Like many people, I derive daily pleasure from a nice cup of tea. Tea is perhaps the oldest and simplest beverage in the world besides water. All you need is a cup with some tea leaves and you’re on your way. But not all teas are created equal, and commercial teas can vary wildly in quality and taste.
Ned and Catherine Heagerty take tea seriously. The couple own and operate San Rafael-based Silk Road Teas in Marin County, California; a company dedicated to sourcing high-end teas from small farms and specialty tea companies in China.
What sets Silk Road apart from the competition is their commitment to quality. Unlike larger companies that import tea from the Far East, the Heagerty’s don’t use a broker or middleman. Instead, Ned travels to China each year in early spring to personally select premium-grade rare tea varietals that will bear the Silk Road brand. He spends six to eight hours a day scouring farms and open air markets to taste and collect only the finest tea leaves from the current harvest.
The resulting hand-picked crops of loose-leaf white, green, black, Oolong, Pu-Erh, and yellow varietals are packaged in special vacuum-sealed containers to preserve optimal freshness and taste before being shipped to the U.S. It’s this personal drive to source only the very best that has earned Silk Road awards and a devout fan base.
“People who drink really good tea are extremely obsessive about it,” says Ned. “Our customers appreciate the uncompromising commitment and care we take in selecting their tea.” In addition, Silk Road selects early harvest teas that should retain high levels of naturally occurring polyphenols and antioxidants that deliver maximum health benefits. “We believe in the least interruption from natural plant to mouth,” Heagerty shares.
Silk Road single-origin teas are typically grown by small producers that sell their crops for domestic consumption in China. “Our teas have nuances you won’t find in the majority of offerings on the marketplace,” says Heagerty with pride. In general, the teas exported from China by most large companies come from mass-produced lots blended to meet a “standard taste”.
Unlike traditional tea bags that contain finely crushed mixtures, Silk Road’s delicate, whole leaf teas expand and open as they brew to create a perfect, full-bodied cup. Water temperature and steeping time play an important role in the brewing process. “Water that’s too hot will scorch the leaves which imparts a burned flavor,” Heagerty warns, “and steeping for too long can make tea bitter.”
He recommends steeping their teas about two to three minutes; just long enough to bring out the unique character of each varietal and release the clean, complex flavor notes in each cup. Ned calls this the “ahhh” factor.
Shelf-life for tea can range from 12 to 24 months, depending on storage conditions. Oxidation caused by exposure to air will impact the tea’s flavor and taste, so store fresh tea in air-tight containers away from sunlight.
Surprise the tea novice or connoisseur on your gift list this holiday season with a carefully crafted sampler from Silk Road Teas. Each sampler contains a variety of their artisan organic teas, along with brewing instructions and a personal handwritten note. This unique gift is sure to delight friends, family, and clients alike! For more information and to order tea, visit their website.