NEXT TO WATER, tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world. And one growth trend forecasted for 2018 and beyond is, you guessed it, the leafy stuff — especially green tea. This is good news to Catherine and Ned Heagerty, tea importers and owners of San Rafael–based Silk Road Teas. Even though they don’t follow trends, they follow what they believe in and in this case that is sharing rare and artisan teas from out-of-the-way markets, tea farms and specialty tea companies in China. Actually, it’s simpler: “Our goal is to provide our customers the very best cup of tea,” says Ned. Many of the teas Silk Road Teas sources are not well known or widely offered in the U.S., but through the company’s diverse distribution channels it is able to give tea drinkers an opportunity to enjoy a cup and experience new flavors, fragrant qualities and health benefits of artisanal, unadulterated tea not easily found otherwise. Catherine says, holding a warm cup of oolong, “In that first taste, they often become loyal customers.”
Always cognizant that the process begins with suppliers (farmers and specialty tea factories) that craft the teas, Silk Road Teas highly values its long-standing overseas relationships, at the same time nurturing those closer to home.
Silk Road Teas increasingly sources third-party certified organic teas to complement its line of traditionally grown teas and to encourage organic farming. The company is a certified USDA NOP (National Organic Program) Organic Handler, its bulk tea bags are biodegradable and sustainable, and its tea sachets are made from biodegradable, non-GMO cornstarch. Silk Road Teas can be found nationwide in 50 stores such as Whole Foods, in top restaurants including Chez Panisse and Slanted Door, and in local shops like Equator Coffees and Teas.
Believing in fair trade and following a direct procurement model, Silk Road Teas pays the farmer’s asking price, which supports traditional specialty tea production and the viability of organically grown tea. In its San Rafael operation, the company hires adults with disabilities to package the teas. Silk Road Teas is also partnered with Ceres Community Project and donates a portion of every tea box sale to support that organization’s efforts, as well as contributing tea bags to accompany the meals Ceres provides.
WHAT THEY SAY
“One of the most rewarding aspects of our business is when we receive a phone call or a letter from our customers telling us how much they enjoy our tea and how tea has become an integral part of their daily lives.”
• White, green, oolong and black teas all come from the Camellia sinensis plant
• Many doctors now recommend drinking 4 to 6 cups of green tea daily to promote health
• To brew tea, always use spring or filtered water, never tap water
• Cover your teapot or cup as it steeps to preserve the beneficial essential oils
• As with wine, region, elevation, soil and sun exposure are important to the quality of tea
• Pu-erh tea is aged and fermented