Niraj Lama established Happy Earth Tea in Rochester, NY back in 2011, however his experience with the tea business began much earlier than that. Niraj hails from Darjeeling, India- a region that produces some of the worlds finest black teas. While living in Darjeeling, his family owned and operated Darjeeling Tea Exclusive. After resettling in the US, Darjeeling Tea Exclusive developed into Happy Earth Tea, offering a more global selection of teas.
Niraj’s goal is to provide high quality, fresh, clean and socially responsible teas. To achieve this, all of his teas and ingredients are sourced from Organic tea farms and distributors, many of which are also Fairtrade. We’re proud to carry Happy Earth Tea on the shelves at Hart’s Local Grocers, and even more excited that we’ve teamed up with Niraj to dive into the world of tea this February.
All tea comes from the plant camellia sinensis and its numerous cultivars. Broadly, the varieties of tea are: black, green, oolong, white and puerh. These varieties are dependent on how the leaves are processed. Some of the essential steps in making tea involves withering the freshly plucked green tea leaves, after which is it fired or not, rolled, oxidized or not, and dried. In the making of some teas, there can be up to 18 different steps. But none involve adding extraneous chemicals unless they are flavored teas. Tea is naturally natural!
The most consumed tea in the world is black. This tea is made by 100% oxidation of the tea leaf. During the production of black tea, the rolling of the leaves causes its surface to be bruised exposing its enzymes to oxygen. And just as an cut up apple turns dark due to oxidation, the bruised leaf turns dark.
In the green tea manufacturing process there is no oxidation. The leaves, early on, are exposed to flash heat- either on a hot wok or steam- that prevents any chemical processes from taking place. It also results in the leaves retaining their green color. After black tea, green tea is the most consumed variety with people turning to it for its many health benefits.
Within green tea exists matcha, or Japanese powered green tea. Matcha was developed in 10th century China and exported to Japan where it became a cultural and spiritual icon, even as it died off in its birth nation. Now, we see it taking over the west. Matcha is made from tea leaves that have been grown in intense shade, giving the tea a unique flavor (umami) and many health benefits, tea experts aver. Matcha comes generally in two grades – ceremonial and culinary. While the former is used to make bowls of matcha with just hot water, the latter is used as ingredient in smoothies, lattes and baking.
The other popular form of tea is oolong. This is a semi-oxidized form of tea, and within its category contains myriad number of teas. Oolongs are one of the most complicated teas to manufacture; and can make for some of the most expensive teas in the world. Oolong notes can range from light floral fragrances to dark, sweet leather/tobacco. Oolong can also come either roasted or un-roasted.
Puerh is another fascinating variety of tea. This “post-fermented” tea comes in compact forms like a cake, brick, etc. Just like fine wine, puerh can be improved by aging, and also gain in value. It is one of the oldest forms of tea. (It was cool and hip to be drinking puerh in the 2nd century, before the Huns came in from the north and kind of dissed the practice.)
White tea is made using just the buds of the tea leaves. It is the most minimally “processed” form of tea with just sun-withering and a light amount of oxidation present. The taste is delicate and clean.
“Herbal teas” are not strictly teas – the French term tisane is used to sometimes categorize these teas that are composed of herbs, flowers and sometimes spices. These teas are also very popular, and many of these herbs have been used for as long as tea to make decoctions. Many of these herbal teas are consumed for specific health reasons. Tisanes are also a good choice for those who have caffeine-sensitivity issues.
Different teas are best steeped at different water temperatures. However, the amount of tea and the duration of the steeping also is as important. Generally, teas with lighter color (green, white and lightly oxidized oolongs) are best at lower temperatures (170F – 180F), while darker teas like black and highly oxidized oolongs do better with boiling or near boiling temperatures. Herbal teas are also good with boiling water temperature.
As regards the amount of tea to be used, for most teas (if the leaves are smallish or broken) a teaspoon is enough for a 12 oz cup. If the leaves are large and fluffy a tablespoon should be good. Steeping time can be anywhere from 3-5 minutes. For green and white teas the first steeping can be for 2 minutes.
The best practice for getting a perfect steep is to find what works best for you. Start with the steeping instructions that the tea comes with but if you are not happy with it, feel free to play around with the temperature, amount of tea and steeping duration.
Tea began as a medicine before it became a common beverage. In its earliest history in China, tea was seen as a medicine that cured many different kinds of ailments. Even when tea arrived in Europe in the early 17th century, tea merchants touted the its health-giving virtues in many pamphlets that introduced the novelty to a new audience. “That Excellent and by all Physitians approved China drink, called by the Chineans Tcha, by other Nations Tay alias Tea,” read a typical advertisement during the times in London.
Current scientific studies indicate that the anti-oxidants found in tea have many health benefits. In green tea a catechin called epigallocatechin-3 gallate (EGCG-3) is supposed to be helpful in preventing cancer and even Alzheimer’s. In black tea the same catechins are oxidized to become “thearubigins” which are believed to be good for the heart. The other health benefits claimed by tea enthusiasts include weight loss, digestion and mental clarity.
Caffeine in a typical cup of tea is nearly half of what is found in coffee. On an average caffeine content of tea is 26 mg in an 8 oz cup, whereas for coffee it is around 95 mg. Very rarely do people complain of jitters that can come from a very strong cup of coffee. The caffeine in tea provides a mild stimulation which is balanced by the calming effects of L-theanine. The latter is found in tea and is also thought to help in concentration.
The calming and comforting effect of tea have long been celebrated by a poets and saints in the east. The Japanese tea ceremony arose out of Zen practices and one of the principles upon which the tea ceremony is observed is tranquility. Tea is indeed not just for the body but mind as well.
Happy Earth Tea at Hart’s Local Grocers
So what Happy Earth Tea’s can you find at Hart’s Local Grocers?
This is one of our most popular chais. Since I come from India, I am very familiar with the taste of the real deal. Most of what goes around as chai in the US would not pass muster in India. They tend to be too syrupy sweet and artificial tasting. Roch-cha Chai is a blend that comes closest to the real chai experience. It is well balanced in the spice flavors and the strength of the tea.
Since we are very proud of this blend we decided to name it after our home city Rochester.
Lavender Breeze is a blend of green tea with lavender and rose petals. As you sip close your eyes and breathe in aromas reminiscent of a spring meadow in bloom. Let the warm, mild, and soothing flavors relax and uplift you. This tea is great during the evenings and weekends for relaxation.
This is a robust black tea (from Nilgiri, South India) that is blended with pieces of dehydrated mango, mango flavor and calendula leaf. You can enjoy the lush juiciness of an Indian mango (one of the reasons you MUST visit India) in every sip. This tea is perfect hot or iced.
This herbal and caffeine-free blend is perhaps one of our most healing teas. Holy basil and ginger combine to make not only a scrumptious cup, but also the health benefits for either of these ingredients are believed to be manifold. Holy basil, aka Tulsi, is a native plant to India and is considered to the “queen of herbs” in the Ayurveda. Because of its health giving properties Indians have accorded it a sacred status hence the name.
Want to learn more about tea? Stop by Hart’s on February 13th from 12-1pm to sample and talk tea with Niraj, or, stop by for a sample during our our Valentine’s Vendor Market. You can also swing by his new tea bar, Leaf Tea Bar, in Rochester’s South Wedge neighborhood for a tea class, Friday night tea adventure, or to experience a Japanese Tea Ceremony.