Over the past 15 years, Beth Johnston’s specialty tea business, Teas Etc, has evolved from a garage operation to the first and only female-owned company to win the World Tea Championship. As founder and CEO, Johnston is a literal tastemaker, selecting and distributing some of the world’s finest teas from the company’s West Palm Beach headquarters. (561-683-6838)
What is the number one mistake beginners make when it comes to tea?
They buy poor-quality tea. You have to start with good-quality tea and water to even begin to get good results in the cup.
What is the definition of high-quality tea? To put it in the simplest terms, high-quality tea is whole leaf, orthodox and fresh. Fresh means no more than 18-24 months out of the garden and into the consumer’s cup. Orthodox means primarily plucked and processed by hand.
|Beth Johnston, founder and CEO of Teas Etc., in teh field sourcing tea.|
What tea would you recommend to a coffee drinker looking to switch?
People frequently ask me what tea is going to provide them with the greatest health benefits, and I have the same reply to both questions: something that you’re going to enjoy. Because if you don’t enjoy it, you’re never going to make it a part of your lifestyle. It’s imperative that you really like it and enjoy it.
I would start with darker teas, particularly if you like milk and sugar in your coffee. But definitely start with full-bodied darker teas. And the other thing I would suggest is that you match your coffee to your preferences when selecting tea. So if you drink flavored coffee, maybe flavored tea is good. So think about your coffee preferences when you’re selecting tea.
I would also ask for samples. You can try it before you buy it—that’s a policy that we have. The other recommendation I would make is that if you’re sampling in the mall or a farmer’s market, you want to make sure that you know everything that’s in the sample you’re tasting so that you can get the same taste profile when you brew it at home. It’s really important to ask those questions.
What are some of your favorite food and tea pairings?
White teas pair well with pound cakes and shortbread types of baked goods. Dragon Well green tea has a great nutty characteristic—it’s known for that—and that’s going to pair well with heavy cheeses. Assam, which is a black tea, would pair really well with mushrooms or sharp cheeses.
How do you brew a perfect cup of tea?
You would use 3 grams of tea per 8-ounce cup, and that’s going to be approximate depending on the bulk of the density of the leaf. So that’s why weight is a better measure. You’re going to heat filtered water to the appropriate temperature depending on the type of tea that you’re brewing, whether it’s green, black, white or herbal. And then you’re going to brew 3-5 minutes—again, based on the type of tea. So I think the most important thing is starting with quality tea, using filtered water, heating your water to the proper temperature and brewing for the right amount of time. In my experience, most people use too much tea.
How many cups of tea would you say you taste a day?
Every day would be different, but I can count up to 100 or 150 teas a day if I’m sitting down cupping.
Do you prefer hot-brewed or cold-brewed teas?
Hot-brewed for sure. I love Bao Zhong oolong cold-brews. It gets really thick and syrup-like, but I never cold-brew. I do from time to time, but most often I don’t. I hot-brew. But I do it at a lower temperate than most people. I almost never boil my water. I think that you kind are of coaxing the tea tastes and characteristics out of leaves as opposed to pushing it out with super hot water. And I believe that you can taste more nuances in the tea. But I probably taste more things in tea than most people.
What are some trends you’re seeing in the industry?
Consumers are seeking better quality teas. They want factual information and not a lot of fluff and hype. They’re looking for interesting blends and flavors. U.S. consumers still want flavor tea, but they actually are seeking flavor teas at a higher quality that aren’t covering up the taste of the tea but rather enhancing it. So those are some of the trends that I see. The specialty tea industry segment certainly has experienced tremendous growth over the past few years, but I believe we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface. There’s just a tremendous opportunity for growth on the horizon.
What is the best cup of tea you’ve ever had?
Honestly, when it gets right down to it, I think that my best cup of tea is yet to come.