Out on the hardpan of Arizona’s Sonoran desert, huddled together in the blackness of a low, stick-framed structure covered with heavy tarps, a dozen people form a tight, ceremonial circle, seated around a stack of orange-hot stones.
The blazing rocks warm the otherwise pitch-black space, uniting heat and darkness in a mystical bid to blot out both time and space. With the clank of a metal ladle slowly drawing water from a bucket, heads bow, throats clear, and the heartbeat-throb of a drum begins.
Under the intonations of a Lakota prayer, water from the dipper splashes and sizzles the hot stones, steam rises, and an ancient song lights up the space as well as the people.
As summer wanes, I’m still trying to capture the flavors that make it so delicious. I recently created this watermelon-tea cocktail. My husband says it tastes just like a watermelon Jolly Rancher. I think it tastes like the end of summer. Try it and let me know what you think!
*1/2 small, seedless watermelon, pureed and run through a fine mesh sieve for about 1.5 cups juice
*1.5 cups dry-yet-fruity white wine (like 2008 Pigmentum Ugni Blanc Colombard)
*1 cup Lobocha Fukamushi Sencha Japanese Green Tea, brewed and chilled
*Squeeze fresh lime juice
*Stir, chill and serve.
~Lindsey for Samovarlife
Lindsey “Vee” Goodwin is a professional tea writer and consultant. She founded Vee Tea, is a contributing editor to World Tea News, writes for non-industry publications about tea and writes web copy/press releases for tea companies. She is also a consultant to several tea companies and teaches about tea through staff training and individual/small group classes and tastings. Click here to reach her by email.
Everywhere I go, people tell me how horrible it is to be drinking so much coffee. I get it. Extreme coffee experiences can put your whole sense of well-being out of whack even if it does jolt you to your basic senses first thing in the morning.
So more and more, I’m substituting my coffee routine with tea and I’ve rediscovered a long forgotten passion that began steeping in my soul since my childhood. Growing up in Texas, I was raised on iced tea. Huge tumblers of frosty deep amber tea with lemon.
Tea has always been in my life in one way or another. And when I spent a summer in Winchester, UK when I was 14, my admiration for tea culture was officially born.I found the perfect teapot for my mother and I ritually drank my tea while reading Alice in Wonderland or The Chronicles of Narnia.
Later, when I went to college in Boston, I had boxes of herbal teas stashed in every corner of my apartments just to help fend off the biting, inhuman cold. Later, I lived in a Zen Center in Hollywood, where I enjoyed the art of tea ceremonies during retreats and using hot tea at every meal to clean our eating bowls.
So it was with great pleasure that I recently discovered Samovar Tea Lounge. Based is San Francisco and shipping around the globe, Samovar recently put together a custom blend prepared for His Holiness The Dalai Lama called Ocean of Wisdom. The tea accommodated The Dalai Lama as he traveled to various art institutions exhibiting the project “The Missing Peace.”
Samovar has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today rated Samovar teas as one of the top ten teas in the US.
Jesse Jacobs founded Samovar six years ago. I recently had the chance to ask Jesse some tea-related questions.
JHR: We live in such a dense coffee culture, but it seems like tea drinking is on the rise. Is that true and, if so, why? Also, can people really “get going” in the morning with a cup of organic, hand-crafted, artisan tea? Isn’t espresso, you know, faster?
JJ: In the ’90s, the specialty tea industry made $1 billion. In 2007, it was at $7 billion, and its forecasted by 2012 it will be at $14 billion. So, the tea industry is definitely on the rise. Samovar Tea Lounge has grown 300% in last 3 years. Tea has caffeine, and yes it can be used “as a get up and go beverage,” but with less jitters, and more focused awareness. It doesn’t have the same amount of caffeine as coffee, but artisan teas naturally carry caffeine and L-theanine, which induces the alpha state. Its scientifically proven that L-theanine aids in a state of relaxed awareness. This is helpful for the start of your day.
JHR: You’ve created a culture of mindfulness in your business. How important is mindfulness in the hectic life of a business?
JJ: Its very important because life is hectic and can be a frenzy, so there is more need for focus to get things done. I think mindfulness is the same as awareness. Awareness is the key to living fruitfully because if you are aware, you know what’s going on around you. You are sensitive, you can listen to the marketplace, to your customers, to your vendors, to yourself. And if you can listen, and hear, you can make effective and adventageous decisions. Interestingly, awareness is intrinsic in the practice of tea. So, the practice of tea aids in a successful practice of business.
Business is never ending, it is literally a practice, like meditation, or yoga or a martial art. It takes continual refinement, and as a practice, it requires mindfulness. Any study on mindfulness whether it be in meditation, drinking tea, yoga, martial arts, it’s helpful in achieving a better handle on how you approach business. I spent all of my life studying mindfulness practices, on the mat, on the cushion, in the martial arts dojo. Now, this business is just another manifestation of my mindfulness practice.
JHR: It seems like having tea is a time to slow down, connect and regroup. If someone wants to plan the perfect tea time, what are some important elements?
JJ: The important elements are having the freshest, best tea you can find. Having good quality hot water. And, having a moment to manage brewing the leaves, a mini-ritual to slow you down, stop you in the moment, and allow you to consciously take your next step.
JHR: What are some of the health and well-being elements of tea?
JJ: The scientifically proven health benefits of tea are that it is full of antioxidants, there are cancer fighting elements, and numerous vitamins and nutrients. Thousands of studies have been conducted on the benefits of tea. Additionally, a benefit of tea is that is it delicious, it pleases the palate, but also allows for a sense of setting a mood. It serves as a gentle awareness inducing uplifter. Tea brings people together, it serves as a natural social lubricant today just as much as it has when it was discovered several thousand years ago. It brings business, family and personal relations together, and today we really need togetherness. It creates ritual in our highly digitized, fast-paced, frenetic world. We are lacking ritual… the ritual that offers us to slow down, make us healthy, and connect us to the earth, and our humanness.
JHR: What is your current favorite and why?
JJ: Organic Masala Chai: I love this tea because the taste is very complex: spicy, great fragrance, nutty, sweet, aromatic, and earthy. Cooking the chai at my home or at Samovar, it fills the entire space with these overwhelming aromas. The caffeine is a natural and stimulating uplifter.
JHR: You started a podcast series calledPassage to Peace linking tea to promoting universal peace. How did that come about and what has the reaction been?
JJ: It came about by looking at what our customers, and therefore the world needs. They need peace. This is part of our mission. So, I thought it would be interesting to connect the people involved in the tea business (i.e. carpenters of peace) to the world at large through a multi-media, educational visual medium. The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, which has motivated me to continue the series in an expanded new direction. We are launching a new video series.
JHR: What ignited your passion for tea?
JJ: My need for slowing down, and having time for myself and for my friends and family. And a remembrance of my childhood on the East Coast where I grew up with being surrounded by constant tea culture. I was always exposed to Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Taiwanese and European influences.
JHR: Can you share five books that have either influenced you or that you just like to read with, well, a good cup of tea?
JJ: Shibumi: Trevanian; The Sun Also Rises: Ernest Hemingway; Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: Shunryu Suzuki-Roshi; The Book of Five Rings: Miyamoto Musashi; Body and Mature Behavior: Moshe Feldenkrais and Carl Ginsburg
The Executive In Action: Peter F. Drucker
Jesse Jacobs was raised in a home overflowing with culture and community. His curiosity about tea was sparked by a steady flow of visitors whose one common thread was taking time for tea.
Growing up, he experienced exotic teas from around the globe, not to mention the sense of kinship that arose from drinking tea with others. Jesse spent his early life working in a variety of occupations.
Sometime during the “dot com heyday,” Jesse found himself deep in the world of technology in San Francisco. As his passion for the corporate world dissipated, so did its economic viability.
Taking advantage of the ideal timing, Jesse determined that he needed to get back to his roots: “connecting to people, communicating.. experiencing the cultures of the world.”
Out of his desires to create a company rooted in the timeless traditions of tea – equanimity, community and vitality – and to establish a place where others could escape the stresses of daily life, Samovar Tea Lounge was born.
Through Samovar, Jesse partners with tea experts and suppliers from small family farms across the globe. As more and more people are turning away from coffee, Jesse is at leading the way to a new generation of American tea culture.
What were the initial challenges you faced in turning your passion for artisan tea into a business?
It is one distinct experience to be excited and passionate about something, to embrace it as a lifestyle. It is an entirely different experience to be challenged by the realities of real world business: leading people, managing a P&L, negotiating, product sourcing, and dealing with what is commonly referred to as “fear.”
The biggest challenge I have faced is the simple realization that business, and life, are complex, and that “problems” are never-ending. And in fact that problems are never actually problems or obstacles.
Every new wall that arises that seems to block creativity, potential and vision, actually has a hidden door within it. The joy, and the challenge and the pain, and the pleasure is finding that door, walking through it, and experience the new set of experiences that that walk brings.
All the usual suspects were and are challenges… managing the personalities of diverse staff, trying to unify them to our common mission, managing a very tight cash position in light of tight margins – means constant negotiating with vendors about patience, and perseverance, and faith.
How do you convince a confirmed coffee lover to try adding tea to their repertoire, aside from health benefits?
Easy. Why does the coffee lover love coffee? It is usually for either the caffeine, the bittersweet rich flavor and aroma, or the sweet and creamy taste you get from milk and sugar with coffee.
There is a tea that satisfies each of those needs and also offers much more complexity in flavor depth, cultural connection to the traditions and cultures that make tea, and proven health benefits that come with tea drinking.
Thousands of years of tradition and ritual with tea stands for something… and it’s proven the test of time. What is old is new again, and both Baby Boomers and Gen-y’ers are embracing it voraciously for the reasons above.
There are so many interesting and unique teas available today. How would you advise the “tea novice” to begin educating their palate?
Just do it. Buy the best tea you can afford that is unflavored – to be able to taste it in its purest form. Practice will quickly reveal to you what makes a good tea and what makes for a bad tea.
We encourage you to look for quality tea, as we define it: Consistent size, shape and color of the leaf. Seasonal and fresh – not stored in a warehouse on a shelf for 18 months. Complex in aroma, taste, body and aftertaste. The tea should do something to you.
You should be able to distinctly notice an array of aromas, flavors, mouthfeel and aftertaste. Good tea will have all that. Flavored or old or teabag tea may be strong in taste, but, is usually singular, and not at all complex.
Do you see your role with reference to tea as a sommelier is to wine?
Definitely. Tea has so much behind it: terroire, body, aroma, taste, aftertaste, and the amazing ability to pair it with food, and your mood!
Of the teas you serve at the Samovar Lounge, which is your favorite and why?
Depends on the time and the day. I drink a lot of our senchas, like the Nishi, and the Fukamushi, in the morning for the antioxidant kick, mild caffeine, stimulating-relaxation that Japanese teas bring, and the refreshing, uplifting effect.
Around 1 p.m. after lunch, I usually go for oolong – recently the very rare Phoenix from China because of its incredibly complex and sweet profile. I love earl grey with soy milk and honey around 4 p.m. for an uplifting caffeine and citrus boost. For before bed, I’ll go with Ocean of Wisdom, our house-rooibos blend, or the nocturnal bliss for good, soothing sleep.
What are your favorite food and tea pairings?
Maiden’s Ecstasy Pu-erh and steamed squash dumplings. Ancient Gold super malty black Chinese tea with our Belgian waffles. Osthmanthus Silver Needle white tea with buttered sourdough toast and fried eggs for breakfast. Orange ginger herbal infusion with chocolate brownies for dessert.
In this video:
For the fist time in the continental U.S.: Hand-Picked, Artisan, Whole-leaf tea grown in America. Hawaii-Grown Oolong Tea: Semi Oxidized Tea Hawaii-Grown Black Tea: Fully-Oxidized
Only 15 pounds of each tea is available through Samovar Tea Lounge.
Jesse demonstrates the unique Brewing Technique for these teas. To Brew: Quantity: Steep 2-3 heaping tablespoons of tea in 14 oz.- 16oz of water Water Temperature: 195 degrees Fahrenheit Steep Time: 2-5 minutes (depending on strength desired)
Leave the leaves in the pot