Check out the article on the Spotlight Toronto website
Check out Karen's article in the December 2009 edition of FoodService News
Check out the article on the Spotlight Toronto website
Check out Karen's article in the September 2009 edition of FoodService News
Check out Karen's article in the June 2009 edition of FoodService News
Proprietor Karen Hartwick, a certified tea sommelier, doesn’t just sell tea, she guides customers through personalized tea tastings at her Stratford shop, Tea Leaves. She helps tea-lovers find their favourite brew, be it rare silver tip white tea or a popular herbal blend of South African rooibos and Provençal petals.
“I’m trained to analyze their palate, and guide them using their likes and dislikes. We start by smelling the dry leaves and seeing which one they are drawn to.” Perhaps it’s the smoky undertone of Wuyi or the sweet chestnut smoothness of Green Spring Snail. The sample tea is then brewed in professional tasting cups equipped with fine white teeth to hold back the loose leaves.
When you walk through Karen Hartwick’s front door, the first thing that hits you is the smell. A soft aroma, floral, heady, toasted, drifts into the foyer and then up the nostrils. It makes for an unforgettable entrance.
Hartwick is the owner of the Tea Leaves Tea Tasting Bar in Stratford, Ontario. and she’s been brewing her unique loose-leaf varieties all afternoon. This natural perfume is a mix of oolongs, pu-erhs, and greens, only some of the many incredibly rare teas Hartwick sources from around the world. She even holds the distinction of being one of Canada’s few tea sommeliers, as she holds various certificates from New York’s Specialty Tea Institute. The word ‘sommelier’ immediately conjures up thoughts of gastro-snobs, swirling and spraying glasses of expensive wine. Hartwick, petite and well dressed in an oriental silk jacket, is anything but. Instead she lets down her sleek grey hair and greets each person with a smile. Then she might brew them up an impromptu sample and engage them in an uncluttered description of what exactly it is they’re trying.
What sets her apart from the other tea ventures in the province is her relentless pursuit for the best of the best in loose-leaf tea. When Tea Leaves first opened in April of 2004 she showcased just over 30 exotic varieties. Now, she stocks over 100 different kinds behind the bar in large black tins, and in the basement in specialty bags. She even has some in her bedroom. For Hartwick tea is much more than what is contained in these reserves. Enjoying a cup of loose-leaf tea, prepared in an authentic way, represents an exchange of ancient cultural traditions. “When you think about it tea in China, they’ve had it for over 5000 years. To them it’s about the drink, the ceremony,” she said. “The way of tea is really complex and it’s not just about the drink.”
Loose-leaf tea is also a more environmentally friendly option. Hartwick says that regular tea bags take seven years to break down in a landfill, while the new nylon pyramid ones take around 100 years. Depending on how it is packaged, the only waste loose-leaf tea makes is of the organic kind.
Hartwick’s undeniable partnership with tea goes way back to when she was four years old. Her grandmother would take her to the local market to pick up tea and market-fresh scones. Then the two would prepare the brew at home, Hartwick always drinking hers from a special cup given to her by her grandmother, and a tea party would soon be underway. Later, while in her early teens, Hartwick took a job at a local Swiss tea house. It was only after she had established herself as a successful member of the Canadian fashion industry that she decided to return to her roots and make tea her profession.
At Tea Leaves, Hartwick hosts intimate tasting parties where she selects and presents specific examples of her exotic teas. She also works with restaurants in and around Stratford as a consultant for their menus, and assists at North American tea conferences. Recently she collaborated with Stratford’s Rundles to develop an extensive fine tea menu with options that could be paired both during and after dinner. Hartwick, who personally trained the staff at Rundles about proper brewing and pouring, also sees a greater need for people to familiarize themselves with the types of tea they’re drinking. “I think it’s really important to educate people,” she said. “Tea is as essential as fine wine, scotch, cigars.”
She also admits that chefs need to open themselves up to the possibility of offering tea at their restaurants, in the same way they would offer wine. “We need to equip chefs with the awareness these flavours are out there,” Hartwick admitted. “When restaurant wants to set themselves apart they can create a custom tea menu. They’ll be a cut above.”
Hartwick decides to prepare a traditional oolong tea ceremony in the afternoon. She sets up a traditional wooden tea tray on a sun-drenched table in the dining room. This area is where Hartwick conducts her on-site tea tasting, making the experience at Tea Leaves feel like a unpretentious stay at someone’s home. The room is filled with dainty little oriental teacups, in materials that very from ceramic to glass. The pots, cups and accessories are mostly imported from overseas, and are all sold separately so customers can mix and match. Aside from the tea itself, Hartwick describes that finding a “cup that’s just right for you” is another essential part of a successful loose-leaf experience.
For the ceremony she showcases two teas: a green moss-textured Gao Lan Qing and a brittle black Honey Dan Chong. During the ceremony, Hartwick’s attention to detail and expertise are evident. She pours out water of the perfect temperature, and in just the right amount to deliver a well-balanced first-infusion, without the aid of measuring cups or timers. Some tea leaves, like the Gao Lan Qing, will give up to four infusions. That means one heaping teaspoon will yield 24 oz of brewed tea. The Gao Lan Qing we share is one of the most unbelievable teas I have ever tasted. The brew is a delicate pale yellow-green colour, tasting of damp, sweet, grass and silken butter. This smooth feeling still lines the inside of your lips after the drink is done, a sign of little tannic acid.
Yes, some of her teas seem expensive at first glance. A small, 2x2x3-inch tin of the Gao Lan Qing costs $22.50. As a tea lover, its money well spent, but for some it might seem like a fantastical amount to part with. Hartwick, who drinks around thirty cups of tea a day, insists that spending money on quality tea is no different than going out and spending $40 dollars on a bottle of fine wine. She also points out that the tea will last longer than one meal. “We deserve to have good tea everyday,” she said, adding that most fine teas only cost between 17 cents and 50 cents per 6-8 oz. cup.
There also numerous health benefits to drinking loose-leaf tea. For example, though many supermarket and pharmacy products boast the addition of green tea, Hartwick explains that commercial-grade tea is actually composed of the lowest quality part of the plant. These remnants, known as “dust” or “fannings” in the tea industry, are void of the nutritional elements loose-leaf brews have. “Ingesting high-end tea is the best way to get antioxidants,” Hartwick said.
At the end of the oolong ceremony I feel fresh and relaxed. Now I know why Hartwick’s unique approach to serving loose-leaf tea is one of the current culinary trends. It seems people are starting to take loose-leaf tea more seriously. With this in mind, Hartwick is planning on moving Tea Leaves from her current house she shares with a bed and breakfast to larger, perhaps more central location in Stratford.
Even though she has just returned from a month-long tea-buying trip in China - where she worked with local tea growers and apprenticed under some of the countries finest tea masters - she’s already thinking about heading to India in the fall. Hartwick’s future plans for Tea Leaves may still be unknown, however they are certain to be steeped the tradition, the passion, and the pursuit of loose-leaf tea.
For more information on Hartwick’s exotic teas, and how to properly brew loose-leaf tea, check out the Tea Leaves website at www.stratfordtealeaves.com
One of the most magical evening dinners during the Japan Tea Tour 2007 took place in the city of Shizuoka that nestles in the famed green tea prefecture of the same name.
After a short walk from the hotel, in the middle of a bustling modern city, I passed through the entrance to Fugetsuro. This was the last residence of the Shogun Prince Yoshinobu Tokugawa (after he resigned in the mid-19th century). The secluded garden is all that remained after the original building burned down in the 1890's. It was like walking into another time zone in different world. A famous historical site hidden by walls and trees unfolded before my eyes. The serene garden lit with lanterns was a quilt of autumnal foliage, lush pine trees, bamboo trees and shades of grey rock pathways. I crossed the wooden bridge over the dark still pond onto a grass lawn. There our hosts Kimie Otsuka and Kazuyuki Shirakata from Den's Tea introduced our group of nine tea travellers to government officials, translators and university professors who were joining us for dinner. An elegant martini glass filled with a green tea cocktail was served to everyone and we posed for a group photo before entering Fugetsuro. I was ushered into a hallway of shoji screened doorways that led to a large room where dinner was to be presented.
After a warm welcome by Ms.Otsuka formal introductions were made, followed bya few brief speeches from distinguished guests.
We were delighted to hear the latest on health research and new ideas on increasing the consumption of Japanese green tea in the U.S. from Dr. Isao Tomita from Shizuoka Sangyo University who is a leader in green tea and cancer research and president of the Society of Tea Science, and Mitsuru Shirai from the World Green Tea Association. Kaiseki Ryori dinner was served.
Kaiseki is a meal of nine courses which consists of a number of small entrees: steamed, simmered, and grilled food. This meal was designed by the chef to include green tea in the seasonal ingredients and paired with five delightful teas throughout the meal. Each was simply seasoned and beautifully presented on exquisite dinnerware, garnished with fresh flowers and leaves. Kaiseki Ryori was vegetarian in its origin, but this modern kaiseki meal included meat and seafood.
During the meal, the chef would announce and explain, in Japanese, the next dish to be served and a clear translation in English would follow. Dinner conversation was delightful as we exchanged ideas and thoughts on how Japanese green tea was accepted and promoted in North America.
We enjoyed incredible food, fine tea and interesting conversation with our Eastern colleagues. It was an example of hospitality at its finest meshing cultures through thoughts, language and actions. One thing became very clear - that answers can be found through the simplicity of a cup of tea.
The following teas accompanied this artistic and gracious Japanese seasonal cuisine during the meal in various delicate tea cups:
Sakura Sencha Gentle taste with a delicate hint of sweet cherry on the finish.
Matcha Sencha with Gold Leaf Served in a small clear cut glass tea cup so that you could enjoy the visual effect of the pale elixir along with the design of the cup. This tea was extremely complex to sip with a hint of gentle sweet grass of the Sencha contrasted with a bittersweet finish of matcha on the roof of your mouth and you could imagine the gold leaf clearing your palate for the next Nimono course."
Honyama Kamairicha “Koju” Crisp and clean. The flavor of this sencha was light and simple, with a pale yellow-green color and an aroma of sweet straw. Kamairicha teas do not undergo the usual steam treatments. After a short withering, they are pan-fired which was very evident in the cup.
Sencha Umegashima A palatte refresher. It was clear and the yellow-green liquor had hints of vanilla bean and faint pine with a fresh spring aroma.
Jukusei Gyokuro This Gold medal awarded Gyokuro in the World Green Tea Contest was a perfect tea to finish the evening with as it had a delicate sweet taste and aroma that left a clear fresh taste and mouth feel at the end of the meal.
TORONTO (CP) – Author C.S. Lewis once said: “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or book long enough to suit me.”
And if the numbers are any indication, Canadians seem to be on a similar wavelength when it comes to their love of a good cuppa.
Canadians on average sipped one litre of tea for every week of the year in 2006, according to Statistics Canada.
But for Karen Hartwick, her affinity for the beverage goes beyond just savouring sips over conversation or to soothe a sore throat. It’s a quest that has taken her through 10 years of study and on a trek to China, and, soon, Japan and Taiwan to quench an undying thirst for knowledge of all things tea.
As a young child growing up in London, Ont., weekends spent with her grandmother would include trips to the bakery for scones before heading home for their special shared ritual.
“She would prepare tea and I would have my special teacup and we’d always be using the same teaware, and it was just such good nurturing time for me,” Hartwick, 48, recalled. “I think that instilled in me the love of tea, not only from a drink point of view, but for the fact that tea is so much more than just the drink.”
As a tea sommelier at Tea Leaves Tasting Bar in Stratford, Ont., Hartwick is bringing her passion for tea and expertise on the beverage to the masses, allowing customers to sample tea from among the more than 100 varieties stored in black tins before purchase.
“I’m trying to find out where their palate is, whether it’s fruity floral, sweet savoury, very vegetative, very plain...or extremely complex,” she said. “Then I take them out the box and take them into a direction that they can expand what they know.”
In 2006, Toronto’s George Brown College partnered with the Tea Association of Canada to launch what’s touted as the first-ever tea appreciation certificate program available through a Canadian college, and a tea sommelier certificate program is in the works.
Sommeliers are ordinarily individuals who are knowledgeable about wine, and earn certification after completing courses encompassing everything from studying grape varieties to matching wines with food. But after studying through the New York-based Specialty Tea Institute, attending tea conferences, voracious reading and now as a teacher herself, it’s a title Hartwick also embraces as her own.
“Sommelier really means you’re an expert on ... the source of the teas or the wines, the components, the flavours,” she said. “It’s really a complex thing.”
Part of her training involved learning “cupping” – lining up cups with lids in which teas are brewed, and analyzing the dry leaf, infused leaf and the brew itself.
“Once you’ve had enough experience cupping a lot of teas you can start to tell, ‘Oh, well, something’s gone wrong with the processing of this because of the look of this dry leaf,’ or what it’s doing once it’s infused, the fragrance, the smell, and even into the taste of the cup.”
As for a tea time faux pas, Hartwick said a common mistake is using boiling water to brew green tea, which scalds the leaves and pulls the bitterness out. While black teas are best made with boiling water, green teas should be brought off the boil, she said.
When it comes to components for her ideal cup, the ingredients are straightforward.
“Great water, the freshest tea possible, the proper brewing method, and then the time,” she said.
“That makes the perfect cup of tea.”
The text below is excerpted from this article.
Karen Hartwick believes that your senses awaken when you visit her Tea Leaves Tea Tasting Bar, set in an 1888 home, which also includes a B&B. With more than 100 high-end teas to choose from, Tea Leaves is a spot to taste and learn and Hartwick is only too happy to share her knowledge as Canada’s top tea sommelier. Trained by some of China’s tea masters, Hartwick says tea is as complex as wine. Hartwick, who grew up in London, offers tasting before purchasing. Some of her teas include Jasmine Dragon Tears, High Mountain Dark Roast and Golden Monkey, which was around 5,000 years ago. “The tea tasting includes smelling different teas and studying the scent and leaves,” she says.
This year in honour of Richard Monette’s final season as the festival’s artistic director, Hartwick is offering Monette Supreme, a high-quality Earl Grey. Hartwick is versed in tea’s health benefits. All teas have antioxidants. While green teas have cancer-fighting properties, Hartwick says blacks are beneficial because they fight infections. Hartwick says her interest in tea started when she was young and would hold “tea parties” with her grandmother after going to the downtown London market and getting scones from a bakery. “We had such good, nurturing talks, just Grandma and myself. With tea, we can create a ritual for ourselves. That’s another thing in our North American society that we’re lacking.”
As a tea blender, tea merchant and a certified tea sommelier, I am often asked by people who are searching for additional ways to enhance their heath, “What is the best green to drink?” It is important to find a tea that is appealing to your palate, feeds your mind and body, and lifts your soul. Through smell and taste, tea has to appeal to your senses.
All tea comes from the camellia sinensis plant that originates in China. Chinese green teas are greenish in colour with a trace of yellow. (The degree of yellow depends on the type and style of the tea that you are drinking). Japanese green teas are very vibrant green in the leaf and in your brewed cup. The difference in these teas stems from the different production methods of the two countries. All have wonderful taste profiles that may include, but are not limited to, slightly smoky, toasted nut, sweet chestnut or damp vegetative grass. You should try many different types to find the few that suit your tastes. Another consideration is to choose a natural loose-leaf green tea that has not been altered with added chemical flavours. Green tea is actually caffeinated while herbal green teas are not. If caffeine is a concern, try the herbal varieties.
I suggest starting your journey by tasting several green teas. Try an organic Chun Mee or Lung Ching from China. From Japan, try Genmaicha or Houji Kukicha. Include an herbal green blend such as Citron Green to give you a different flavour profile.
The quality and freshness of the leaf are important to enhancing the health benefits of drinking green tea. Premium loose leaf teas are far superior. Bagged teas, known as dust and fannings, rate as the bottom two grades in the tea industry. Even within the loose leaf category, there are many grades available. Fresh tea gives you top flavour and the most antioxidants. Buying from a trained and knowledgeable tea merchant will help demystify the ancient world of tea for you.
Teas need to be in airtight storage, away from light and heat. Tins or porcelain jars are the best for storage. Avoid using glass containers because light will break down the components of the tea. Consider buying tea from merchants that do not sell tea from glass display jars. Your tea will last for a year if you store it properly.
A key component to making tea includes the quality of the water and the total time you steep your tea. Start with fresh, filtered water and bring to a boil. Then cool it for a few minutes. Green teas need to be prepared with water that is “off the boil”. Boiling water pulls bitterness out of green tea.
|Tea Type||Water Temperature||Steeping Time||Number of Infusions|
|Chinese Green Tea||80-90°C (180-195°F)||1-2 min||2|
|Japanese Green Tea||75-85°C (170-185°F)||0.5-1.5 min||2-3|
Everyone can benefit from sipping green tea throughout the day. It has been found that caffeine from tea can gently stimulate the circulatory and nervous systems. If you are sensitive to caffeine, drink the second infusion which has limited to no caffeine. Most teas have caffeine and the levels can depend on when the leaf was picked, the type of processing of the leaf, the area in which it was grown and how you prepare the tea. The caffeine in tea presents itself more mildly and more slowly than that in coffee.
|Type of Drink||
Level of Caffeine
Level of Caffeine
|White Tea||Limited||Limited to none|
|Green Tea||Low||Limited to none|
|Oolong Tea||Medium||Limited to none|
|Black Tea||High to medium||Limited|
Enjoy the journey of finding a green tea that you love. Sit back and savour every sip.
I’m sitting in a bar, but there’s no beer, no TV blasting out a sports game or challenging me with trivia questions. Behind the counter, black tins are stacked evenly on shelves. Their gold labels tease my imagination with names like Jasmine Dragon Tears, Belgian Chocolate Rooibos, and Honeybush Soleil. A timer is ticking, set to buzz the exact moment my tea is steeped to perfection. Yes, I am in a tea bar and have a tea sommelier to myself for the next couple of hours.
Karen Hartwick, of Tea Leaves Tea Tasting Bar in Stratford, pulls the lids off different black tins, encouraging me to inhale the exotic aromas. She alludes to mysterious things I’ve never heard of, like brewing teas with water on the boil or off the boil and how specific teas can be paired with certain foods. “Like wine!” I exclaim in surprise.
“Tea is as cultural and complex as wine,” says Karen. As with wines, a different tea can be enjoyed with each course of a meal.
“A white tea is nice to sip before a meal because it’s very light. If you think about Asian cooking, green teas generally balance deep fried tempura, oily meats and seafood. Black teas from Ceylon and India are paired with beef and spices. Pu-erh tea is an amazing digestive after a meal.”
Then Karen explains the important part – dessert. “Green teas pair wonderfully with lemon desserts. Black Darjeeling teas from India pair beautifully with bitter chocolate and pastries. China black teas pair beautifully with white chocolate.” And all this time I’ve been eating chocolate straight up, without the enhancement the right tea can make!
The similarities between tea and wine continue. “Soil conditions, altitude, climate and weather all have an effect on tea, just as on wine,” Karen states, comparing a tea master to a vintner. My tea has steeped and Karen pours out from a small clay teapot. She tells me she has been “seasoning” this clay teapot for the last five years, meaning she only brews one type of tea in it. Since clay is porous, over time the teapot will become seasoned with the taste of that tea.
I am sampling pu-erh tea today. I notice the golden, earthy tone against the crisp white of the cup, while flecks of dark tea leaves form an almost perfect circle at the bottom. Pu-erh is actually the only fermented tea – black teas, Karen insists, are not fermented despite what many people think. Black teas are completely dried, which oxidizes the tea, but pu-erh leaves remain slightly moist.
In the ancient tradition, pu-erh leaves are formed into flat, round compressed tea cakes called Beeng Cha. Wrapped in cloth or tropical leaves, these cakes are then buried in the ground or in caves, where they are left to age for at least a year. Pu-erh cakes aged 25 years or longer are highly prized by connoisseurs as the flavour only improves with time. All other teas must be used within a year.
For the aging process, pu-erh can also be packed in hollow bamboo or hollowed out fruit, such as pommelos or mandarin oranges. The tea will exhibit not only a subtle earthy flavour, but a hint of fruit with a sweet, smooth finish. Doesn’t that sound just like a description on a wine label?
I decide to test my tea palate on the perfectly brewed pu-erh tea poured from its seasoned clay teapot. The colour is clear, but rich and nuanced. The aroma rises up, giving me a sense of groundedness rather than headiness. I enjoy its round, full flavour before savouring the long, smooth finish.
Passion is the only word that comes close to describing Karen’s enthusiasm and energy on the subject of tea. She reminisces about the tea parties she enjoyed as a child with her grandma, who used loose teas. “Grandma used to make it such a social and nurturing time and isn’t that what tea is all about?”
As a teenager, Karen worked at the Swiss Tea House in Banff one summer, where she discovered how teas can be paired with foods. She is certified with the Specialty Tea Institute in New York, where she is continuing her tea studies by pursuing a Level Three Sensory Evaluation and Advanced Professional Cupping program. In 2006, she created the tea menu for Rundles Restaurant in Stratford and says she will be offering regular Tea Talks to the public starting in January 2007.
I know I’ll be there. After all, as Karen points out, tea tasting bars offer at least one significant advantage over other bars: “You don’t have to worry about the associated alcohol effects.” In other words, no hangover!
And what would Grandma think if she knew what Karen was up to these days?
“Oh, Grandma would be so proud of me. And amazed that there is so much to discover and learn about the journey of tea.”