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Napa Sonoma Magazine
Summer / Fall 2006

 
Tea’s Time Has Come

In the tradition of artisan coffees and olive oils, tea finally makes its way into the culinary spotlight

By Susan Kostrzewa

Wine country connoisseurs have known for years what the rest of us are just discovering: For tea lovers, there’s glorious life beyond the ubiquitous box of grocery store Earl Gray. Akin to other newly luxe products such as coffee, chocolate, and olive oil, tea has joined the roster of coveted artisan foods making waves in wine country and beyond.

The growing interest in artisan teas is part of a larger national trend of connoisseurship among consumers, says Miki Shamir, owner of Infusions in Sebastopol. “We’re also in wine country, where there is already an awareness of quality,” he adds, “and tasting tea is very similar to tasting wine.” With names like Ancient Forest, Jasmine Wheels, and Dragon Phoenix, and grown everywhere from the rolling hills of China’s Anhui region to Bora Bora, these teas are clearly an attraction for those with an eye for the exotic. Unlike mass-produced commercial tea, these premium, full-leaf white, green, and black teas are handpicked and often hand-sewn into blossoms. In wine country, you can find these teas everywhere. At Infusions you’ll find more than 80 types of organic teas, including Puehr, an aged tea famed for its medicinal qualities. Oakville Grocery in Oakville offers its own local herbal teas and premium brands. Teaspots, at Plaza Farms in Healdsburg, offers the offbeat and far-flung, including Gyokuro Ichiban, one of the most expensive green teas. And at Bungalow Coffee and Tea in Santa Rosa, Jake “Mr. Tea” Whiteley practically gushes over the “intimate experience” visitors have with his varieties.

If you can’t make it to an artisan tea store, not to worry. These teas—in a true testament to their popularity—are also making their way into the best restaurants, including Cyrus, Manzanita, and Barndiva, where loose-leaf Rishi teas hold a proud place just under the zabaglione gelato.

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