Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Meet Linda Villano of SerendipiTea

Linda Villano of SerendipiTea
We're way overdue in introducing Linda Villano to all of you! She's the woman behind SerendipiTea—and behind each delicious cup of tea we serve at the Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain.
     We were introduced to SerendipiTea last June as we geared up towards opening. Three seasons later (summer, fall, winter) we are happily serving SerendipiTea to our fountain customers and in our retail grocery section. And while we miss the Ruby Sipper iced tea and can't wait until the heat starts up to serve it again, we have taken full advantage of SerendipiTea's seasonal tea selections. We just recently added Chaucer's Cup to our menu, a fruity blend of apple, mango, hibiscus and other enticing spices. (I am sipping a cup right now and all I can say is YUM)
     It was easy to like Linda from the start as we listened to her describe SerendipiTea as a socially conscious company with high standards, as well as one that values giving back to the community. A visit to SerendipiTea's website (listed at the end) offers a peek into the altruistic nature of this woman-owned and operated business. Here's the first thing that caught our eye.... 
SerendipiTea

In life, balance must be sought.
Through giving, the search for balance becomes a series of rewarding experiences
Some to be shared joyfully,
Others, kept close to one's heart . . .
 
     Some of you may have had the good fortune to meet Linda in person last month for her tea tasting at the Farmacy. If you missed this wonderful event, don't worry, we'll invite her back time and time again.

But for now, let's get a little back story (We love a good story)
Linda was born in Queens, a third-generation American of an Italian family. She moved to Long Island in the third grade and describes her family as a 'food' family. Linda went to a small liberal arts school in Connecticut and earned a bachelor of science in psychology (Hey, my brother Pete earned that too, and now he's a soda jerk!). After college, Linda worked for a series of New York not-for-profit organizations such as the Brooklyn Museum and the Metropolitan Operal house, and did a lot of volunteer work in social services.
      Villano and her late husband, Tomislav Podreka, started SerendipiTea in 1995 with the belief that tea should be made available to all people at accessible prices in a greater market place—without sacrificing quality and taste. They created SerendipiTea and committed themselves to offering the highest quality loose leaf tea possible. Working closely with tea gardens, estates and specialists around the world, SerendipiTea maintains a living knowledge and expertise regarding all facets of tea and production. And SerendipiTea is an environmentally responsible business. They utilize organic farms and all-natural products,  use post-consumer recycled and biodegradable materials packaging and "employ people, not machines". SerendipiTea has opted over the years for the handcrafted rather than the machine-milled and prides itself in being a socially responsible business. Overall, SerendipiTea is an independent-minded boutique/artisanal tea company where quality, ethics and creativity blend together beautifully. We invite you to come in and taste for yourself how wonderful the teas from SerenipiTea are.

Here's Linda on types of tea leaves, preparing, steeping and storing.
Types of Tea Leaves: 
WHITE
White tea tastes as close to a freshly plucked leaf as you’ll get, since the leaves are never oxidized, just withered and baked dry or air-dried. White teas have a delicate flavor and can be expensive, which is why they’re not often used for blending.
GREEN

After the leaves are picked, they’re steamed to retain their green color as well as their trademark vegetal flavor. After that, the leaves are withered, then rolled and twisted, and then either re-steamed (the Japanese favor this method, which preserves vegetal quality) or pan-fried, which can sometimes give the tea a yellowy-tinge and smoky aroma.
OOLONG
Both a category and a style of processing the tea. As a category, traditional oolong always hails from Taiwan or the Fujian province in China. After harvesting, oolong leaves are withered and then gently tossed manually or by machine in a basket in order to bruise the edges of the leaves and oxidize them. This, however, can create a range of styles with some oolongs with less oxidation that can taste like green tea, and others with lots of oxidation that can taste more like black tea. After being tossed, the leaves are then gathered in a cloth and rolled under metal plates until they form tiny nuggets.
BLACK
Black tea leaves are completely oxidized by processing them through metal rollers, which break up the leaves, stems and opens the veins (which is why black tea tends to be so tannic). After the leaves have fully oxidized for up to 18 hours, they go through hot-air heaters to cauterize the broken veins. 

Tips for a Great Cup of Tea
First, the size of the ingredients matters. Most of the time you’ll be making a cup of tea for yourself, and you’ll need just one teaspoon for a six- to eight-ounce cup of tea. That means you want to make sure all the ingredients in the blend will be present and accounted for in every teaspoon so the tea tastes consistent from cup to cup. So make sure all the ingredients in the blend are the same size and small enough to fit together in a teaspoon. Villano also stresses that to ensure a proper ratio, measure out each ingredient of your blend with the same measuring tool, whether it’s a teaspoon, a cup or a glass.  Next, brew a sample cup of your blend—and do it right. As a general rule, Villano suggests one to three minutes for white teas and green teas; three to five minutes for oolong and black teas. Most tisanes, however, tend to be very forgiving and won’t strengthen much in flavor after five minutes. Also, says Villano, “broken-leaf teas steep much more quickly than full-leaf teas, usually imparting a stronger flavor.”
     “Water quality is also very important,” says Villano. “If you have good tap water with low minerals and no chlorine, that’s great.” Otherwise, she recommends using filtered or bottled water, and don’t bring the water to a full boil for greens and whites. Water that’s boiled provides the perfect steeping environment for black tea and many oolongs to extract the right amount of flavors and aromas and prevent the tea from becoming overly extracted or astringent. And never microwave your water and tea. “Oxygen in the water is essential,” says Villano. “It’s what makes the cup brisk, bright and crisp by assisting in releasing the essential oils in the leaves, which are largely responsible for flavor. Microwaves deplete oxygen and produce a flat, non-descriptive cup.”
     Finally, be nosey. Scent is a powerful tool for tea blending. Familiarize yourself with what the teas smell and taste like on their own so you can determine which characteristics you want to highlight and which you want to keep as accents.
Storing
Teas is like a sponge. Its leaves are very porous, and it sucks up everything that's newar it. When you're storing tea at home, it's important to keep it in an airtight container away from light, heat and moisture, as well as away from cooking areas and strongly aromatic things like coffee. "It's going to suck in all that coffee aroma," says Villano. "And if you're cooking and have the tea box openthere, it's going to taste like whatever you're cooking."
Steeping
Never brew tea in a press pot that you've been using for coffee. "There's always a little bit of residue, and the tea is going to pick that up," says Villano.
Thanks for sharing what you know about tea with us, Linda!

Want to know more about SerendipiTea?
visit: http://www.serendipitea.com/
Fresh: Blended beautifully using the highest quality ingredients.
Friendly: SerendipiTea is accessible to their clients and customers, routinely hosting tasting events.
Local: Manhasset, NY
Note: This season's tea offering are: Passion and Envy (a green tea), Chaucer's Cup (a fruity, winter blend) Darjeeling, Earl Grey, Peppermint and Chai Chai Chai. Stop on in and enjoy a cup with us!
   

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