Sara Shacket is the blogger behind Tea Happiness, a wonderful tea blog that features tea industry interviews, tasting reviews, tea and food pairing notes, and much more. Some of her fun and educational content is also inspired by NYC tea spots and the tea sommelier program she is currently enrolled in. The mother of two budding tea aficionados describes herself as a tea evangelist and definitely earns that title thanks to her tea blog, but also her Office Tea Club where she introduces her coffee loving co-workers to new teas from around the world. At the tea table, we talked more about this weekly tea get together, sharing tea with her children, tea education and beginner tea advice.
The kettle is on and I can hear it about to sing. What tea are you going to steep for us today?
I’m ready to enjoy a hand-rolled Nepalese oolong today. I’ve started to try different teas from Nepal, and I love their unique fragrance and flavor. They have a similar quality to Darjeeling teas, but are a little bit different. This oolong is light and floral, and very refreshing.
As a tea blogger, tea evangelist and aspiring tea sommelier, define what tea means to you.
Tea is many things to me- First, it’s a source of comfort and happiness. I grew up drinking tea with my family and I cherish the time we’d take out of our day to spend together. When I’m not feeling my best, tea always feels like a warm fuzzy hug. Tea for me also brings mindfulness- drinking tea brings awareness to the body and mind, but also to humanity. I like to think about the hands that picked the tea, and the many people and places that have had an influence in bringing it to my cup. Tea is also an inspiration for me. It inspires me to learn about cultures and regions that grow the leaves, it inspires me to write stories, and it inspires me to take photos and get creative. It has helped me meet some amazing people that have influenced my life. I started blogging about tea because I needed a creative outlet, and I’ve never looked back! I just want to share the joy of tea with anyone that is interested.
Sharing tea with my mom (and sister!) is how my journey began. It’s one of the reasons why I absolutely love when you share your tea moments with your children. How did you begin introducing them to the world of tea?
My daughter (10 years old) has been interested in food ever since she was old enough to eat solids. My husband and I take our children to as many different types of restaurants as possible, to expose them to different cultures and cuisine. Living in Brooklyn we are lucky to have a wide range of cultures to choose from. Her culinary curiosity naturally led to tea. Since I almost always have a cup of tea with me when I’m home, she’s always asked for sips. She has an amazing palate, and is always eager to try whatever tea I’m drinking. I’ve recently let her whisk matcha, and she’s getting quite good at it! For the last 2 years she’s asked me to do a tea presentation for her classroom, and it was a pleasure to introduce tea to so many curious young minds. Kids ask the best questions! My son (7 years old) is also always interested in trying the tea I’ve prepared, and we will all take sips together, and talk about what we taste. I enjoy telling them a little bit about the tea, where it’s grown, how it’s traditionally made, etc. It also gives us a reason to pause the hectic day, and have a few moments of quiet together.
How neat that sharing your tea passion with your daughter has led you to share it with her classmates, too! While educating curious young minds on tea, you’re also learning more through ITEI’s Tea Sommelier program. What has the tea education experience been like thus far?
Two other blogger friends and I decided we wanted to further our tea education formally, because it’s not always easy to carve out time to read and taste teas when jobs and family responsibilities are constantly calling. Tea education is a very tricky subject. The problem is that there are no standards for education, and just because someone has a piece of paper saying they are a tea sommelier or certified tea professional doesn’t mean they are qualified or have a professional level of knowledge. Because of this, we did extensive research on educational programs- talking to people we know in the industry, and searching online for reviews, curriculum, and user experience. After lots of research we decided on ITEI, and I’m really glad I did. I’ve been studying for well over a year now, and the classes are flexible and often times one-on-one (via Skype). I’m able to fit it in during my busy schedule. We have learned about terroir, culture, history, preparation styles, traditional Chinese medicine, flavor pairings, and so many other things I wouldn’t necessarily discover on my own. It’s also very helpful to have structured time to study. I’ve enjoyed all of my classes, especially learning about tea growing regions and cultures I wasn’t familiar with. I’ve also enjoyed learning about tea regions I’m less familiar with, such as Vietnam, Korea, and Turkey, just to name a few.
It’s almost time for your weekly Office Tea Club! Tell me what sparked the idea for this get together and take me with you as you prepare for it.
I had the idea for the Office Tea Club (OTC) a few years ago, when I noticed a co-worker in the pantry, preparing a bagged tea. I asked her if she’d be interested in trying some loose leaf tea I had, and she heartily agreed. After sharing some with her it occurred to me that many of the people in the surrounding departments (my office is very large, and the OTC has members right now just from two departments) would enjoy learning about tea and taking a few minutes out of a crazy day to relax and sip. I manage a small group, and it also occurred to me that it would be a good way to let everyone take a breath from the week, and share something about their lives that may not be related to work. I started by inviting a small group of people, and years later that same group is still meeting for tea! Most of the group consists of dedicated coffee drinkers, but all of them are enjoying tea, and a few even add a cup of tea to their daily routine. Right now we have just a small group of co-workers that I’ve invited, but I’m hoping to invite more in the near future (I see more people reaching for tea bags in the office pantry!). Every week I send around an email with a few teas that I’ve selected, and let the group vote on what tea to prepare. I like to select diverse types of tea, making sure to pick things we haven’t tried before. Once we agree, I’ll select a snack to go with it. We have a couple of bakers in our group, and sometimes someone will bring in a homemade treat! I then prepare by getting my electric kettle ready, and the necessary teaware. I have a few small ceramic cups, and various pots and gaiwans to choose from (I have two tea shelves in my office!). I wait until we’re all gathered, and then I brew the tea. We’ll also do seasonal things such as a winter holiday cocktail, and summer iced teas. Members of the OTC have told me that they look forward to tea time every week! All our meetings are of course contingent upon work load- I’ll cancel if we’re all too busy.
Black, Green, Yellow, White, Oolong or Puerh?
All of them!! Haha, it’s hard to pick just one, but I’ll go with Oolong.
Hot, Iced or Cold?
Hot! I always go with hot, even on the warmest days. But I do enjoy iced brews on occasion.
Teapot, Infuser or Gaiwan?
Gaiwan! Portable, quick, and imparts amazing flavors.
Straight, Sweetened or Latte?
I’m a straight-up girl. But I do enjoy a matcha or masala chai latte now and then.
Cheese or Chocolate pairing?
Oh, that’s a tough one. I love both! But I think I’ll go with cheese, as it pairs with more types of tea. And I will choose savory over sweet most days!
If someone just beginning in tea walked up to ask for your best tea advice, what would be your answer?
I’d say just keep on tasting. Try as many teas as you can, and taste teas in the same category side by side if you can. It’s the best way to understand how processing, terroir, and preparation will influence the flavor of the tea. Most tea companies will sell sample sizes, and those are a great way to go. Especially for expensive puerh that require a hefty investment. You don’t need a lot of equipment, either. A pot or mug with an infuser is a great way to start. But I’d recommend trying other brewing methods as you get comfortable. Also, don’t take it too seriously! Listen to your palate and be informed, but have fun. Like drinking tea bags and flavored teas? Then go for it! Try new things, but don’t disregard old favorites even if they are looked down upon by tea ‘snobs’. Drinking tea should be a personal, enjoyable experience. It should bring peace and happiness.
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ABOUT THIS SERIES: Tea tells stories and when connected with humans, more are created. That’s where the idea for this blog series, At the Tea Table, originated. With this series, The Cup of Life asks tea lovers around the world to take us inside their tea lives to share their favourite steeps, spaces, routines and more. Meet some of your fellow tea drinkers here.