The tradition of brewing and drinking tea is thousands of years old, so it’s kind of amazing, if you think about it, that there could ever be anything considered “new” in the world of tea. But the types of teas that we like to drink and our ways of thinking about the aromatic infusions are as subject to trends and cultural influences as anything else in our lives.
According to the World Tea Expo, a trade show for tea professionals held each year, trends in the tea world to keep an eye out for in upcoming years include the marketing of tea as something “sexy” and “modern” to appeal to a younger demographic; more free-trade products produced with sustainable growing practices and tea accessories made with environmentally friendly materials; a focus on reaching out to men, with male-specific products and health information; and more celebrity endorsement of tea. New kinds of tea packaging will be big; and trend-watchers expect to see more businesses that sell only tea, or primarily tea, instead of coffeeshops that also sell tea.
At the Tea Shop of Woodstock, trends in what people come in to buy tend to be seasonally oriented, says proprietor Amanda Depew. The Shop’s Hot Cinnamon Spice tea with a touch of sweetness was popular during the holiday season, she says, whereas on these cold January days, the big seller right now is Chocolate Puehr, with shavings of dark chocolate mixed in with the leaves that melt into the tea as it’s brewed: great with dessert, or as dessert, for those craving chocolate but trying to keep the calorie count down.
A puehr (sometimes spelled pu-ehr) is an aged, fermented tea, believed to help break down cholesterol buildup in the body. Puehr can be very expensive, but the Chocolate Puehr in Woodstock sells at $5 for two ounces (not much pricier than the average cost of its teas, most of which sell at $3.50 for two ounces. In comparison, Wild Purple Buds Puehr is $12.50 for two ounces).
Other popular teas at the Tea Shop of Woodstock are a Cream Earl Grey ($3.75 for two ounces), which has “a nice creamy flavor to it, without being too milky,” says Depew. A Coconut Almond Green ($4 for two ounces) is another favorite among customers, along with Dragon Pearl Jasmine ($9 for two ounces), a traditional green-and-white tea rolled into little balls that look like pearls, whence the name. In the summer, people lean toward the fruit teas, says Depew, which make excellent iced tea. A big seller last summer was Pineapple Coconut ($5 for two ounces).
The Tea Shop of Woodstock just completed its fourth year in business. Depew started the shop in search of a new career, she says, and with her husband a salesman for Harney & Sons tea, they were inspired by the business model set by the teashop run by the company in Millerton. Depew carries many Harney & Sons teas, which she says she likes because “when they flavor their teas, they remember that you’re drinking it because you like tea: The tea comes first, and then the flavoring. Other companies overpower the tea with the flavoring.”
Over time, the shop has added interesting teas from other purveyors, as well, and it sells a variety of unique teapots and teacups, along with tea-related accessories like travel Thermoses and bamboo canisters. The staff is well-informed and happy to guide customers through the ins and outs of buying tea and brewing it, while taking care not to overwhelm people with more information than they want, says Depew.
As with fine wines, however, some guidance in selecting and making tea can go a long way. For example, I learned from Depew that the reason why I have never liked green tea is probably because I used boiling water to brew it (which burns the leaves and makes it bitter) and steeped it for too long; apparently one should allow the water to cool down a bit before pouring over the leaves and then steep the tea just a short time. Black tea can take the boiling water, she says, because it has already been baked and fired and the leaves need some softening to open up.
Or my aversion may have been due to the types of green teas that I’ve had; I could try one of the lighter, woodsier greens rather than the “seaweedy” or “spinachy” greens with which I’m familiar. Maybe I’ll stick with my favorite Earl Grey, though, or try the “Cream” version – or one of Harney & Sons’ signature teas, Paris ($3.50 for two ounces), a black tea with a hint of blackcurrant and caramel and a small touch of bergamot (the base for all Earl Greys). In any case, I think that it’s time to put the kettle on.
Woodstock Tea Shop, weekdays, 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturdays, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., 7 Maple Lane, Woodstock; (845) 679-4100, www.woodstockteashop.com. Read more about local cuisine and learn about new restaurants on Ulster Publishing’s hudsonvalleyalmanacweekly.com or dinehudsonvalley.com.