Long before the internet’s easy access to information, Bill Waddington set out to learn more about his favorite drink, tea. Since tea requires elevation, moisture, temperate to warm weather, and cheap labor to be grown commercially, there are no local tea growers. In fact, there is only one in the U.S, just off the coast of South Carolina and a few in Hawaii.
So Waddington reached out to sources in China, India, and throughout the world by writing letters to outstanding growers. Many responded with information and some with samples of their products. From that point forward, tea became Waddington’s passion.
“I started the business of selling imported high quality tea in a spare bedroom and a small rented space for storing, packaging and shipping,” recalled Waddington in a recent interview. “It was enough space to handle a small, retail mail order operation,” he added. But, soon the business outgrew the space and his free time, so Waddington had to choose between continuing a favorite hobby or devoting all of his time to building a successful tea business.
“I was young enough to take a risk and if it failed still find other work,” he explained.
For many years Waddington had been the training director of SuperValu working with small family owned super market chains through out the country. His travels also gave him opportunities to visit tea merchants in many U.S. markets and learn directly from them. Most of the tea experts were in Chinatown areas of major cities, and language barriers often made learning more difficult. Still he persisted in expanding his knowledge of tea and connecting with top sources until he felt ready to open his first TeaSource in 1995 in the Highland area of St. Paul.
“I wanted a location where we could be an active part of the community,” Waddington explained. And, later, the St. Anthony area offered a similar opportunity for his second store.
“My vision was a tea store offering consistently good quality teas where customers could actually taste the tea (correctly brewed) before they bought it,” he said.
And, correct brewing is still one of his favorite topics.
The process is made up of eight steps:
* Use good tea
* Use good water
* Heat the pot
* Measure the tea
* Measure the water temperature
* Time the steep
* Allow for leaf expansion
* Stop the steeping
While most of us were trained to boil some water and add the tea, Waddington warns that the wrong water temperature will produce poor results.
Different teas require different water temperatures for steeping. And, the proper steeping time separates the leaves from the liquid for optimum flavor.
Steeping too long makes the tea bitter.
Another don’t – don’t use a tea ball (those handy metal balls you can fill with loose tealeaves). They do not let the leaves expand for full flavor. It is better to use loose tealeaves and then strain them out after steeping.
So why not just use a tea bag? Since tea bags are produced with high-speed automated machines, the tealeaves are crushed into a dust for easy filling of the bags. Because the full tea flavor requires the steeping of full leaves in heated water, most of the flavor is lost in the dust.
Today, in addition to the two TeaSource stores, Waddington offers 250 teas and blends through his website and mail order catalog. He currently supplies top quality tea to 400 restaurants and has a Tea-of the-Month club for people looking to try a number of interesting teas they cannot find anywhere else. Many of his teas are now grown to his specific tion by growers around the world and his blends are from his own creation. In 2005, Waddington was invited to be the keynote speaker at the International Tea Exhibition in Beijing, China, and he continues to value the wealth of information he gleaned from the many tea experts he met there.
Waddington also shares his tea knowledge through the many free tea folders in his stores and through monthly classes covering tea basics, tea and chocolate, mysterious teas, cooking with tea, and iced tea basics to name a few.
The next class, Cooking with Tea, is already sold out, but may be offered again in the fall. There is still room to attend Iced Tea Basics, Saturday, April 17, 9-11 a.m. at the Highland TeaSource, and Saturday, May 1, 1-3 p.m. at the St. Anthony TeaSource. Cost is $15 per person including tasting a variety of teas in class and sample tea packets to try at home.
While tea is the most consumed beverage in the world besides water, Waddington considers it more than something to drink. “It is,” he said, “nationally a social lubricant varying from country to country” reflecting unique traditions and flavors. The steaming, glass of hot tea filled with cool mint leaves offered by a shopkeeper in a bustling Moroccan bazaar is as reflective of his culture as is the complex English high tea served in ornate porcelain cups, or the reverently poured tea served in simple glazed ceramic cups in the tea houses of Japan. The teas all come from the camellia sinensis plant, but each offers its own particular taste of the earth and its own way of celebrating life.
With more than 3,000 teas available throughout the world learning to appreciate the best seems to be an endless task. But, Bill Waddington is helping us understand it all, leaf by leaf. In addition to the wide varieties of teas and special blends, TeaSource also carries tea pots, cups, mugs, strainers, timers, and books to help make tea at home more fun.
For more information visit www.teasource.com or stop in at TeaSource, 2908 Pentagon Drive NE, St. Anthony, or at 752 Cleveland Avenue S. in the Highland area of St. Paul.
To register for classes, get store hours, or additional information call 612-788-4842 or toll free 1-877-768-7233.
Phyllis Louise Harris is a cookbook author, food writer and cooking teacher specializing in Asian foods. She is founder of the Asian Culinary Arts Institutes Ltd. dedicated to the preservation, understanding and enjoyment of the culinary arts of the Asia Pacific Rim. For information about ACAI’s programs call 612-813-1757 or visit the website at www.asian culinaryarts.com