The secrets of a perfect cup of tea, from a world-renowned tea master

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"Tea cupping," which makes use of all the senses, is a sensory activity that requires time and focus. Photo by CARINA SANTOS

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — One Friday afternoon, David De Candia, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf’s tea director, held a tea appreciation workshop in one of the company’s more secluded branches in Taguig. To a crowd of twenty or so journalists and food influencers, De Candia says, "We want to make the perfect cup of tea."

For the duration of the workshop, he gets into the nitty-gritty, from defining the technicalities of tea — which, for the record, excludes herbal or fruit teas, as they don't come from the Camellia sinensis plant, a species of evergreen shrub from which actual tea leaves come — to how it's made, how it's prepared, and how it's been used in the course of history.

In about two hours, the workshop participants learned that making tea is not just pouring boiling water into a bunch of leaves, letting it sit for a while, and calling it a day. There's a precision that's required to make your cup a great one.

To make the perfect cup of tea, de Candia says, "It's not just how it tastes.”

De Candia's passion for tea is infectious. Sitting in front of the different blends while listening to him talk about them is a delight, leaving one at a loss as to which ones to taste first.

As the coffee chain’s tea director, he travels all around the world to make sure that he sources the very best teas. All of their tea leaves are harvested from family-owned farms in countries like China and Sri Lanka, with the oldest farm dating back to 1869 and the youngest dating back to 1902. For De Candia, it’s important to know, too, where his ingredients come from, citing factors such as child labor and sustainability to be part of his criteria of selection. The company’s tea pluckers have 401k plans, maternity leaves, and can start as early as 16 years old with a mandatory retirement age of 62. Their Caring Cup Program has also helped fund schools and libraries in some growers’ origins.

David De Candia - Tea Workshop As Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf’s tea director, David De Candia travels all around the world to make sure that he sources the very best teas. Photo by CARINA SANTOS  

De Candia claims that Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf is the only remaining tea company in the world that supervises their blends from seed to cup, removing the middlemen from the picture and overseeing the quality of all steps of production. All their leaves are hand-plucked and hand-processed, relying on the human eye for gauging quality, rather than on automated machinery.

With a serving of Genmaicha green tea, the workshop participants were also introduced to the process of "tea cupping," which makes use of all the senses, and is an activity that requires time and focus. To properly taste the nuances of the tea, for example, slurping rather than sipping is preferable. And, aside from tasting the tea, fully experiencing it may mean tapping into your olfactory senses (the dry tea blends smell markedly different from water-infused leaves, for example), or seeing the leaves and feeling the different ingredients between your fingers. De Candia talks about creating a sensory story, where you can evaluate the tea in concrete, non-abstract ways, based on your different sensory experiences of them, not just the taste.

For the 18 years he's been with Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, De Candia has made thousands of blends, coming up with about 15 final blends each year. Each blend can take about six months to make, with some even going through 500 variations before being released into the market, requiring, he believes, patience, passion, and knowledge.

One of Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf’s most popular tea blends is the Chai, which translates to “tea." De Candia's blend of the popular flavored black tea  — often made into tea lattes — contains 11 different ingredients, including clove, cinnamon, cardamom, lemon peel, and black pepper. For tea newbies, De Candia says that tea lattes are perfect gateway drinks.

David de Candia For the 18 years he's been with Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, De Candia has made thousands of blends. Each blend can take about six months to make, with some even going through 500 variations before being released into the market. Photo courtesy of COFFEE BEAN AND TEA LEAF  

De Candia drinks an average of about 25 cups of tea a day. He believes that with the community integration of tea, improvement and wellness will follow. The caffeine in tea, for example, affects people differently from the caffeine in coffee. Rather than the physiological effect of caffeine from coffee, caffeine in tea affects us neurologically, which De Candia explains is the reason why coming down from a caffeine kick from coffee can often feel like burning down, but coming down from one from tea sometimes feels relaxing and meditative, helping even with one’s focus.

"We're creating a movement, right, Paolo? A tea movement," De Candia turns to Del Rosario, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf’s vice president for marketing and business development. "I'm serious,” he playfully tells the crowd. In the afterglow of an intensive crash course on tea, one couldn’t have believed him more.