If you’re on Instagram and a lover of gorgeous tea photos in your feed, you’re probably following Tea Journal. The person behind one of my favourite tea instagram accounts is Stephanie Rodriguez. If there is one thing that has always stood out the most from her Instagram, it has been her tea adventures. It wasn’t until I visited Stephanie’s blog, Tea Journal, when I noticed she has been working in the specialty tea business for a while and even traveled throughout Darjeeling. I knew right away that I wanted to connect and learn more about how she first got involved in tea, the memories from her tea travels in Darjeeling, her current favourite sips and more.
The kettle is on and I can hear it about to sing. What tea are you going to steep for us today?
My current go-to tea is Postcard Tea’s Earl Grey. The blend includes a 2nd flush Darjeeling, bergamot essential oils, and each ingredient is sourced directly from the producers who farm only a few acres each. The result is the malty and citrus-filled cup that you’d expect with a more robust and defined flavor than any other Earl Grey that I’ve tasted.
I find your tea background to be quite interesting and would love to learn more about how you first got involved in tea. What’s one big thing you’ve learned that has helped you immensely in the world of tea?
I was initially introduced to the world of tea by my Mom. She worked in the tea business while I was growing up and my sisters and I were raised having tea parties for every holiday, special occasion, and on many rainy days, just because. While a lot of effort and intentionality went into each tea, the main focus was always the time spent with family and friends as we sipped our tea and ate finger sandwiches and scones. These experiences imprinted on me the value of community and relationship which were fostered through something as simple as a well-prepared cup of tea. This is what I think has kept me so intrigued by tea throughout the years. I helped out at a tea shop that my mom managed during my middle school years and was drawn to the familiarity of the café setting when I started looking for jobs while in college. I spent a few years as a barista at Starbucks and moved from there to a handful of local specialty tea and coffee shops where I was able to learn a lot about both tea and coffee, the service industry, and product sourcing.
One thing that I’ve learned that has really helped me in the world of tea is that taste and flavor preferences are very subjective and vary from person to person. While I’ve spent a lot of time studying tea, honing my palate, and learning about supply chains and production, this information and my preferences don’t always translate across the counter in a café setting or even at a home tea party. I might be uber excited about a first flush Darjeeling that was ethically sourced and brewed to perfection but the flavor profile and characteristics aren’t necessarily appealing to everyone else just because I deem the tea to be ‘the best that I’ve ever had’. And that’s ok. In the end, it’s about the relationship and creating a positive experience for your customers or friends and knowing more about tea only helps in that endeavor.
That is very true! One the best things about tea is how it can be made and enjoyed by many in various ways. On that note, let’s say you can only choose a couple tea tools to have forever. Which ones can you not live without?
Honestly, a favorite mug and a strainer are the only requisite items needed but my favorite way to prepare tea when I have the time is in a small glass Hario tea pot with a strainer. It’s simple but so functional and I love being able to watch the leaves unfurl as they steep.
Darjeeling tea was one of the first high-quality loose leaf teas I tried and made me want to dive more into the world of tea. I know you have spent some times traveling throughout tea plantations in Darjeeling (jealous!). What are some of your tea memories from there?
Darjeeling is breathtaking and was definitely my favorite city of those that we visited in India. I went with a local not-for-profit with the goal of exploring sourcing opportunities for a new line of teas to support women’s education. We spent a few days in Darjeeling Town and another few days at a tea estate touring the fields and processing facilities. It was a whirlwind of a trip and I honestly forget some days that it actually happened, it was so mind blowing. As you can imagine, we drank a lot of tea while we were there. We drank sweet ginger tea to keep warm at the house where we stayed in Darjeeling Town and were served our preference of Darjeeling tea once at the tea estate. We also experienced a tea tasting of all of the teas that the estate produces. It was cool to taste the distinct difference between each flush as well as the green, oolong, and white teas that they were experimenting with.
One of my favorite memories at the tea estate was waking up early to catch a glimpse of the Himalayan Mountain peaks before the clouds settled in for the day. The tea fields were quiet and the fog was just rising from the valley below as the sun popped over the neighboring mountain. Shortly after, a pot of Darjeeling tea, which was picked and processed on the estate that week, was delivered to my room as I finished waking up and getting ready for the day.
Take us on a tour of your current city’s tea shops and cafes. What are your favourites and what would you typically order?
Atlanta has a handful of local tea shops. I’ve spent a lot of time at Dr. Bombay’s Underwater Tea Party, a quirky tea shop and cafe whose profits help send young women in India to university. They have a wide selection of tea, housemade chai, and a few casual teatime options. Specialty tea, like Rishi Tea, is most easily accessible at local specialty coffee shops which are more common in Atlanta than designated tea shops. Chattahoochee Coffee is my go-to shop with a solid selection of Rishi Tea and beautiful views at both locations. My favorite tea orders are the Iron Goddess of Mercy, an Earl Grey tea latte, or iced hibiscus tea.
Black, Green, Yellow, White, Oolong or Puerh?
Black or oolong
Hot, Iced or Cold?
Teapot, Infuser or Gaiwan?
Infuser or teapot
Straight, Sweetened or Latte?
Straight or milky chai
Cheese or Chocolate pairing?
Chocolate, all day long
Who has been your greatest teacher in tea?
My experiences in the tea industry have been notably marked by strong, driven women. I was introduced to tea by my Mom and every shop or business that I’ve worked for has been owned and run by a woman. It has been extremely empowering to watch the influence of each of these women in their businesses and each of them have been great examples for me. Whether it was watching a new shop open, an international tea project move forward, or even something as simple as dealing with conflict well in the workplace, seeing these things firsthand from strong, determined women has had a huge impact on me.