Metro, Food

Tea Basics Class Provides Immersive, Hands-On Experience

What’s better than ending a long day with a hot cup of tea? You can do just that—and much more—at MEM Tea’s tasting room in Somerville, Mass. MEM Tea, a company that provides restaurants and coffee shops with specialty tea, has also reached out to the public with its many tasting and brewing classes.

At 6:30 last Thursday night, the company provided one of its popular Tea Basics classes, which gives the public a chance to learn about the immense world of tea. With a group of about 15 people plus an instructor, the shop created an intimate and serene setting for customers.

Located in Davis Square, the training center and tasting room were established by MEM tea in 2016. Before its creation, MEM performed tastings in the restaurants and shops of its patrons.

“We wanted to have a place where we could invite people, because we taste all the time with restaurants,” said Suanne Scalise, director of training and education at MEM. “And sometimes it’s difficult for us to do in their location, so it’s nice to have a tasting room.”

Though MEM established its tasting room primarily for businesses, they realized that they could expand into a completely different sector: providing services directly to the public. “We realized we had all of this space to use,” Scalise said. “Why not invite the public as well?”

MEM educates the public in classes like Tea Basics every week, though they also hold more specialized events such as Matcha Workshop and Blending the Perfect Cup, which teaches the history and preparations of chai. They host guest speakers to teach classes, including experts in kombucha and mushroom tea. The tea basics class is a much broader source of information, and it’s most helpful for beginners.

The class progressed through five varieties of teas, including white, green, black, oolong, and pu-er, describing the flavor profiles and origins of each tea leaf. The difference between black, green, and oolong teas, as described in the class, is based on the tea leaf’s level of oxidation.

Scalise, the instructor, traced the tea’s journey from being hand-picked to its arrival at MEM. The company imports only whole leaf or specialty tea, which accounts for about 3 to 4 percent of tea produced around the world. MEM sources all of its ingredients separately and makes its own blends. Its tea is hand-picked or picked by machines that mimic hand motions.

The class not only discussed the origins of tea, but also provided helpful advice for brewing tea at home. When asked about the sweetness of a particular variety of green tea, Scalise explained that if a leaf is given the right temperature level and amount of time, you can hit the sweet spot (no pun intended) and avoid any bitterness.

Moving on from the education portion of the class, participants tasted teas that fell within each variety. Some teas were definitely more popular among participants in the class than others. The matcha, a thicker tea with a deep green color, was less well received than the jasmine pearl.  

Toward the end of class, Tea Basics also provided a hands-on experience for participants to brew their own variety of oolong tea using Japanese tools and techniques. The results ranged from a deep orange color to a yellow-gold, emphasizing the immersive tea experience that a specialty company such as MEM can provide to patrons.

“Tea Basics is a good immersion into the world of tea, if you don’t know a lot about it,” Scalise explained. “But even if you do know a lot about it, you get to taste a large selection of teas, and the experiences in the class are just the tip of the iceberg.”

Featured Image by Catherine Cremens / Heights Editor

January 28, 2018