James Allen is the “Tea Man” behind Far West Tea Traders, a company that supports organic and biodynamic tea farming. I was introduced to his company when I tried out their tea subscription service that featured a wonderful selection of tea from smaller batches. What made a lasting impression was when James contacted me after my tea package arrived and requested that I take my time with it. So, I followed his kind orders by slowing down with each of the teas, not worrying about having my tea journal near to jot down notes. It was one of the best experiences I had with a tea company before. I knew then that I wanted to continue this connection with James and I invited him to an at the tea table interview. During our chat we discussed his history with Seven Cups tea house, a couple of his favourite tea tools, one of the most interesting teas he has experienced and much more.
The kettle is on and I can hear it about to sing. What tea are you going to steep for us today?
Orchid Isle Delight! It’s a Hawaii black tea a friend of mine grows in his small gardens and processes for me. The flavor is influenced by the coffee, orchids, and macadamia nuts grown in the same garden!
Out of all the teas you could have picked, thanks for steeping this one! How did your relationship with tea begin?
Well, as a child growing up in Arizona all I knew was Lipton tea bags and Lipton lemon flavored powdered instant stuff – add cold water and stir. I drank tons of that sugary stuff in the summer. I grew into better quality tea bags, and then in 2003ish I started working at Seven Cups tea house in Tucson AZ. Serving and packing tea 50 hours a week helped me develop a deep and respectful relationship with tea. I worked and apprenticed with Austin and Zhuping Hodge for two years drinking amazing tea, serving thousands of customers, and helping grow the business.
That certainly is a great tea background to have. Your company, Far West Tea Traders, offers quite a lovely collection of tea. Can you tell me a bit about how you select teas for your tea company?
Have you had a tea that makes you say “I’ve never tasted a tea quite that good before”? That’s what I aim for. My sources in Taiwan, Yunnan and Hawaii happen to be friends, so it’s better than the average business relationship. I do a lot of tea evaluations and only select ecologically farmed teas that stand out with a distinctive and memorable character… teas that are toxic free that I would drink for myself. Rather than trying to compete with the flavored/blended tea trend, I select teas that are naturally complex and full of flavor and aroma. That usually requires a lot of artisan craftsmanship and expertise making those teas, and I think my customer base appreciates that when their savoring their brew.
Let’s say you can only choose a couple tea tools to have forever. Which ones can you not live without?
Certainly the gaiwan and a good hot water kettle. You can brew anything in a gaiwan and it’s easy to use. I like a stainless steel hot water kettle that pours nicely for tea – not coffee if ya know what I mean. One thing Zhuping taught me is the power of the pour. A good pour improves the character of the tea and can have a profound impact on the person I am pouring tea for. I think that’s part of good tea alchemy, plus it’s fun listening to the variations of pretty sounds of water streaming into your gaiwan.
Great picks! I absolutely love the sound of the water streaming into a gaiwan as well. It’s a perfect, peaceful moment to give your full attention to the tea. Tell me about one of the most interesting teas you have ever tasted.
I would have to choose Red Jade Taiwan black tea (Taiwan Tea #18). Black teas were never my favorite, but I fell in LOVE when I tasted Red Jade. It has great character and complexity, especially when it’s grown and processed correctly.
Black, Green, Yellow, White, Oolong or Puerh?
Hot, Iced or Cold?
Teapot, Infuser or Gaiwan?
Straight, Sweetened or Latte?
Straight. Wait, can’t I order a straight, sweetened tea latte?
Cheese or Chocolate pairing?
Cheese is the new chocolate
Who has been your greatest teacher in tea?
I often think of Austin and Zhuping Hodge and the tremendous work, dedication, patience, and courage they’ve demonstrated on their journey of success bringing fine tea to the West. Now as I am going to the Far West to Hawaii and begin tea farming, I’m doing my best to be an infusion of these qualities every sip of the way.