Ravi Kroesen knows tea. As an industry veteran for the past 18 years, and currently Vice President of Tea Operations at Portland-based Smith Teamaker, Kroesen keeps his eye—and tastebuds—on the latest tea trends. Live Naturally chatted with him to learn more.
You’ve been in the tea industry for 18 years. What are some of the biggest trends you’ve noticed?
You’re really seeing health take off in terms of the tea world. Health has become integrated with tea in a more refined and educated way, there is more of the science of why it is and why we’re drinking it. Matcha is very well known throughout the U.S. for its health benefits, and turmeric is the next big ingredient.
I’d say that the top three trends are: creative blends, health and single origin. A real renaissance has been going on with craft beverages of all varieties, from alcohol to coffee and tea. There’s a demand for more creative, evocative blends or products that tap into a modern sensibility of desire for better-tasting food and drinks, and we’ve been seeing this translate to the beverage world and tea in the last decade.
As for single origin, we’re seeing that people want to know more about individual teas and where they’re grown and who the farmers are. It’s crop to cup transparency that allows people to really connect to what they’re drinking. You see this a lot in coffee, and now it’s seeping in to tea.
What are consumers currently looking for in teas?
Quality, craft and transparency. There’s a huge element that we’ve found in the Northwest that people want to identify with the product that they’re consuming. They’re not just going to buy tea; they want to know more about the craft, the quality. They’re always looking for higher quality specialty teas. And they want to know who they are buying from, the seller, the product, the supply chain transparency from start to finish.
The founder of Smith Teamaker has always strived for a good connection with consumers. He wanted them to have not only a connection to the tea but also to the maker and he has brought a sense of craft to our story.
What are some of the most popular teas from Smith Teamaker?
We’re seeing a large trend on our herbal infusions, such as our Meadow Tea and Chamomile Flowers. Our single-origin peppermint, which is sourced in the Northwest, is also popular, as well as our Jasmine Silver Tip. If you look under the hood of all of our blends, we are always working to rethink how things have been done. For example, we have a wonderful Japanese green tea with toasted rice where we purchased the tea and rice separately, selecting the best of each that we could find. Then we blended them and added a bit of rose and Bergamot, improving on a blend that has been around forever. We take a lot of pride in this.
Any new flavors coming out?
We have a group of seasonals coming out in spring, a black tea called Lover’s Leap and an herbal called Bouquet. Both are very floral forward, perfect for the Valentine’s Day season and the essence of what spring is. They encompass newness and brightness, blending some interesting botanicals like chamomile and linden flower. In summer, we’ll be releasing some spice blends. We’re always doing a ton of research and development on flavors.
What are your personal tea habits?
Tea has the ability to be a beverage for any point in the day. I gravitate more toward black in the morning, with generally a green or herbal in the afternoon. If I need an extra pick-up, I’ll choose to drink a black in the afternoon. As I travel to origin quite a bit, I drink more rare teas that are in the oolong and pu-erh categories. It’s really simplicity, that is key. Having tea available in a sachet to drink makes life simple: all you need is hot water and a mug. It’s so convenient, you don’t have to put a terrible amount of thought into it.
There’s also time to make tea with friends and staff. We do this at least twice a week at the office; at each tasting, one person is responsible to bring tea the tea. They introduce it, then we drink and have a conversation about tea itself. It’s similar to talking about wine, the flavor notes. If we’re drinking a nice hearty black assam tea, we would describe it as multi-flavored with honey. It’s robustness, the finish, the mouth feel.
For someone who wants to explore drinking tea more, what tips could you offer?
I think that for anyone who is excited to drink tea, it’s a great time because there are so many options. We’re not just limited to black, green, chamomile. Variety is the spice of life. If you’re looking to broaden what you drink, just try as much types as possible. This will give you a better palate and a better appreciation of teas you drink. For me, it’s always about how we can expand appreciation of what we’re drinking even more. Go outside of your comfort zone. There’s no such thing as a bad cup of tea.
Visit Smith Teamaker’s website for more on the company and their beautiful selection of loose-leaf and bag teas.
Now make some tea!
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