Hand Harvested in Salem, Oregon
We created our Reserve Series to highlight the sensational rare teas that our Head Teamaker, Ravi Kroesen, discovers during his visits with master tea-growers around the world. With international travel on pause, Ravi has turned to our own “backyard” in the Pacific Northwest to continue his hunt for the extraordinary. For our next Reserve Series teas, we are proud to showcase two domestic teas grown right here in Northwest that have never been available to the public until this moment. Our tea department even had the opportunity to hand harvest the leaves alongside two incredible teamakers, making these an especially meaningful release. It will come as no surprise that North American teamakers are pushing the envelope on traditional tea cultivation techniques and we cannot wait to share this with you all.
This Tea Breaks All the Rules
Oregon Red is harvested from tea bushes that were grown in the lush farmlands of Oregon’s Willamette Valley, the fountainhead of thousands of world class Pinot Noirs. Using a variety of cultivars, Minto Island is producing teas with a character unto their own. Their head teamaker, Kacie Merkel, handcrafted this delightful black tea, which rivals the best black teas Asia has to offer.
Oregon’s First Tea Farm
As one of the first farm-scale tea plots in the country, and the only one in the state of Oregon, Minto Island Tea Company is on the cutting edge of the domestic tea growing movement in the U.S. The Miller family started this tea-growing adventure back in the 1980’s, when they first planted over 200 different Camellia Sinensis cultivars (breeds) on an experimental plot. Their small team harvests several times between April and September, handpicking the top two leaves and buds of their tea shrubs. They process their harvests in different ways to produce green, oolong and black teas. What started as an experiment to try to grow tea in the PNW on a half-acre of land almost 40 years ago, has blossomed into a very unique offering in the teaworld: 100% organic, handpicked, small-batch tea, grown right here in Oregon. Oregon Red was harvested from young tea shrubs that have been thriving for about six years in the rich organic soil of the Willamette Valley, the celebrated fountainhead of thousands of world class Pinot Noirs. In China, what we in the U.S. and Europe consider Black Tea is called Red Tea, hence the name Oregon Red.
Kacie Merkel, the head teamaker at Minto Island Tea Co., learned much of what she knows about cultivating and processing tea from Balazs Henger, the mastermind behind our new Northwest Alder Leaf Reserve Series tea. Kacie, a passionate farmer, is making tea that rivals Balazs’ now. Minto Island Tea Co.’s tea cultivation techniques break all the rules: they process their Japanese green tea cultivars like black tea, and they blend harvests from multiple cultivars together, creating a tea-cuvee, if you will. In Japan or China, conventional wisdom would deem this kind of experimentation unthinkable. Kacie is also applying organic fruit and vegetable farming techniques, like “companion planting,” to her tea crop.
Smith Teamaker has a very special connection to Minto Island Tea Co. Back in the ‘80s, Minto Island was primarily a mint farm. Rob Miller ran the operation, guided by the belief that you can grow anything in the Willamette Valley. Having heard of what Steve Smith was up to with Stash Tea in Portland, Rob and his partner, John Vendeland, asked Steve for advice about cultivating tea plants in Oregon. Most of the cultivars that were planted at Minto Island Tea Co. back in the ‘80s are still flourishing to this day. What’s more, Steve helped Elizabeth apply for an agricultural grant that ended up funding their tea business. Had they not received this grant, extraordinary domestic teas like this Oregon Red Reserve tea would not exist today.
“Up until now, North American tea has been a novelty,” our Headteamaker, Ravi Kroesen observes. “With Minto Island Tea Co, it's here to stay. Teamakers like Balazs and Kacie and are laying the gauntlet down. Their craftsmanship and innovative techniques will soon rival many ancient tea growing traditions in Asia.”