AS A GIRL in Ethiopia, Emebet Bellingham Korn made herbal concoctions out of pickings from her mother’s garden. As a university student in San Francisco, she studied fashion. Now, as a businesswoman and Marin mother of three, she runs an organic tea company that is also a tea shop/art gallery in downtown San Anselmo. Desta is a pretty name. It means joy in my native language. How did you get into the tea business? Quite serendipitously, actually. After working as a fashion designer, I started a nonprofit and I began to import tea and Ethiopian coffee to raise money, but my heart was always with the tea. When the nonprofit ended, I dropped the coffee and focused on tea. Why a shop and a gallery? I missed the art part of my life. I could have expanded my wholesale tea business, but I wanted to bring my two passions together. I still have my wholesale business, but this is our flagship store and gallery. Flagship? Are more on the way? That’s a hope. Is the world divided into coffee people and tea people? Yes and no. The good news is that now a lot of coffee drinkers are open to tea. They might do their coffee in the morning and in midday they might do green tea and in the evening they might go herbal. What do you tell a coffee drinker who’s thinking of switching? Try as many teas as you can until you find the one that makes you happy. Tea is like wine. The choice is endless. You need to try it. Do you drink coffee? Once in a while in the morning. I love the smell of coffee. It’s lovely. But tea doesn’t make you so jittery. What if you really want that jolt? What tea do you recommend? Pu-erh can give you that, but most people may not be ready for pu-erh because it’s a Chinese fermented tea. It has a lot of zing, but it comes with a woodsy, earthy taste. What’s popular? Matcha, a high-end, powdered green Japanese tea, is very fashionable. The monks would drink it before meditation. It is concentrated, it has more antioxidants, but it is expensive. I enjoy putting a scoop of matcha on almond milk and drinking it. Do your children drink tea? They love it. They drink tea in the morning and they drink tea before they go to bed. And your husband? He’s German. He drinks coffee.
This article originally appeared in Marin Magazine’s print edition under the headline: “The Art of Tea.”