“First, it is important to point out the difference between tea and herbs,” Edwards explained during a recent visit to his shop near the corner of Mountain and 12th. “There are only four different kinds of tea, all stemming from the same plant known as Camellia sinensis. These are green, black, white and oolong varieties, which are oxidized at different levels. Popular herbal blends like peppermint, chamomile and ginseng among others, are herbs and do not come from the tea plant, but still offer many benefits of their own.”
All teas contain antioxidants. High antioxidant content is most common in green and white teas but is also found in varying degrees in blacks and oolongs.
“While myth may have many under the impression that certain teas have specific benefits, most teas have the same benefits, but to different degrees depending on the type you prefer to drink,” said Edwards.
Edwards suggested that a good regimen for a tea drinker is to have a cup of black tea in the morning, a cup of oolong before meals, a cup of green tea after meals, white tea in the evening and a cup of rooibos before bed.
“Tea acts as a neutralizer for the body, so anything that may be out of whack — sleeping patterns, weight problems, headaches — tea works to balance the body and get you back to normal,” Edwards informed.
It is important to note that these benefits are the result of drinking tea regularly — about four or five cups a day — over an extended period of time. Once you find your favorite blend, however, chances are it won’t be a huge challenge.
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Assam From IndiaThe caffeine in black tea makes it an ideal way to start the day without overpowering the body. Drinking black tea aids in lowering cholesterol, stimulates the heart and circulatory system and promotes healthy teeth, skin and bones. Black tea contains just 20 percent of the caffeine in coffee.
Bai Hao Silver Needles from ChinaThis tea contains epichasin, which has been reported to facilitate weight loss, enhance resting metabolism rate, stimulate energy and regulate appetite. This tea has also been shown to inhibit both strep throat and staph infections, as well as certain cancers.
Gyokuro from JapanRegular consumption has shown an increase in metabolic rate and fat oxidation. It has also been shown to regulate body temperature and blood sugar, lower cholesterol, promote good digestion and fight against certain cancers.
From Yunnan, ChinaPuer tea is derived from the tea plant, but is often considered a separate variety of tea. It gets better with age and is usually consumed several years after it has been produced. Puer comes both in the form of loose-leaf tea and the compacted cake-like form known as a brick. Benefits of drinking this tea include lower blood pressure, improved cardiovascular health, reduced fat in the body, prevention of cancer cell growth, proper digestion and reduced toxins in the body.
Blood Orange blend from South AfricaThis flowering shrub, native to South Africa, does not come from the tea plant. Rather, it is in a category all its own. Drinking rooibos regularly is advantageous to the skin, helps with allergies, is completely free of caffeine and aids in digestion and upset stomachs, as well as offers alleviation of respiratory problems.
Tie Guan Yin from ChinaThe quantities of beneficial ingredients in this tea vary depending on the extent of the oxidation process. Oolong acts as an appetite suppressor or a “diet pill” among teas, in that it rids the body of the fat content in the food it is digested with. This is a great tea to drink before meals because it also boosts metabolism.
The pair has weathered the opening and closing of its sister Tea Bar sandwich shop, nearly folding earlier this year when times got tough. But some agile marketing and a supportive customer base put the Tea Company back on its feet, and now, its shelves full, Edwards and company forge into their fifth year.
I ask Edwards about the many varieties he sells and how he chooses them. He carries more than 150 teas, tisanes and herbal blends from the world over, as well as dozens of basic tea accessories such as pots, filters and tea ware. Black teas and South African rooibos are his most popular products, though within those two categories there are many flavors. White, green, oolong and black teas come from the same tea plant (Camellia sinensis). They vary in the time at which the leaves are harvested, the amount of oxidation, the processing, geography and other factors. Further varieties are created by blending, and by the addition of florals, dried herbs and essential oils. Rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) is a different plant entirely, and its spiny needles or leaves have been used to make “bush tea” in South Africa for many generations.
Edwards’ goal is to be a local resource providing loose tea to individuals and wholesale customers such as restaurants. On a recent trip to China, he visited several cities including Shanghai, Hangxhou (famous for itslung ching tea), Xiamen and Hong Kong. Though he purchased some tea, he was more focused on learning how tea was sold, used and lived with in its country of origin. He tells me that when he started in the tea business he knew next to nothing about his product. But he saw that Albuquerque needed a shop that provided a good selection of high-quality loose tea in bulk. In the last four years he has become an expert on the subject. To share that knowledge, each Sunday at 6 p.m. Edwards holds a tea tasting and class that lasts about an hour and a half. Visitors can try eight different teas, and ask questions about anything on the subject.
This convivial atmosphere is home to Edwards' newest project—a collaborative workspace. All you have to provide is a reason for being there. If you have a project, or need an hour or two to work with a friend or small group, you can plug into the WiFi and sip a cup of your favorite tea with all the fixings, on the house, during shop hours. Somehow, this arrangement confirms my feeling that tea has a civilizing effect on its advocates. Caffeinated teas notwithstanding, I’ll have tea any day to soothe my soul.
This July, Edwards realized he had to raise $5,000 quickly or shut down the Albuquerque tea shop. But he didn't panic. Instead, he got his customers to help invest in his business. Edwards' creative microlending solution offers plenty of lessons for other small businesses that find themselves dealing with a cash flow shortfall.
Why did you decide to start a tea company in New Mexico?To me, it seemed very obvious that if you are going to do something, you should do something that other people aren't doing. Tea is such a big industry worldwide. People in New Mexico think I invented the tea industry because I'm their first experience. If I was living in San Francisco or New York or Toronto, I probably couldn't have opened this because there would be so many people already doing it. It's one of the great opportunities that New Mexico provides. You don't have to make a million dollars a year to be successful here.
Why did you add the tea bar last year?As soon as we opened, people said we should serve tea. The two are quite different businesses. It did allow us to tap this new audience, but it wasn't that beneficial to us. We doubled our expenses, but it wasn't doubling our revenue. We did it for a year. It turned into something that was taking all the time and money. People loved it, but it was taking away from the focus of the store, which ultimately led to our predicament.
How exactly did you get into your predicament?All retail is seasonal. We see much more business in winter, partly because it's cold and also because of Christmas. Everything is in December for us. Last summer, my answer to slow sales and dwindling revenue was to start to serve tea. We weren't paying ourselves. We let our expenses get out of hand. We had five employees, and I wasn't saving any money. When this summer came around, we had shut down the tea bar, but we were still paying rent on it.
All those things came to a point in July. We had people coming in and buying tea, but [the revenue] was only going toward expenses. There wasn't anything left to buy more tea. We would have been dead in the water. I looked at a line of credit, but the bank declined us. An SBA-backed loan would have taken a few months and we needed money that week.
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How did you hatch the idea to do microlending?Am I going to get one person to give me $5,000? Probably not. I had already known about microlending as a concept from Kiva. Microlending is so interesting because it's an actual investment. The levels that people could participate at were $50, $100, $500 and $1,000. To borrow $50 from 100 people would have been a nightmare in terms of paying interest and keeping track of it. That's where the idea for gift cards came into effect. The gift card is worth more than they bought it for. At $50, it's worth $55. At $100, they get 15 percent interest, so it's worth $115. The trade off is that they can't use it until December. For the larger amounts, it's a traditional loan and repayment at 10 percent interest starting in December with payback over six months.
What was the response?I did it through PayPal so people could just click a button. Within five minutes of sending the newsletter out, someone had given me $1,000. Two days later, I had already met our goal. It was incredibly positive. It was everyone coming together, understanding the situation and offering their support. A lot of customers who weren't in a position to do this came in and bought tea, which helped.
Was it hard to ask your customers for help?Of course, because you never want to admit that you're struggling. My customers knew me for the last four years. That's how community and microlending are successful where a bank is not. A bank just looks at the numbers. I'm optimistic that I will be able to pay everyone back in December, even though I have six months from December to do so.
Do you have any tips for other businesses when it comes to do-it-yourself microlending?First, you have to be humble. It was my customers who made it happen. They are the ones who should be commended. You have to build a community over a long time that is willing to do that for you. Make it a good investment for them. Giving something back is important. One of the reasons that we have 4,000 people on the e-mail list is that I give away a free tea sample to each person every month. You have to give without the expectation of receiving. I didn't give people tea with the plan that some day I would need to borrow money.
What are your favorite teas?I drink Earl Grey all the time with cream and sugar. That's usually in the morning. For oolong, I like Ti Kwan Yin. For green tea, I like Dragon Well and some other Chinese teas. One of the things that makes me an appropriate person to own a tea store is that I like all tea. I'm not obsessed with any one tea.
Edwards owns New Mexico Tea Co. near Albuquerque’s Old Town. It sells a wide variety of bulk loose leaf teas. When his bank turned him down for a line of credit recently, he turned to the loyal customer base he has built over four years. He sent an e-mail to the 3,800 people on his newsletter list in an effort to raise $5,000. Within about 48 hours, he had raised $10,000, made up of $4,500 in “microloans” and $5,500 in gift cards that can be redeemed starting in December for slightly more than their cost. “You don’t really know how much the community cares about you until you ask for help,” Edwards said. “Most of them had never done anything like that. But most had never been asked.”
Expansion that doubled the company’s space for a tea bar and café earlier this year had cut into revenues during the busier winter months. When the slower summer season came, there was enough cash coming in to cover the bills, but not to order more tea. The generosity of his customers has infused the business with a new energy, said Edwards and his business partner, Dianne Edenfield. The two were busy this week re-stocking the shelves and they have freshened up the two-level, 700-square-foot store at 1131 Mountain Rd. NW with new paint and reorganized space.
The extra funds will allow them to pay in advance for tea from vendors, giving them more cushion if there is a cash crunch again. It also allows them to stock more tea, teapots and other tea-themed accoutrements.
The next order of business is to launch a tea club for $10 a month. Edwards is still tinkering with the structure, but it will give members two ounces of special tea every month and access to the upstairs space to have tea, use Wi-Fi, read and relax.
Edwards is optimistic that it could bring more people into the store and reinforce the idea of community at the heart of his alternative financing plan. He uses Facebook, Twitter and his monthly newsletter to build that community. He spends a lot of time talking tea with customers. It’s Edwards’ excitement and shared passion that made Dennis Plummer a loyal customer and prompted him to buy one of the gift cards.
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Another customer who lives down the street gave the company a $1,000 loan within 10 minutes of getting Edwards’ e-mail. She did not wish to be identified, but explained she was looking to invest part of her tax refund and the 10 percent interest rate Edwards was offering sounded pretty good.
“I thought it was such a creative solution,” she said. “It seems so often in our culture that to admit a problem is a sign of weakness. I think it’s a sign of strength to look for alternative solutions and be honest about difficult times.”
Edwards is not accepting any more loans, even though one customer offered $2,500. “We had met our goal and I didn’t want to get too much in debt,” he said. But he will continue selling the gift cards through August. They sell for $50 and $100 and can be redeemed starting in December for $55 or $115, respectively. Edwards said he might make the gift cards an annual tradition. Many people are using them as a sort of holiday layaway plan. New Mexico Tea Co. has seen a steady growth rate of 30 percent, Edwards said, and that’s mostly from new customers.
The store’s expenses will drop by about $2,000 in August when its six-month lease for its additional space ends. The expansion was an experiment, Edwards said, that allowed the company to try out a café and tea bar. It convinced the partners not to pursue that idea because of the cost and time involved.
The store will start repaying the loans to its generous supporters in December. The decision to reach out to them was a last resort, Edwards said. But it might be his first choice next time.
“I’d rather pay my customers back with interest than the bank,” he said. “Why not put the interest back into the community?” Last year, another local business used a similar strategy and it worked well. Bea Doyle, owner of Bhava Yoga Studio, was facing a cash crunch and turned to her customers.
Many bought year-long memberships and vowed to bring in friends to try the classes. She also added a slate of $5 hour-long classes that are now packed and keep a steady stream of people coming into the studio. She invested in a computerized sign-in system as well that lets people purchase classes online, which has helped keep a steady flow of clients coming in. “We still need to continue to build, but I’m breathing a little easier,” she said.
More small businesses are exploring options to bank financing, said Jeff Milchen, co-founder of the American Independent Business Alliance. That can take the form of microloans or gift cards. Some communities have even formed community-owned businesses, such as grocery stores. And more are doing bartering as a way to cut costs, Milchen said.
Albuquerque's New Mexico Tea Bar [NOW CLOSED] brews up tea and conversation during their weekend afternoon tea service. Owner David R. Edwards recommends selecting a flavorful loose-leaf tea to wow your guests at your own book-club circle. Seen here (clockwise) Ying Ming Tunnan, Blueberry Rooibos, and Sandía Spice Black Tea.
Wealthy New Mexico arts patron Mabel Dodge Luhan was known for hosting influential and informal gatherings of American and European artists, intellectuals, and writers at her charming home in Taos—a place described in the writings of salon attendee and novelist D. H. Lawrence. I can just imagine the thoughtful conversation circulating among such salon members as painter Georgia O’Keeffe, photographer Ansel Adams, poet Robinson Jeffers, and novelist Willa Cather. Now, I like to picture 21st-century ideas exchanged over tea and light fare in a welcoming New Mexican home.
In fact, I remember just such a time, when great friends of mine opened their house-gallery, in the lovely Victorian town of Silver City, for book-club gatherings and poetry readings. Listening to poems read aloud by Silver City poet and literary critic Sandy McKinney, author of Body Grief (The Bromley Bookstore, 2003), and Tom McCoy, author of Days Like These: A Gift for the Spirit (High Sierra Books, 2004), while delighting in tea and cookies, turned into quite the satisfying experience. It was a gift for the spirit; I cherish such days shared with inspiring local talent.
To create your own gathering with casual elegance, good food, and warm conversation, you must first decide if you want to serve afternoon tea or high tea. “A common misconception equates high tea with ‘fancy’ or ‘highbrow,’” says tea devotee David R. Edwards, owner of the New Mexico Tea Company and Tea Bar, in downtown Albuquerque. In the 18th century, explains Edwards, Anna Russell, the Duchess of Bedford, began the tradition of afternoon tea when she invited friends for what Americans think of as a late-afternoon snack. “Offerings included small sandwiches, sweets, tea, and lots of chatting,” Edwards explains. “High tea was actually what we in America call dinner, served at a dining-room table. Meats, cheeses, and other filling dishes accompanied ale and, perhaps, a cup of tea.”
In the relaxed ambiance of the New Mexico Tea Bar, enticing conversation and tea brew all weekend long, each Friday through Sunday. This modern afternoon tea includes scones baked from scratch and served with clotted cream and preserves; homemade blueberry muffins; and seasonal fruit sprinkled with nuts. “We also include madeleines and bite-size Italian-chocolate tea cakes with every tea-bar plate,” Edwards says. “The most popular item is our Tea for Two [including all of the above and a large pot of tea] for $10, served upstairs in our relaxing loft space, or [on our] cozy back patio on warmer New Mexico days.”
The small tearoom offers more than 150 varieties of tea from around the world—enough to satisfy any taste. Edwards also carries a selection of tisanes, or herbal teas, such as the naturally caffeine-free Godiva Rooibos (pronounced ROY-bos). At this tasteful stop, I find the perfect tea for my mother: several ounces of Rosie Earl Grey, a rich black tea with a hint of rose petals to invigorate the spirit and infuse her Southwestern home with floral notes. She’ll love it—and, knowing her, she’ll brew a pot for company.
I thoroughly enjoy my steaming cup of Assam Full Leaf, a splendid black tea. Best of all, tea’s healing antioxidants thrill my being to the bone. At home, I add agave nectar, a delicious natural sweetener.
A tea experience can impart casual elegance without all the fluff. “For an informal afternoon tea served at a book club, I recommend letting the guests serve themselves from a buffet table,” advises Edwards. Arrange your food items, book-themed decorations, and flowers on a large table with a tablecloth. To add an elegant touch, use a three-tiered serving tray for scones and sandwiches. Finally, the table(s) should be prearranged with utensils, cups and saucers, napkins, and condiments.
Flavorful loose-leaf tea brewed to perfection sets the tone of a tea party. “It’s hard to go wrong when using fresh loose-leaf tea,” emphasizes Edwards. “Your guests will be wowed by the flavor, whatever it is.” Tailor the tea to the experience you want to convey and get a feel for what your guests expect: Will they desire fruity teas, tea with milk and sugar, with lemon and honey, or plain tea? To heighten the experience, use good water. According to Edwards, “Filtered spring water is best. Never use distilled water, as it will give your tea a flat taste.”
Edwards, who has mastered the fine art of brewing and serving tea, offers a hassle-free serving strategy for your book-club gathering: Once your guests are seated, present each table with tea in a pot. If you have a small group, carefully pour each guest’s cupful. If there’s more than one table, allow the head of the table to serve the tea. “It’s important for the host’s style to come through,” Edwards hints, “and, therefore, many of the technicalities of how things are done should be a reflection of the host. The point of all this is the guests’ enjoyment . . . that is paramount!”
After turning in this article, Wendy Sue Gist retired to a cozy corner of her yurt with a hot cup of tea and a good book.
“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” —C.S. Lewis
The New Mexico Tea Company Might be the answer to your pesky relatives-who-have-everything shopping problem. Jam-packed with more then 100 unusual teas and tisanes, it also has a delightful cache of teapots, cup, and clever infusers. For the perfect stocking-stuffer, scoop up the origami "fortune cookies," filled with blooming tea and good news.
Edwards: I really wanted to work for myself. At the same time, my motherdecided she wanted to open a card shop, and she wanted me to do thebusiness side of it, I thought that a card shop wasn't unique enough,so the idea of tea came about. I always liked tea and didn't really knowmuch about it, except that I liked it.
ATM: What’s your mission?
Edwards: To educate people about tea, and provide something that'shard for people to get here. Tea doesn't grow in the United States atall, especially not commercially, so all the tea comes from China, India,Japan, Africa, South Africa, and places like that. Before, a lot of peoplewould have to order their tea online, and now I can satisfy that need.
ATM: So what flavors do you offer?
Edwards: With flavors of tea there's an innite amount that you canhave: Earl Grey with black tea, Earl Grey with green tea, Earl Grey withwhite tea. We don't have every combination, but we have the four maintypes of tea: black tea, white tea, green tea, and oolong. They all comefrom the same plant. They are the true teas. Then we have our selectionof herbal teas as well, the rooibos, and the Chamomile and spearmint,and all those sorts of things.
ATM: What are the benefits of drinking tea?
Edwards: One is that you can come at it from so many different angles.Some people get into the spiritual side of drinking tea, and others getinto the health benets. Other people just drink tea because the caffeine helps them wake up in the morning. Others like the ceremony of it- the English-Victorian style with the scones and all of that; dressing up and tea parties. It's the most consumed beverage, after water, in the world.
ATM: What's the biggest myth surrounding tea?
Edwards: People think that a box of tea is all there is, when there's awhole world of teas out there. Another misconception is that tea is justfor women or tea parries, or for being fancy- and there is that aspect, butthere's also the construction worker that drinks black tea, or thereghter.
ATM: What prompted the idea of adding the cafe to the store?
Edwards: Since day one, people have asked, "Do you serve tea in yourlittle back patio?" And, nally, I've gured out a way to do it. We havean employee now, so that makes it feasible. The tea store has been retailfor two and a half years, and it will always be the heart of it- and theservice will be the addition. I'd like to think that the store is an elegantexperience, my goal is to make it elegant for anyone to enjoy.
ATM: What’s your favorite part about what you do?
Edwards: I'm fascinated with the business side of tea. I enjoy orderingthe teas, selecting which teas we should have, talking to people abouttheir tea, selling the tea. Even more than just drinking tea- specicallyin the store- what's so great is we have customers who come in and theyreally don't like tea. Once they realize what tea is, then they get excitedabout it. Introducing someone who's enthusiastic to the world of tea isprobably the most enjoyable.
ATM: What's the proper way to steep tea?
Edwards: There's a way that it is traditionally done, and then the waypeople like to do it. Some people like more bitterness, some like asmooth tea. As long as you learn the ground rules, then you can controlsteeping the cup of tea you want. So, green tea: you use less-than-boilingwater. Black tea: you use boiling water. The water temperature is the mostimportant thing, and the thing that people most often get wrong. A lotof people will say they don't like green tea because it tastes too bitter.One of the reasons that it's so bitter is because of the water temperatureis too high. If you use the proper water temperature, then you can steepit the whole time, which is about two minutes. There are two factors tocontrolling the bitterness: one is the water temperature, and the secondis time. If either of those are wrong, then you'll get a cup of tea thatdoesn't taste great.
ATM: So what tea pleases your palate?
Edwards: The tea that I drink the most of is Earl Grey with milk andsugar. In the summer, it's this blood orange iced tea, which is a rooibos,so it's caffeine free. You can drink as much of it as you want withoutgetting dehydrated and without staying up all night.
David Edwards, who owns New Mexico Tea Company with his mother Dianne Edenfi eld, opened the doors two years ago to purvey fine loose teas (no by the cup sales). Edwards holds free Friday evening tastings limited to six people.
Like a conversation, tastings take on the character of the participants. Some want to know the basics, others focus on the health benefi ts, some want the history. “I offer eight teas, a pure and a fl avored variety of each of the four kinds of tea,” Edwards says. “Often, people are intimidated by the idea of a tasting. But this is a good way for someone to expand their palate or to simply get an overview. I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like some type of tea.
Edwards also schedules a Chinese tea class/ceremony taught by a Chinese tea instructor named Yatoe. Participants learn the Gongfu style of preparing and brewing traditional Chinese teas for $35 per person.
New Mexico Tea Company’s tiny loft space is a study in elegant design and carries a beautiful selection of Asian teapots and cups.
Those are just a few of the methods Edwards, an enterprising 27-year-old with a background in graphics design and a knack for the entrepreneurial, has employed to promote the New Mexico Tea Co., a two-year-old bulk tea business he opened with his mother, Dianne Edenfield, in the fall of 2006.
“I love to give stuff away,” says Edwards, who previously worked for Home Depot and as a cruise ship activities director, before realizing his business acumen was going to waste working for others. “People’s faces light up. It creates an excitement around the name, whether they end up coming in to the store or not.”
Edwards says he operates on the “tithing principle” — that whatever you give away will eventually come back to you — and Edenfield agrees. She had originally planned to open an incense and card shop in Old Town by herself after working for the University of New Mexico Press for 14 years. But after meeting with a local incense supplier who furnished her with a plethora of free samples and “set me on the track of the spirit of generosity,” she instead decided to embrace her son’s vision for the tea shop.
“David’s philosophy is to give away the best value you can and not cheapen it,” says Edenfield, who handles the “artistic end” of the retail store, at Mountain Road and 12th Street NW. “And that philosophy is carried through our whole shop. It is an act of generosity, rather than a marketing ploy.”
If giving things away seems like a strange way to go about building a business, it’s no more shocking than the other business rules Edwards and Edenfield have broken in becoming first-time entrepreneurs. When they began, they had no business plan, no backers, no capital (Edenfield charged the $20,000 in start-up costs on her credit cards) and insufficient funds to pay their second month of rent. To this day, they’ve not done a single bit of traditional advertising.
Moreover, their tea shop is not even in the business of serving tea — its focus is on selling loose-leaf bulk tea only. Still, revenues have almost doubled in the second year of operation and about 200 customers a month — half regulars and half new acquaintances — are now coming through the doors.
Six months after opening, the business debuted an information-packed, graphically sophisticated Web site Edwards designed that has expanded its online presence; outreach to wholesale customers like restaurants and cafes followed soon thereafter. Edwards’ goal is to make each of the three aspects — brick and mortar retail, online retail and wholesale — account for a third of the store’s revenues, though he admits that, right now, 90 percent of his business is in-store sales.
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“I think the tea industry right now is where the specialty coffee industry was 20 years ago,” he says of pre-Starbucks days. “And I feel we’re in a comfortable position because we’re ahead of or on top of that wave.”
But Edwards and Edenfield are hardly coasting. They admit getting their endeavor off the ground has been challenging; it continues to demand most of their time and energy. With the store open seven days a week and no employees, at least one of the two is always at the shop between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. daily. There is a constant effort to create name recognition and expand the customer base.
Take that newsletter, for example. Sign up online (www.nmteaco.com) and you receive a free ounce of bulk tea (there are 140 types to choose from) when next you visit. Edwards tracks every newsletter customer — and knows there are a few who come in each month for nothing but the free ounce. But that’s OK, he says, because it is still another foot in the door and another mouth to spread the word.
“I think a lot of [business] people get so wrapped up in the bottom line, they won’t take the risk and trust the customers to decide for themselves if they want to support the company,” he says.
That freedom of choice also extends to Edwards’ and Edenfield’s attitude toward any customer’s purchase preferences. From the outset they envisioned a business free of the elitism often associated with tea-drinking — a place not based on Asian or English tea tradition, but one that was strictly American.
“We didn’t want to be ‘fake’ anything,” says Edenfield, “or to present a snob culture. You can drink your tea any way you want it.”
That’s not to say you can’t learn all about the rich historical and botanical traditions of tea from the company’s Web site, and from the owners themselves. They’ll supply anything from recipes for dishes made with tea to an online video on proper brewing for decaffeination. Edwards also provides Friday night tea tastings by reservation that incorporate traditional ceremonial processes.
“Because the philosophy of our store is to provide the customer with what they want — not what anyone says they should like — all these facts help the customer decide what they want to buy,” says Edenfield.
Edwards is an encyclopedia of tea knowledge and uses social networking sites like Facebook and My Space, as well as a blog, to get his message across. That’s just another strategic move he foresaw from the outset.
“In the late ’80s, there was what I call the ‘mall mentality,’ in this country,” he says. “But I think there’s a shift now to specialty stores. People want to buy products from someone who knows what they’re doing and selling.”
Along with the specialization is an emphasis on the local. Though the tea plant (that all tea comes from one plant is just one of the interesting facts Edwards supplies) is not grown in New Mexico, the herbs that make the brews, called tisanes, are. And the New Mexico Tea Co. carries some from Datil and Jemez Pueblo. The store also sells local art and pottery and is partnering with Glazed Hams and Moreanother Albuquerque business, to create gift baskets with local products.
The company supports the Sandia High School Tea Club and, in the future, hopes to do outreach in rural areas of the state to educate up-and-coming tea consumers. It’s all part of Edwards’ and Edenfield’s determination to project an image larger than the small business they presently are.
“No matter how small you are, never act small,” Edwards advises. “You want to project an image of how you want people to see you.
“My goal is that when someone thinks, ‘I want something tea-related,’ they think of the New Mexico Tea Co. I want people to see us as the premiere tea shop in the state.”
ProductWe tasted several teas--white, flavored white, green, flavored green, oolongs, smoked and blacks, as well as rooibos (not really tea). In addition we experienced the difference between different steepings of the same teas. The choices were diverse and sometimes challenging, and really gave a good cross-section of the possibilities out there. I feel David's prices are reasonable; he only sells bulk tea, priced by the ounce.
David gently busts some myths about the various teas. Many people know that regardless of variety (green, white, whatever), tea comes from only one plant. David explains the difference in processing between the varieties and goes into some of the more exotic means of preparing tea--for example, some jasmine teas are made by placing a tea leaf into a jasmine flower, letting the flower close overnight, and then removing the tea leaf the next morning. Who knew? He also handles questions about caffeine adroitly: "If you are really worried about caffeine content between the different teas," he suggests, "look for something else to drink." Different caffeine levels can be achieved by rinsing the leaves after their first steeping, he explains. And the taste difference between the different steepings (we went to four on a ginseng oolong!) is subtle, nuanced and really interesting.
EnvironmentIt's very friendly and relaxed. Sometimes in life, you meet people who feel that, as experts in their field, it's their job to demonstrate their superior education and then gently guide your tastes in the proper direction. I can't stand that. David approaches the tea as a shared experience that a person should have some fun with. As with wine, my favorite approach is 'try what you want to, explore what you like, and don't go back to what you don't like.' This fits perfectly with the vibe at these tastings.
So What the Hell does ridin Know About Tea?More than the average bear, actually. Before becoming unemployed and wretchedly poor, I used to work for Yogi Tea in Marketing, and I was exposed (sometimes reluctantly) to several tastings a week. New products and reformulations all had to come through my department for feedback. Staff at the tastings always included hardcore types like the brand manager and the director of marketing--Sikhs who had drunk some tea in their time, let me tell you. I thoroughly enjoyed the tasting at New Mexico Tea and I heartily recommend it! It would make a fun date, including a first date. There really wasn't anything about it I didn't like, and you guys know I can be a bit...um...discerning at times. You'll have fun, you'll learn a thing or two (I did), and you'll expand your taste buds' consciousness. Without busting your wallet's chakras.
Also on the northeast corner of Mountain and 12th, New Mexico Tea Company’s owner, David Edwards, not only brings teas from around the world into one location but also offers handmade soaps from Taos, paintings by local artists, unique teapots, Japanese incense, saggar-fired incense bowls made in Carrizozo, free tea tastings and classes with a Chinese tea master.
Stuffed, I walked across the street to the store that supplies Sunshine Café with its robust menu of teas and herbal infusions. New Mexico Tea Company is a small, super-classy storefront owned by 26-year-old entrepreneur David Edwards. I had an absolute blast hanging out and chatting with him about loose-leaf teas, blends and the comparative merits of the new silky pyramid tea bags (turns out they allow more room for tea leaves to expand) versus the old pillow-style dippers.Edwards is a tea lover’s wet dream—his noggin houses an almost encyclopedic knowledge of everything tea-related.
“All tea comes from the same plant, all four types: black, green, white and oolong,” he said. Then he enlightened me about trendy herbal infusions like Rooibos.
“They’re called tisane [pronounced tee-saan], which means anything that is not tea, like leaves, twigs and berries,” he explained.
Edwards’ collection of teas is quite sophisticated and seems to have something for everyone.
The greens are comprised of gunpowder, sencha, matcha and long ching, the blended greens include Moroccan mint, genmai cha (with the little toasty popped rice kernels), jasmine pearl and a mint-and-lemon gunpowder blend. He carries traditional, pure black teas like lapsang souchong (think deep wood smoke), assam and ceylon, and black blends like Scottish breakfast, huckleberry black, black jasmine cream and Russian caravan.
I purchased an ounce each of jasmine pearl ($5.50), masala chai in sachets (Edwards blends this himself with black pepper, $.65 each) and Casablanca ($3.44), which is my new personal favorite. Casablanca's dueling flavors of green and black teas, infused with mint and bergamot, is spectacular any time of day.
When I asked Edwards if he had any advice to share with newbie tea drinkers, he smiled and said, “Pick a tea you like, and drink a lot of it. It’s really good for you—lots of different antioxidants in both green and black.”Words to steep by, if ever I heard them.
David Edwards is a young entrepreneur who knows more about tea than one man should. It’s a good thing too, because he is the owner of New Mexico Tea Company, located next to FHAB. And while he doesn’t actually serve tea, he will happily show you the proper tea-brewing technique. He too, is enthusiastic about the growth of the area.
“Everyone is interested in the (Mountain Road) area,” Edwards related, “and they care about it. Many (of the owners) live in the area too.”
His passion for tea is catching; so much so that Sunshine, Golden Crown, and the recently-established walk-up coffee shop, Caffe Michelangelo, have begun to carry many varieties of Edwards’ tea. Tea tastings are offered every Saturday at 9a, and Chinese Tea Classes (for $35) are held every Saturday, from 9-11a. [NOTE: check times and avalibleity of events on our events page]
Edwards and his mother, Diane Edwards, own and operate New Mexico Tea Co. on Mountain Road near 12th Street. "Tea is so much better for you than coffee," Edwards said. "My goal is to educate people about tea and to make it an everyday kind of beverage."
Edwards admits that convincing Americans to drink more tea is an uphill battle that goes back more than 200 years. He explained the American aversion to tea most likely stems from the Boston Tea Party in which a group of American colonists protested a tax the British had imposed on tea by dumping a shipload of tea into the Boston Harbor. "It's not that they didn't like tea, but they didn't like the tax," he said.
Tea became a British symbol and to differentiate themselves from the British, Americans took to drinking coffee. Now is the time to come back to tea, Edwards said, not only because its different varieties taste better than coffee, but because it is a healthier beverage. Tea is loaded with antioxidants, which help prevent damage to cells.
Edwards said all teas are derived from the same plant. However, consumers need to be aware that some products are not tea at all, such as chamomile and other herbal "teas." "They are very good products, but they aren't tea," he said. The different types of tea come from the different processing of the tea leaves, he said.
One type of tea that Edwards warns against is anything mass produced and packaged in the familiar paper tea bags. The tea in the bag usually comes from different locations, is ground up and put in the bags, which dull the flavor. "Companies do that to have a consistent flavor," Edwards said. "I call it consistently bad."
The New Mexico Tea Co. has more than 50 varieties of tea as well as accessories, such as teapots and strainers. The store also sells a large variety of Japanese and wild crafted incense, a nod to Diane Edwards. "I originally wanted to open an incense store but we decided that probably wouldn't have been too successful," Diane Edwards said.
The tea available at the store is sold in bags, loose or in tins. David Edwards said he sells it in small amounts so customers are able to take a sample home with them. The store opened Nov. 1. Edwards said he has been surprised at the support the store has been given. "There are a lot of tea drinkers and there are more in this neighborhood than we thought there would be," he said.
Edwards said he is working with providing tea to local restaurants— including offering the expertise in preparation. Right now, the store has its loyal customers and Edwards says the number is increasing as word of mouth spreads.
"It's great," he said. "It's not work if I can talk about tea all day."
The crisp little tea shop at 12th and Mountain was too sunny and too new to drive by. Plus, it was open on a Sunday. And so Sophie and I chatted up the proprietor of Albuquerque's newest tea shop, a visionary guy named David Edwards.
David opened New Mexico Tea Company about 2 months ago in what real-estate types are calling "an up-and-coming" part of Albuquerque's downtown. Indeed, signs of gentrification are everywhere -- from the numerous art galleries on Mountain to David's tea shop itself, all spotless and linear.
Tea snobs may wish for more loose-leaf selections, but the offerings are hardly sparse. [NOTE: This was written when we first opend, we are exclusively bulk loose leaf now]
Sophie and I sipped oolong and rooibos. We lusted after those expando blooming tea blossoms and some pretty ceramic tea sets. Ultimately, we took home a pomegranate white tea (Sophie) and a tangerine oolong (me). I'm drinking the oolong right now, in fact, and it's pretty darn great, especially if you mingle it all up in your mouth with a bite of Maya Gold chocolate from the Coop. Check out the place for yourself and let us know what you think.
UPDATE: I drank so much oolong last night that I couldn't fall asleep til 4 AM, which makes makes me one overly satisfied customer.
The Albuquerque Tribune
By Tamara Shope
Monday, January 15, 2007
Dinosaurs, sculptures and high-wire bicycles are far from the only cool things to be found on Mountain Road Northwest at the edge of Old Town.
And the street seems to be getting more chic by the minute.Take, for example, New Mexico Tea Company and its ultra-hip owner, David Edwards.
Edwards knows just about everything there is to know about tea, and he's more than happy to share that information. His shop, 1131 Mountain Road N.W., sells nothing but the best varieties - try the blueberry rooibos - as well as high-quality incense, sleek pots and local art. (He'd love it, by the way, if local artists wanted to sell their teapots there, too.)
What he doesn't do is sell the tea by the cup. He wants you to enjoy it all at home.