On Thursday, September 10, 2015, I went to the Starbucks headquarters and met up with Naoko Tsunoda, the director of tea development at Teavana. She is responsible for updating and reformulating tea blend recipes, creating new tea blends, tea quality, and selecting new teas to be featured in Teavana (and/or Starbucks) stores everywhere. In short, she is the top of tea development at Teavana. You can see us just getting started, as Naoko is pour water into tea cups:
I started with a passport to guide me through this tea immersion experience. All the teas we tried were brewed from loose leaf tea - there were no tea sachets used during this Teavana immersion.
We started with Silver Needle Imperial Reserve tea. This is a white tea so it comes from the youngest leaves of the plant. It's very delicate and light. The tea leaves themselves are soft, downy, almost like a very gentle layer of fur is on them.
The Silver Needle Imperial Reserve tea is only harvested once a year, usually in the spring. It was a very light tea. I can imagine having this at lunch, either hot or iced.
We also tried the Emperor's Clouds and Mist green tea. By the way, for both the Silver Needle and the Emperor's Clouds and Mist teas, you want your water to be at about 175 degrees, not boiling temperature. These are also teas that you can infuse more than one time.
The Emperor's Clouds and Mist had a great floral flavor, hints of asparagus, and a smokey-toasted finish. This tea is soft in the mouth. I kind of thought it was a savory tea. I can imagine that a great chef could figure out a way to cook with it!
The Emperor's Clouds and Mist had an interesting curled look, and even after infusing it with water, the tea retains much of its curly shape. Again, this is a tea that you can infuse with water two to three times.
We had a lot of fun with the Organic Imperial Matcha. Matcha is extremely high in catechins, which are the good antioxidant properties found naturally in tea. We tried the match made with 175 degree water, with about 8 ounces of water to one teaspoon of Matcha.
High quality matcha should be velvety, dense, and soft. It's harvested usually once a year, each May, and is grown in Japan. In order to get its unique dense soft powdery texture, it's ground in stone mills. To get about 40 grams of matcha takes about one hour of grinding. The stones are hand etched with small grooves to get the best result. The color is vibrant green! This Teavana matcha is sourced from the Aichi prefecture of Japan.
I didn't think I was going to like just matcha with water, but I surprised myself. I went out and bought matcha for home too.
For best results, you sift the matcha through a fine, small sieve to remove any clumps. Then add a little water and make a paste. Then the rest of the water gets added. You can use a whisk to make like a microfoam. I strongly suggest using a whisk over some electric or battery-operated tool. It's very easy to use a whisk, and it just doesn't make sense to get a power mixer for matcha.
There are plenty of ways you can use match at home. Of course, you can drink it just as we did in this tasting: at hot water and you're good to go (of course after you sift, whisk and make it beautifully).
Matcha is popular in a latte also. Lots of people add matcha to smoothies for an added boost of antioxidants. Matcha blows the catechin scale! It's higher than any other green tea in antioxidants. Also it's lightly caffeinated too.
After the tea immersion experience at the headquarters, I went to the University Village Teavana and bought matcha for home (as well as a few other things). While I was there, I noticed that they had some recipe cards for smoothies using matcha as an ingredient. Thought I should share those here!
After the matcha experience, we moved on to three herbal blends.
We tried three herbal infusion blends: Poached Pear Cider, Spiced Apple Cider, and Pomegranate Cider. All three of these teas are all natural and use no artificial flavors. Naoko improved the recipe of the Spiced Apple Cider tea, which in year's past did include some artificial flavoring. This year it is all natural.
All three of these teas are seasonal blends available for a short time, while supplies last.
The Pomegranate Cider was a fun tea. Yes, it really tastes like pomegranate! I grew up in Southern California, where pomegranates grow, and ate quite a bit of pomegranate as a kid. Of course, I made a total mess. There is almost no way to neatly eat pomegranate and the red color from the seeds can really stain things. This cider took me right back to being a kid again.
While we tried all of these hot, I would love to try the Pomegranate Cider iced. That's high on my list to do!
Next up, Spiced Apple Cider tea. This is a delicious hot tea. This tea has been a returning favorite for years. I remember discovering it a few years ago and loving it. Boiling hot water, and a few minutes of steeping and you have a great cup of hot cider. In year's past, I've tried this iced tea and liked it, even though you might not think of apple cider as a cold beverage.
One more thing, you can use this in a mix if you're making home made apple cider at home for the holidays. Heat up your apple juice and throw in this Spiced Apple Cider and bam! you've got wonderful hot apple cider!
Lastly, we did try the Poached Pear Cider too.
Somehow I realize I didn't spend a lot of time on the Poached Pear Cider. I guess I can't fall in love with every single tea! Hahaha!
I'm going to be exploring tea a lot more! I walked out with a new appreciation for tea. I can't possibly write up everything from that event in one article - I can't do it justice. Naoko was intensely full of information. We'd be trying the teas and she'd be talking about where they're grown, the harvest, whether they've been withered, the buds, the leaves ... it was incredible.
After this adventure at the SSC (Starbucks calls their headquarters the "SSC", which stands for the Starbucks Support Center) I made tea at home with renewed enthusiasm. As I mentioned I made matcha at home. I had had some Citrus Lavender Sage at home and bought the "Modern Tea Maker" which is incredible for easily making perfect iced tea.
Look for "Teavana Tuesdays" on this blog! I'll try to post a tea-related article each Tuesday! I update StarbucksMelody.com about 3 times a week - please subscribe! Enter your email address and get all the latest news delivered to your inbox!
Please do not use, distribute, or lift photos without permission. All photos used in this article (except for the Teavana-produced photos and the image of the tea passport) are all rights reserved to The Modern Barista on Instagram. Images used by permission on StarbucksMelody.com.
Enjoy just a couple more pics from the tea immersion: