“When I left the U.S., I thought of Lipton when I thought of tea,” said Raji Singh.
But a lot has changed since then. Singh, 25, is the North American business development director for luxury tea brand Newby Teas. While her taste in tea has evolved with her new job, her original statement isn’t too far off from what many Americans might think when they hear the word tea.
Tea, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N., is the most consumed beverage in the world, second only to water. The beverage is less popular in the U.S., where coffee is king, but the demand for tea in the U.S. is growing. According to the Tea Association of the U.S.A., specialty teas alone saw an 8 to 10 percent growth in market sales between 2010 and 2015, supported mainly by baby boomers and millennials.
While East Lansing isn’t necessarily a hub for the baby boomers, the college town is no stranger to millennials. With the rising popularity of tea, and good tea at that, Newby seems to have arrived in Greater Lansing at the perfect time.
An Okemos native, Singh graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in international relations in 2014. In 2015, she moved to London to live with family, where she was introduced to the Newby brand and Nirmal Sethia, owner and founder of Newby Teas. After intensive tea training and education, she returned to East Lansing in August 2016 to launch Newby Teas’ first North American office.
I met up with Singh to taste some of the Newby teas for myself. Like any luxury brand, the experience is a main component of the product, and after stepping into Newby’s tasting room and seeing an ornate sliver tea set at one end of the bar and three clear glass pots with perfectly steeped tea on the other end, I could tell that going for a tasting at Newby Teas wasn’t simply about tasting — it was the entire experience.
Singh started the tasting by explaining how teas are made. All teas start with the same plant, and it’s how they’re processed that determines the tea profile. We also talked about Sethia, who was inspired to create Newby Teas by his wife, who died in 2010. In memory of her, Sethia built the world’s largest tea set collection, acquiring close to 1,600 pieces.
After the explanation, Singh took a tiny, clear, bowl-shaped glass and poured me some jasmine green tea. Its flavors were soft, pleasantly floral and not as hot as I expected it to be. Steeping green tea in boiling water, I learned, can cause bitterness. Second, I tried a masala chai. This chai wasn’t made with milk, which I’ve grown accustomed to in a chai. It was hotter than expected, so the first taste was a wash. By the second and third tastes, however, the sweet flavors came through, as well as a little spice. It was very aromatic and warmed my throat. The third wasn’t actually a tea at all. It was a strawberry mango tisane; a tea-like drink that’s not made with tea but instead uses natural flavors like spices, fruits or herbs. Chamomile, for example, is a tisane. This tisane tasted like strawberries and mangos — no surprise there — but it wasn’t sugary because there are no added sweeteners. While it was good warm, I would have preferred it over ice.
This decade has seen a decline in fast and overly-processed foods in America, while quality and healthiness seem to be trumping convenience in many aspects of consumer life. According to Singh, tea is more proof that this is true. She compared it to coffee, where slower methods like pour-over are replacing traditional Mr. Coffee-style brews. Similarly, the act of brewing loose-leaf tea is no quick process. Patience is a virtue, they say, and as Newby expands in America, Singh is hoping that Americans will embrace the virtues of well-made teas.