be blended in different ways. One of the first teas I sampled is White Peony, a floral white tea with a subtle sweetness that made for easy drinking, followed by a classic Earl Grey with a robust, spicy flavor that tasted far better than any bagged Earl Grey I’ve tried in the past.
Just around the corner at Tin Roof Teas in Cameron Village, there are 400 premium teas for “authentic tea drinking” on offer, most of which are blended in house by co-founder Ryan Hinson. Lining the shop’s shelves are boxes and boxes full of fragrant black, green, white, oolong, rooibos and fruit teas in varieties from all over the world. Hinson gets inspiration for his blends from recipe books, other tea shops and people who come in to the store. Anthony Garcia of Western Dragon Teas and Tisanes inside the Devilish Egg at City Market also blends his own teas, infusing different herbs, spices and other flavors for unique collections. He’s even found a way to infuse tea leaves with amaretto from Oak City Amaretto to produce a special tea for liquor lovers, sans alcohol. “People here [in Raleigh] are innovative and looking for excitement,” Garcia says.
As the most consumed drink in the world after water, tea is also super healthy. Rich in antioxidants, tea has long been regarded in Asian countries as being key to maintaining good health and you can find whatever you’re hankering for—be it loose leaf, sparkling or milky and filled with balls of tapioca—right here in Raleigh. Take a tea tour this fall and try them all.
FAVES AROUND RALEIGH
Pumpkin Cream Rooibos from Tin Roof Teas
(available until the end of October)
White Peony from Liquid State
Peach Pear iced white tea from Tama Cafe
Jasmine Green Tea from Heirloom Brewshop
KNOW YOUR TEA
Picked earlier in the season, before the tea plant’s leaves open, creating more subtle flavors. Because it is the least processed tea, white tea is rich in antioxidants.
Unfermented tea that’s simply steamed and dried. Contains bioactive compounds and important nutrients that help reduce inflammation, fight cancer and improve dental health.
Partially oxidized tea that’s caffeine content falls between levels in green tea and black tea. Benefits include boosting metabolism and combating heart disease and diabetes.
Caffeine-free tea from South Africa that’s commonly called “red espresso” because of its color. Said to soothe stomach pains and reduce inflammation.
Fully fermented and oxidized leaves; contain tannins that are structured like red wine.
Non-caffeinated infusions made of herbs, spices, leaves, berries, seeds and other plant material. Known for their abilities to alleviate pain and promote balance and overall health.
True tea from the camellia sinensis plant, the plant from which all true teas originate, that’s steamed and ground into a fine powder to create a more intense flavor with lots of antioxidants.
Not to be mistaken for the sparkling wine, kava is a root common to the Pacific Islands that’s crushed into a powder and stirred into cool water. The drink has a mellowing effect on drinkers’ muscles; mental functions remain the same.