James Allen entered the world of tea 12 years ago in Tucson, Arizona at an American tea company, Seven Cups. He began working with them as an apprentice and continued to assist the company in building their business and tea operations. It was two years ago that James turned his love and passion for tea into a company of his own, Far West Tea Traders.
The Inspired Brand team had the pleasure of inviting James Allen, the Tea-E-O of Far West Tea Traders to our office at The Network SYV, for a team building “tea”. During this session, we learned about James and the world of tea, while taking in the experience of a tea tasting for our very first time!
James Allen’s tea mission is “to inspire people globally to live healthier, more productive and more pleasurable lives by drinking small-batch loose leaf tea and sharing it with their friends”. James hosts classes and ceremonies for others to experience a comfortable and uplifting style of tea ceremony; considered a form of meditation awakening, and a peaceful retreat from stress in the world. The process of drinking successive infusions creates a journey in which the tea flavor, color, aroma, and full character is gradually revealed, shifting ones’ perspective by accessing personal insight and revelation.
James personally selects loose leaf teas that stand out with a distinctive and memorable character and supplies them directly to the customer. His loose leaf teas are pure, unadulterated, unflavored, and simply extraordinary! James sources all of his teas on a seasonal basis from dedicated, responsible, and innovative tea farmers and master craftsmen whose methodologies and principles generally align with the highest of true artisan tea making standards. James guarantees that his teas are either certified organic or meet comparable standards even if the farm has not pursued organic certification.
James’ passion for this longstanding tradition was infectious, and we were engaged and fascinated by the multitude of benefits and inspirations that came out of such a simple and beautiful ritual. We were fascinated to learn about the history and world of tea, and to have a chance to explore the different styles and tastes from white, green, oolong, black and pu-erh. In the past, we called many things that we infuse in hot water a tea. But James taught us that “it’s only tea if it’s made from the leaves of Camellia sinensis – an evergreen plant indigenous to China and India”.
Now, to the art of tea tasting with James Allen…
James instructed us to arrive with a clean palate; additionally he suggested that we treat the teas as that the aroma mingles with what the tea tastes like on our tongues. He also informed us that “slurping” was the way to go, and the only way to truly taste the tea. Slurping cools the tea and runs it over your tongue, allowing it to fully touch every part of your palette.
Traditional tea serving styles include a variety of teaware, chosen to enhance the art of tea. James presented each tea in a vessel specifically chose to match its category and individual character. Tea requires pouring away the water used to warm the teapot, tea brewer and cups, and the first rinse of the leaves. For this reason, James used a slated tea tray with a water collection basin to make it easier to serve the tea. His other “tea gadgets” included a Yixing Pot that was aged over 30 years, as well as a variety of Artisan Tea Cups, which all are available on his website for purchase.
Once James set up the proper teaware, the tasting began! We tasted 6 different types of teas, in the following order:
- Shan Lin Xi High Mountain Black – Freshly cut fruit wood aroma with a hint of spearmint. Soothing notes of cinnamon, black cherry vanilla, rose, and slightly savory herbs. The tea has a very rich, mellow, balanced character reminiscent of mulled wine and/or stewed apples and prunes.
- Enchantment – Dan Cong Oolong – An abundance of mineral, floral, and ripe, stone-fruit flavors in the cup that lingers in the mouth. Full bodied, well balanced, light roasted, honey, ginger flower… thick and pure with a sweet after-finish.
- Charcoal Roasted Dong Ding Oolong – Toasted caramel, coffee, brown sugar and apricot… the rich, bold, dark, earthy, toasted character of this charcoal roasted tea makes it perhaps the heartiest, most robust brew of all oolong styles. The complex qualities are complimented by mellow, full-bodied characteristics that put this tea in a class of its own. This tea is the best for those who want a comforting cup of no nonsense tea. This is the tea that can make you understand the phrase “mouthfeel”. It is like your old jeans that get better and better and never let you down.
- Sun Moon Lake Red Jade – Ripe plums & figs with notes of raisin, honey, cinnamon toast and caramel with aromatic notes of eucalyptus and mint. Medium-bodied, earthy and highly complex. Exquisite velvety red brew that yields several complex infusions when prepared correctly.
- Menghai Ripe Puer – This loose leaf puer is Te Ji grade leaf which is nearly the tiniest of all leaf grades. These Menghai area tea leaves were carefully harvested, sorted, and processed as a wet pile. It’s a very tippy grade Te Ji and produces a rather comforting, robust brew. Its’ flavor is a creamy, smooth, rich, delicate sweetness, chocolate powder, novel character, powerful but with a thick bite that lingers in the mouth even after pairing with food. This is the classic “Menghai” taste with a medium level of fermentation. This puer tea is very approachable because it brews easily, quickly, and is rich with no bitterness. The aroma is like chocolate nibs, humus soaked in a summer rain.
After our one-of-a-kind alchemical experience was over, we felt grounded, calm, content, and thoroughly fascinated with the healing powers of “tea”.
We learned that tea not only reduces stress, calms anxiety and improve mood – but it also boosts immune systems, reduces inflammation and even improves memory. Our positive and amazing experience with James turned us into fellow tea enthusiasts, and has inspired us share and expand the tea “movement” with the rest of our community. The Network SYV will be hosting a series of 3 tea events with James Allen and Far West Tea Traders on a monthly basis beginning in September of this year….stay tuned for more information!