Need to Know (May 5, 2014)

What tea professionals need to start the week —

Watch for Mother’s Day TV ads promoting Oprah Chai this week… Services for Herbert Hyman, the pioneering founder of Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, were conducted over the weekend… Seattle-based Choice Organic Teas celebrated its 25th Anniversary during the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s annual conference… World Tea Expo is hosting a black tie awards dinner to recognize the best tea room menu, book, website, commercial and educator May 30… Taiwan oolong expert Thomas Shu discusses the launch of JT & Tea.

Starbucks is giving away Oprah Chai on Mother’s Day as the Teavana expansion continues with the latest Tea Bar opening in Chicago… early reports suggest the chai will be a big seller. Proceeds support the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy Foundation which finances a girl’s leadership academy in South Africa.

TEAVANA_OprahSignatureChaiTea“Every mom is different,” Oprah says in her narration. The spot features heart-tugging photos of children and describes many different kinds of moms including “tough” moms and “Facebook” moms and moms challenged by the fact they had a kid too young and still did OK. The ad pictures same-sex moms and moms quick to remind you they want to be a grandma. A 25-cent per cup donation will be made to the Oprah Chai Charities on Mother’s Day sales. Moms will get a free Teavana Oprah Chai.

See the ad here.

Choice Organic Teas

SEATTLE, Wash. – “Great minds think alike” nicely sums the emergence of organics which was seeded in the 1940s but remained a sapling until commercial advocates pushed through legislation leading to government regulated third-party certification of tea.

In 1989 Blake Rankin, the founder of Choice Organic Teas, was inspired to exclusively offer pesticide-free, sustainably grown organic tea. Rankin walked the talk, building his off-the-grid home of straw bales, insulated with mud and powered by solar panels with plank cork and recycled tile flooring.

His challenge was sourcing from gardens only beginning to experiment with organic cultivation.

Simultaneously the owners of Oothu Estate, located in the Singampatti Rainforest of India’s Western Ghats Mountains, embraced bio-dynamic principles to become India’s first organic tea garden and later became India’s first Fair Trade Certified tea garden. The pristine estate is situated at 4,000 feet elevation in the Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve of Tamil Nadu.

Oothu’s challenge was finding buyers willing to pay the premium rates necessitated by intense labor requirements and lower yield typical of organic estates. Indrajit Chatterjee, then a young export manager, made the match which has stood the test of time.

Last week Chatterjee, now president of Granum, Inc., which owns Choice Organic Teas, was jubilant in celebrating the 25th Anniversary of its founding. The staff danced to a New Orleans-style street band and celebrated their success at a noisy gathering during the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s annual conference.

Granum President Indrajit Chatterjee

“My association with Choice Organic Teas dates back to as early as 1992 when I was a supplier to COT from the first organic tea project in India, from Oothu estate,” said Chatterjee. “I am honored and proud of my association with Granum and to be part of the 25th Year celebrations.” The Bombay Burmah Trading Corp. Ltd., which owns two gardens in Tanzania and eight Indian gardens including Oothu, acquired Granum in 2007.

25th Anniversary Celebration
Choice Organic Teas’ 25th Anniversary Celebration, Seattle, Wash.

Oothu built a modern factory exclusively for organic manufacture in 1992, 10 years before adoption of the USDA National Organic Program. Oothu, which is “surrounded by vast forests…virtually untouched by contamination”, was the ideal location to make a case for organics prior to legislation establishing USDA certification standards.

Choice Organic Teas has since promoted the growth and development of organic agriculture in tea estates worldwide and offers more than seventy-five varieties of teas and herbal infusions available in tea bags, tea pyramids, and loose leaf.

TEABIZ_140505_ChoiceWellness_ClassicBlackThe supplier-distributor-retail supply chain enabled Choice Organic Teas to become the first Fair Trade Certified tea company (2000) and the first non-GMO verified tea company (2010). Today the company continues its role in the forefront of tea innovation. In March, the company launched its Wellness Teas, a new line of certified organic, functional teas specially formulated by a master herbalist and faculty member in Botanical Medicine and Ayurvedic Sciences at Bastyr University.

TEABIZ_140505_ChoiceWellness_BreathingSpaceThe teas were designed to support healthy body functions and enhance wellness, while maintaining Choice Organic Teas’ reputation for great tasting, perfectly balanced tea. The blends are classified as Herbal Dietary Supplements (HDS), indicating that the product has met FDA standards for quality and testing.

TEABIZ_140505_ChoiceWellness_EnergyBoost“Growing a successful business over 25 years has been a team effort, and we are humbled by and grateful for the immense dedication of our partners in quality, such as the Organic Trade Association, QAI, Fair Trade USA, the Non-GMO Project and the many organic tea gardens around the world who adhere to these standards,” said Ray Lacorte, VP of Operations, Choice Organic Teas.

TEABIZ_140505_ChoiceWellness_MentalFocusDuring its first 25 years the company has been “steadfast in its commitment to organic tea, loyal to its roots in natural products, and continues to win awards for taste, quality, and environmental leadership. That staunch dedication will continue to prevail as it moves forward.”

Choice Organic Teas uses recycled and unbleached materials and has eliminated the use of Polyvinyl Chloride (PVdC). The company operates a certified organic, green facility and purchases wind-generated power to offset 100% of the electricity use of their manufacturing facility.

The company was awarded the Washington State Governor’s Award for pollution prevention in 2004 and the Seattle Public Utility BEST award for sustainability.

Choice Organic Teas’ commitment to sustainable business practices won it a Responsible Packaging Award in 2011. Choice Organic Teas is one of the few tea companies that packages its own tea, which gives it direct control over quality, food safety, and costs.

“We don’t plan to rest on our laurels as we look to our next 25 years,” said Anne-Marie Phillips, Head of Sales and Marketing. “Every day we discover new opportunities to contribute to our industry and the communities where we work and play.”

Learn more at:

World Tea Awards Dinner

The Queen Mary will be the site of a black-tie World Tea Awards banquet and celebration Friday, May 30.

World Tea Expo participants and nominees in several categories of tea promotion, education and media will attend the inaugural event from 7 – 10 p.m. in the Queen’s Salon aboard the majestic ship in Long Beach Harbor.

Queen's Salon
Queen’s Salon

“The full dinner is an evolution of our previous Cha Jing awards,” said George Jage, Group Director of the The Beverage Group @ F+W Media, Inc.

“It expands into a recognition program for the industry, but culminates with the donning of our Cha Jing Lifetime Achievement Award to this year’s recipient, Devan Shah,” he said. Shah is CEO of tea importer ITI in Los Angeles.

The World Tea Awards recognize the Best Tea Room Website, Best Tea Retail Website, Best Tea Blog, Best Tea Educator, Best Tea Short/Commercial, Best Tea Room Menu, Best Tea Publication, Best Tea Book, Best Social Media Reach and Best Tea Spirit.

The event is open to all. However, nominations are now closed and only registered delegates to the World Tea Expo are allowed to vote on the winners.

Jage promises “this will be an all-star night with the industry’s top movers and shakers, capacity is limited so register soon.”

Tickets are $125. Tables of 10 are $1000. To reserve, click here.

Click here to view the reservation form.

JT & Tea™ Taiwanese Oolongs

Josephine Pan and Thomas Shu, Taiwan’s beloved ambassador of tea, recently launched JT & Tea™ Inc., the first American brand to focus on the world’s finest oolong-style specialty teas, especially those from Taiwan.

LOGO-JT&TeaDuring the past decade at World Tea Expo Shu has introduced thousands to the exquisite flavor and variety of Taiwan oolong. Since 2008 he has led the Taiwan Oolongs Study Tour (TOST) an immersion program that gets high marks from tea retailers and wholesalers exploring these teas.

The study tour is organized by Josephine Pan whose knowledge and appreciation of oolong complements Shu.

Last month they realized a long-held dream to market these teas in America. Shu decided to make ABC Tea a subsidiary of the new venture and serve as managing director. Pan, who co-founded the business, will promote the teas and continue her work with TOST.

“It’s the realization of a long-term vision,” said Shu a third-generation member of a tea family whose familiarity with Taiwan oolongs spans 70 years. In 2007 Shu was given the honorary title “Ambassador of Taiwan Tea” by the Taiwan Tea Manufacturers’ Association.

He said JT & Tea affords him an opportunity to not only present fine Taiwan oolongs, but to provide the in-depth training required of sommeliers. His business “is a dynamic resource” for those refining their tea menus, looking for accessories to optimize storage and prepare oolong in tea shops, restaurants, cafes, hotels and business locations.

Thomas Shu
Thomas Shu, JT & Tea Taiwanese Oolongs

Shu is one of the world’s leading specialty tea experts, and a founding member of the American Premium Tea Institute that later merged with the Specialty Tea Institute. He grew up in Hsin Chu, Taiwan in a family tea factory at the height of Taiwan’s production. Communist China abandoned tea exports in the late 1940s and Taiwan preserved the culture and established a market for fine oolong no longer available from Fujian Province. He later watched in dismay during the 1980s as a younger generation of Taiwan citizens abandoned tea culture for more lucrative pursuits. Tea was uprooted from large tracts of the Tao Chu Miao region and many local businesses dismantled their factories and moved the equipment to Vietnam.

He tells the World Tea Expo audiences attending his classes that “tea is in my blood and it is my destiny to be in the tea business. It is my mission to bring the best Taiwan oolong to the world,” he said. His personal blog, Pon Fon Cha recounts his many classes and presentations at tea festivals along with practical advice on brewing oolong.

Shu is a licensed processor with skills in blending, firing and packing. He has introduced many techniques and innovations such as the “Ooloong-pac” that contains 7.5g of leaf tea used in making chilled tea served in wine glasses.

One of his training innovations is the harmony code for each tea. These are written as:  3g, 210, 6 min (weight-temp-steep time).

“Treat each tea as an individual, one of a kind, and find out its Harmony Code – then make the tea with discipline to have it presented at its best for tasting,” he advises.

Shu cites three advantages for JT & Tea customers:

  • Direct Sourcing from Origin:  The teas will be exceptionally fresh and are guaranteed genuine, he said. “Teas on offer are grown and processed in Taiwan and imported directly from our affiliate gardens in Taiwan without middle-men.”
  • Renowned Tea Specialists (especially Taiwan Oolong): Customers not only obtain tea, they benefit from decades of in-depth experience, specialty tea education and training.
  • Fine Tea Accessories: Oolongs are often served gongfu style with appropriate accessories. The tea is delicate, withstands many steeps. Preparation varies widely for best results. Shu said that JT & Tea will provide a wide range of good quality storage and brewing options for home, office and food service…all have been tested and are accompanied by detailed information. Instruction is one of the great services he provides to all accounts.

In 1990 when he founded ABC Tea with the support of his older brother Jackson Huang, and the blessing of his father Chung-Shuei Huang, his import, wholesale and processing company of necessity dealt in many international teas.

Shu who modestly prefers the title “tea specialist” to tea master, longed to concentrate on his specialty, the oolongs of Taiwan.

Now he has realized that dream.

Taiwan is a “paradise of tea” he says. JT & Tea is his way of leading the tea world to paradise.

Learn more at JT & Tea, Inc. ( or by contacting Shu at

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Editor | Publisher | Podcaster | Consultant | Journalist Dan is the founder of Tea Journey Magazine, the Tea Biz Podcast and Blog, and a contributing editor at STiR coffee and tea. He is the former editor and publisher of Tea Magazine, former editor and publisher of World Tea News, and former editor-in-chief at Specialty Coffee Retailer, then headquartered in San Francisco. Dan has traveled the tea lands, speaking on retail beverage trends in Canada and the United States and at conferences in Europe, China, India, Australia, the Middle East, South America, and Africa.