Friday, May 14, 2010

To borrow from that old song, "I love coffee, I love tea, I love the Java Jive and it loves me" (Oakland/Drake, Sony/ATV Music), I do love both coffee and tea, but not at the same times of day (and by the way the version of the Java Jive song I like best is the version by The Manhattan Transfer). I am now in the habit of drinking tea every morning during the week and coffee on the weekend. This is not only because I find that tea is a nice way to start the day but because the coffee I like to drink is not an American-style cup of coffee but either a cappuccino or a cafe creme or a cafe con leche, and these take a bit more time to make in the morning (though I am up every day at 5:00, I still don't have the extra time it takes to make one of these coffee-and-milk concoctions, maybe because I don't have an espresso machine and I don't have enough counter space for one).

The tea I prefer comes from a wonderful company called In Pursuit of Tea, and of course, like much else in my life, there's a story behind how I came to learn about it: readers of my Istanbul book know about Yael Alkalay: she's the founder of red flower, one of my most favorite lines of body and skincare products, diffusers, perfume, and really cool candles, like Moroccan rose petal and Italian blood orange (she can also trace many of her family members back many generations in Turkey, and you can read a fascinating story about her family in The New York Times, February 20, 2005). I have had the supreme pleasure of meeting Yael, and in the middle of our conversation about drinking tea in Turkey she happened to mention that she loves the tea from In Pursuit of Tea and that I just had to meet Sebastian Beckwith, one of the cofounders of the company.

Well, it took a while -- about a year, I think -- for me to finally meet Sebastian, and we got together for lunch at a great Turkish restaurant in Manhattan called Hanci (pronounced HAN-jee), 854 Tenth Avenue, 56th/57th, (212) 707.8144). Yael was right: Sebastian is an inspiring guy because he is incredibly, over-the-top passionate about tea and the people who are involved in it.

The photos at the top of this post were taken by Sebastian -- he spends a fair amount of time traveling and he now knows a lot of people in the tea-growing areas of the world. In Pursuit of Tea ( / (866) TRUE.TEA) was founded by Sebastian, Frank Kwei and Alexander Scott, and they specialize in loose-leaf teas from smaller farms, usually in remote areas, and the various kinds I've tried have each been a cut above anything else I've ever had. Some of the teas they offer rarely leave their country of origin, and just as with wine, that word terroir means everything: teas vary greatly depending on where the plants are grown, and their characteristics are unique to the land -- literally the soil -- they're from.

A really nifty thing about the packinging used for Pursuit's teas is that they are reusable, resealable plastic pouches that not only keep out light, odors, oxidation, and moisture but you can wash them out after the tea is gone and reuse them for other dry goods or food items -- the seal is airtight, and the pouches are ideal for two to four months' storage. Interestingly, very few tin containers or decorative boxes, by themselves, provide an airtight seal -- they might be nice to look at but do nothing to help keep your tea leaves fresh.
The black tea of Turkey generally does not leave the country -- it's not considered an especially fine tea in any case, though I very much enjoy drinking it -- so In Pursuit of Tea does not carry it; but I encourage you to check out Pursuit's selection of other black teas as well as its other distinctive teas, herbal infusions, and tea brewing accessories. "Each tea contains," as stated on the website, "within its leaves, the promise of a new journey, full of wonder and peace."