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Davis, California

Monday, October 18, 2021

Just your cup of tea

MEENA RUGH / AGGIE
MEENA RUGH / AGGIE

Tea culture in Davis

Students are creatures of habit even when it comes to their coffee orders. On the rare occasion that they decide to be adventurous and spice up the usual routine, they might order a tea hoping that its small amount of caffeine will get the job done.

However, there is much more to tea than meets the eye to its dark, dried-out leaves. Based on the environmental and physical effects of the beverage, it is safe to say that there is a unique story behind every tea bag.

Kevin Gascoyne is a British tea taster who has dedicated his career to discovering what those stories are. Gascoyne first fell in love with tea when he tasted freshly-plucked leaves while backpacking in the Himalayas at age 19. Now, he has been in the tea industry for 25 years and co-owns the company “Camellia Sinensis,” a tea shop and school located in Canada.

Gascoyne’s passion for the product has allowed him to travel around the world lecturing about tea’s countless benefits. He visited the Memorial Union for a lecture on Nov. 4.

“It is amazing to have ended up working with a product that has been consumed by humans for over 5,000 years,” Gascoyne said. “The consumption of tea actually started for its benefits as a health tonic. Tea not only improves your mood but also has a fascinating diversity.”

One of the reason Gascoyne loves this brewed beverage is because of the thousands of chemical properties that designate a tea’s flavor. Every tea plant will yield its own unique flavor depending on the environment in which it is grown.

“What you notice as you travel around is that even though people are using the same plant, just as they might be using the same rice or growing the same rose, the growing environment changes the flavor of the tea itself,” Gascoyne said. “The way that the plant reacts to the growing environment will change the chemistry of the leaves and it is that chemistry that gives us flavor.”

The manufacturing methods used by farmers to bring out these specific flavors also affect the chemistry of the plant. Just as with any living organism, the plant must also learn to adapt to unpredicted environmental and agricultural changes, and these adaptations actually make the tea more flavorful.

“A plant that is stressed and not having too easy of a time growing will grow leaves that taste better because the flavor chemistry is enriched,” Gascoyne said. “We have plants that are reacting to specific things in the environment such as insects or slight drought, and these alterations affect the flavor.”

While a certain amount of stress on the plant is good for drawing out flavor, too much stress will cause the plants to suffer and die. For example, recent environmental stimuli have had universally negative impacts due to significant climate warming which is linked to an increase of extreme and unusual weather.

“There have been substantial changes in the tea industry due to climate warming and environmental stresses over the years […] nobody in the tea industry has been unaffected,” Gascoyne said. “Anybody who thinks there is no warming on the planet should talk to the tea industry because every single region is having to adapt due to extreme weather patterns such as flash floods and unexpected cold periods.”

One particular cafe in downtown Davis, Temple Coffee Roasters, understands the importance of these environmental stresses and stands out as a leader in providing sustainable tea products. Temple came to Davis less than two years ago and has already seen immense popularity for the shop’s unique aesthetic and respectfully-produced coffees and teas.

“We try to offer the highest quality coffees and teas possible,” said Will Talbot, manager of Temple’s corporate office. “All of our teas are sourced from individual, high-grade farms and are grown using organic practices.”

Talbot explained that while it is important to grow their products in a sustainable way, it is also crucial to be able to provide a wide variety of teas to the community in order to show people that tea is not just one, monotonous flavor.

“Say that a tea drinker really likes black tea, and if they were to go into Starbucks or Peet’s they would have one maybe two options of a black tea to choose from,” Talbot said. “When they come into our café, we’ve got seven or eight black teas to choose from and all are distinct [in flavor]. We think it is important to give avid tea drinkers exactly what they want instead of asking them to settle.”

Temple also prides itself on offering unconventional tea drinks, such as the popular “Bliss” and “Enlightenment,” both of which combine tea, honey and non-dairy milk.

Root of Happiness Kava Bar, another shop in Davis that serves an unconventional form of tea, bases its entire menu on a particular kind of “tea” made from steeping kava root in water. Ava Taesali, assistant manager of the bar, explained the intricacies of kava and its benefits as a tea.

“The kava plant comes from the South Pacific Islands, such as Hawaii, Fiji and Samoa, and has a lot of natural anti-anxiety and relaxation properties to help soothe the brain and muscles,” Taesali said. “There’s a lot of benefits to drinking kava but mainly it is just going to make you feel really happy and good without any fogginess in the head.”

Pacific island cultures have been consuming kava for over 3,000 years because of its positive effect on the mind and spirit. After drinking kava, people can expect to instantly feel relaxed not only in the body but also in the mind, as well as ready to socialize with anyone they meet.

Whether students are looking to relax after a long day of classes or simply change up their daily routine, Temple and Root of Happiness are leaders in providing nontoxic, exotic and sustainably grown teas to help students achieve this.

“Besides improving mental health and stability, perhaps the most extraordinary benefit of tea is that it has very little negative impact on the planet,” Gascoyne said. “Tea plants actually have a negative carbon footprint so there is not really anything bad you can say about the product […] it really has such top-to-bottom integrity.”

 

Written by: Gillian Allen — features@theaggie.org

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