This week I found myself back in the Twin Cities for a speaking engagement, and of course had to designate some “me time,” also known as “tea time,” before heading home again. Before my last trip to Minneapolis/St. Paul, Jason Witt had suggested I visit TeaSource, and unfortunately I couldn’t make it work. This time, however, I more than made up for it and may have found my new favorite Twin Cities destination! I contacted Bill Waddington, founder and owner of TeaSource, to see if he might have a few minutes to chat with a tea enthusiast who would be passing through. He graciously agreed, and on Friday afternoon I made my way over to a quaint and cozy corner of St. Paul near the University of St. Thomas and St. Catherine University. This location itself could take me down another anecdotal lane, but I’ll leave that for the moment.
As I walked in the front door, I was greeted by the sight of two entire walls lined with tea cannisters. It’s one of my favorite sights. If I could somehow configure a wall of tea in my own home… Anyway, I acted as a fly on the wall for a moment, admiring the conversation between an employee and two women trying to choose a tea pot, because a third wall was lined with tea pots of various sizes, shapes and materials. The employee was great about finding out exactly what kind of tea they most enjoyed, how much they typically consumed in a sitting, did they like hot tea or cold tea. Then she educated them very succinctly and hospitably about her recommendations. It was a mini lesson in tea pots, but not stuffy or boring. Very accessible and interesting. Nice! Then I noticed a woman placing an order for tea at the counter. She asked for two or three different teas, the names of which were foreign to me. I watched how at ease she was with the place, how comfortable she felt about these teas. Obviously a regular here who had tried many different teas (of the 250 that may be in stock at any given time), had found some current favorites and was stocking up for home.
I was greeted warmly by Bill, and he immediately offered to brew a pot of tea. I asked him his current favorite, knowing very well that “favorite” is a fleeting concept where tea is involved. After a bit of discussion, we decided I should be introduced to Ceylon Vithanakanda, FOP, his current go-to black tea. The dry leaf had, as he described it, a ripe fruit aroma, almost like a cantaloupe at its peak of ripeness so that in just a few hours it would be over-ripe. The steeping pot of tea and two clear tea glasses were placed on a wooden tray with a timer and he carried it out to the casual seating area at the front of the store. Patrons were seated comfortably at small tables for two or on the bright red sofa in the lounge area. A place to visit, a place to study, a place to reflect, the perfect place for tea.
As the tea steeped, I asked Bill how he got into this world of tea. He explained he has always been a tea drinker, and around his 20′s he began to wonder if there were really, really good teas to be experienced, like there are really good wines or chocolates or cigars. He happened to work in a library at the time, and would occasionally flip through periodicals looking for tea related articles or papers. When he would come across a name of a tea expert, whether a grower or exporter or other, he would write a letter and ask if he could buy some tea from them. These letters would make their way to China, India, Japan, and other tea growing regions around the world. As has been my experience in the tea microcosm, the response to him was very positive. Relationships were formed, Bill was introduced not only to the intricate and nuanced world of tea but to a circle of mentors who would continue to expand his network to this day.
At one point, we realized that we had been in the same tea cupping class in Boston in 2003, he as an assistant to the instructor, Michael Spillane, and I as a student. The tea world, as with all industries, is a small one!
But I am forgetting to spotlight the star of this Moment. The Ceylon. Bill had wanted me to try this one because, while not a rare or expensive Ceylon, it is full bodied, with a lot of mouth feel, the fruit tones in the aroma transferring to the liquid itself. He admitted that even with access to much more rare or expensive Ceylons, he found himself coming back to this one again and again. The steeped liquid was a very orange, almost red, amber, and I was very happy to indulge in that first sip… Full, rich, hitting every point on my palate. This was just the kind of cup to start your day with purpose and momentum. I could envision consuming gallons of it in just a day. Yes. I like very much.
While there are many anecdotes I could share from this moment, what I enjoyed the most was being able to sit and chat casually with someone whose passion for tea led him to a life where he can continue to learn, continue to explore, provide education to others and introduce them to this amazing world where he has been led. And in my search for green teas, he provided his own recommendation that I’m really looking forward to trying!
Run, don’t walk to TeaSource:
St. Paul Store
752 Cleveland Ave. So.
St. Paul, MN 55116