Tea’s Me Café, the local tea company owned by former WNBA star Tamika Catchings, opened a second location in 2021 and now offers a monthly tea subscription for home delivery. In-house tea chemist Joi DeFrantz gives some tips on how to get the most out of every sip.
You have an unusual background. You started your career as a chemist in a laboratory, and now you are informally known around town as a tea chemist. How did this happen?
Yes, I have degrees in Chemistry and Spanish. I was in the lab for about 12 years and then transitioned into business. I’ve been with Tea’s Me for four years and was Tamika’s first employee.
The perfect tea seems to be a chemical pursuit. Can you talk about this connection?
I learned a lot about the molecules in tea. You have L-theanine, which is a natural brain relaxant. They have polyphenols that are the antioxidants. Thioflavin is an antioxidant found in black teas. All of this is a natural ingredient in tea. There are a lot of good chemistry with tea because you have an extraction process that you do with the tea when you soak the leaves in water. Depending on the type of tea you drink, you will need a certain water temperature. And then the brewing time depends on the type of tea leaf. If you have a more fragile tea leaf like green tea, infuse it for a shorter time at a lower temperature. If you have a sturdier, fully oxidized leaf like black tea, infuse it at a higher temperature for longer.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about tea?
I think people don’t understand all of the health benefits of tea. It sounds like a gimmick, but I honestly feel like my overall health has improved from drinking tea every day. We have loose leaf tea in the cafe and the taste is so rich. Sometimes people want to add something and I try to tell them that you really don’t need it. The tea naturally has a lot of taste. Many things that people add mask the natural flavors and potentially reduce some of the health benefits. Customers are usually pleasantly surprised by the taste of loose tea because they are used to tea they get in tea bags, and those are leftovers from production. It doesn’t have the robust, nice, fresh taste of loose tea.
When you talk about people adding tea, are you talking about sweeteners and milk? Such things?
Yes. Milk and artificial sweeteners because they have their own taste. If you want to sweeten your tea, we recommend using raw cane sugar. There is nothing wrong with honey, but because it has such a strong taste itself, it can mask the taste of the tea. There are times when all you need is this honey tonic, right? It is very soothing to your throat. So, I definitely understand adding honey to tea every now and then.
Can you give us a quick lesson on loose tea? Something like loose-leaf pacifier tea?
It’s part of the tea plant. All teas come from the same plant. Originally it was in more Asian countries like China and Japan. And now, of course, they have got the plant to more tropical regions. But no matter whether white or black tea, everything comes from the same plant. Tea is harvested around four times a year. White tea is the most sensitive and the first offer of the tea plant. Next are green teas. They go evergreen with this lush, grassy look. Then there are the oolong teas, which are slightly darker due to oxidation (the amount of time they are exposed to air before they are harvested), and finally the black teas, which are completely oxidized, and therefore they are the darkest.
What are your best selling teas?
The green teas definitely because they have so many great health benefits. They’re great for metabolism, blood pressure, and lowering cholesterol.
You said you drink tea every day. What does the perfect tea day look like for you? Take us in tea from morning to night.
Oh wow Depends on. Some days I’m a little more dizzy, so I’ll start with the black teas because they have the most caffeine and are the best way to get energized. And then I’ll probably get a green later in the day because it has a lighter, fresher, more grassy taste. And then I end the day with a herbal tea. Herbal teas are technically not teas as they do not contain tea leaves. They are dried fruits and flowers, so they are most resilient when it comes to pulling them. You can let them steep longer at a higher temperature without burning the more delicate tea leaves.
What happens if you let a tea brew too long or the water is too hot?
It can burn the tea leaves and make them very bitter. Often times, when people say they don’t like tea, it’s because they had a bad experience with it because it wasn’t soaked properly. Steep time and temperature are important.
What are your recommendations for people who want to make a good cup of tea at home but aren’t sure when and how warm it is?e?
One thing we recommend is using a tea divider instead of a bag. A tea bag can constrict the leaves, but the steeper one has more room for your tea leaves to open and breathe. With white and green teas, heat the water just before boiling. If it comes to a boil, don’t worry. Just let it sit for a minute or two, then pour it over your tea. You can use boiling water for oolong and black teas. I wouldn’t let anything steep for more than three to five minutes, and that depends on the preferences of the person drinking it. The longer you let it steep, the more robust the taste, so it’s really a personal preference. And the other really important thing is focus. We recommend one teaspoon to one and a half teaspoons of tea per 6 to 8 ounces of water. If you add too many leaves it can taste very bitter very quickly. Too few tea leaves are too light without much flavor. Over time, you will learn your own taste preferences.