Tea for all

BROOKLINE – As the weather grows colder, people often turn to hot beverages for comfort, especially a soothing cup of tea. How many of us ever think about what goes into producing that perfect cup of tea?

Danielle Beaudette, owner of The Cozy Tea Cart on Route 13 in Brookline, has years of education and experience in all things tea, from how it is grown and harvested to creating custom blends and using it as an ingredient in other products, such as baked goods, chocolates and even skin creams. Her shop is filled with a huge selection of tea leaves, tea sets and a host of baked goods and other treats. On the other side of Tea Cart is a comfortable dining room for enjoying a fresh brewed cup of tea or relaxing meal.

Discovering loose tea

“I grew up with tea and had it every day, iced or hot,” Beaudette said.

What she drank in her youth, however, was from teabags or powdered mixes. After she inherited her great aunt’s collection of tea cups, she began collecting her own china and became more interested in tea. She attended a lecture at the Nashua Public Library given by Pamela Aaron, who was known as the Texas Tea Queen, and her life was instantly changed.

“She had loose tea, which was my first introduction to it,” she recalled. “I thought this was the most amazing tea and wanted to know where it came from.”

Beaudette introduced herself to Aaron that fateful night, and found a new passion. She spent the next five years taking every class offered by the Specialty Tea Institute, studying all the varieties of tea, regulations regarding importing tea, how to start a tea room, and now is a tea educator for STI.

“I really love the educational piece of it,” she said.

The STI is based in Manhattan, but the classes are held during conferences in various locations. Beaudette has traveled all over the country to study and teach about tea, and has traveled around the world to select the teas she imports.

How tea is produced

The major tea-producing countries for whole leaf tea are Japan, China, Sri Lanka, India and Taiwan. With elevations of 3,000 to 8,000 feet above sea level with climates similar to a rainforest, the hot days and cool nights slow the growth of the root system on the plants and produce a better tasting leaf, according to Beaudette.

For the uninitiated, there are five basic categories of tea: black, green, white, oolong and pu-erh, or aged tea. All tea comes from the same plant, camellia sinensis, which must grow for five to six years before the leaves can be plucked.

Flavor and quality is affected by the method used to harvest the leaves. In the Cut, Tear, Curl method, the tea is planted in a flat area at sea level and harvested by a machine that slices off the top six to eight inches.

“With CTC, you get twigs and old growth mixed in and can’t get the best quality,” Beaudette pointed out.

All the tea she imports is what is known as orthodox tea – grown at high elevations and harvested by hand.

She routinely visits the provinces she buys tea from and described the harvesting process: “They pluck from 8 a.m. to noon and use women because they have more gentle hands. They pluck the top two leaves and leaf bud and leave the rest for new growth. They throw the leaves overhead into baskets, which are carried to weigh stations where they spread them out, inspect the leaves and weigh them. The men then deliver the leaves to the factory.”

Once at the factory, the tea leaves undergo a withering process where they are rotated in a long trough. Green and white tea has a short withering process and go directly to drying, while others are exposed to air (oxidized) to produce a different flavor. A rolling process follows, where blades are used to bruise the outer edge of the leaf, bringing the essential oils to the top. Leaves are sorted by size and then dried to halt oxidation, except for pu-erh tea, which is not dried but rather left to age. The leaves begin with an 80 percent water content when they are plucked, and by the time they are done drying, that is down to three percent. The final step is the cupping process, where the day’s production is tasted prior to packing and shipping.

“The science behind it is just fascinating,” Beaudette said. “The most difficult class I took but my favorite was what happens to the leaves during processing, the chemical makeup of the leaf. I had to brush up on my science terminology.”

World traveler

In addition to monitoring the quality of what she imports, Beaudette also visits the tea-producing countries to make sure that the local workers are being treated properly and that regulations are being followed.

“I am pleased to say that the fines are so high that they do what the government tells them to do,” she said. “They live in a small community with housing, a school, medical care, religion. I see all happy, smiling kids. They learn English from first grade on and are getting a fantastic education.”

For one of her trips to India, a fifth grade class at Capt. Samuel Douglass Academy in Brookline wrote about what it is like living in New Hampshire and made a list of questions about living in India. They received a laminated book with responses. The exchange continues and has been fun and informative for the children.

In addition to the southern part of India, she has traveled to Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Japan. This past spring, Beaudette went to the Yunan Province in China to learn more about their processes, and was one of a handful of students allowed access to the local tea master’s secrets. She also hopes to return to India to explore the Darjeeling area.

Building the business

The Cozy Tea Cart opened up at its present location on June 1, 2012. Prior to that, the business was run for seven and a half years at Beaudette’s home on Mountain Road in Brookline, starting in one room and expanding to two.

“That allowed me to grow the business slowly and work out the kinks,” she said. “I was catering tea parties but it was sporadic, and I hadn’t done a restaurant before. It was a relief to have everything in place to move over.”

She laughed as she recounted how customers started coming in for tea before the shop was even decorated and ready to open.

“If you are a tea drinker and find a great tea, you want it,” she said.

The Cozy Tea Cart boasts a variety of soups, sandwiches, quiches, salads and entrees, such as chili, tomato tart, spinach pie, with ingredients and products from local suppliers wherever possible. This fall she added beef stew and pot pies to the menu.

“Those have been so popular, we had to get takeout containers because people were buying them to bring home for dinner,” Beaudette said.

Some of her baked goods are made in Merrimack by Bite Me Kupcakez, a bakery specializing in gluten-free and dairy-free products, and she also features Jake’s ice cream.

Chef Sabine Berke grew up in Switzerland, attended culinary school in Europe, and Beaudette says she’s instrumental in coming up with new recipes. Beaudette makes scones and sells the scone mix in the shop, and also makes a bacon and cheese quiche and tourtiere, French Canadian pork pie.

“I want my food to be authentic,” she explained. “I do a lot of expos and have a lot of contacts. I will buy from a local farm or small business before big business. Small businesses are the backbone of the country, and what I have here is unique.”

In addition to her chef, Beaudette has six part-time employees, all of whom undergo intense training twice a year.

“There is so much to learn about tea,” she said. “The people who work here love tea and have a great work ethic.”

Natural health benefits

While teaching a class on cooking with tea at a bed and breakfast conference in Virginia, Beaudette met a woman who makes soaps and asked if she could make all natural soaps with organic tea extract. Her shop now carries the Divinitea line of products, which includes soaps, lotions made from organic tea seed oil and bath salts, and Beaudette says it has been very popular.

“My customer base tends to be people who drink tea for the health benefits and are also health conscious,” she said. “I do have some customers who can’t have any scents, but these are natural scents and we now have fragrance-free to listen to the customer needs.”

She also works a lot with health care professionals. Various chiropractors, massage therapists, naturopaths and doctors have begun to carry her blends of teas.

“A lot of them find that when patients have a cup of tea before their appointment, they are a lot more relaxed and calm. The caffeine helps lift you up, and L-theanine helps relax you.”

Custom blends

Seasonal blends are featured in the shop, with cranberry harvest, pumpkin spice, fireside green apple, hot apple cider and white Christmas currently available through December. The shop carries a variety of teaware, giftware and holiday ornaments. Beaudette also produces personalized, custom tea blends. She created a special blend for a customer’s father for Christmas and named it after him. Once someone has a custom blend, that recipe belongs to them and no one else can order it.

“People want certain flavors and strengths,” she explained. “I come up with a series of four or five samples, they choose which they want and get to name it.”

Last summer, a perfume company in New York held a midnight garden tea party for their product launch, and featured a custom tea blended by Beaudette. The launch may be over but the company continues to order its special blend. She also was asked to create a special blend for the New York Herbal Society and that sold out rapidly.

Special events

The Cozy Tea Cart also hosts special tastings and classes. Private parties and tastings can be booked, usually during evening hours and on weekends when the shop is otherwise closed.

Once a month Beaudette presents Tea and Tunes, a chance for local artists to perform while customers sample tea. The next event is Friday, Dec. 13, and features the Lori Diamond and Fred Abatelli. Tickets are $7 in advance or $10 at the door.

On Sunday, Dec. 15, there will be a holiday afternoon tea from 1-3 p.m.

The shop, located at 104 Route 113, Brookline, is open 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Monday through Saturday and will be open 11 a.m.-4 p.m., Sundays through Christmas. For more information, visit www.the