I went to Adagio so much while in Chicago that by my senior year I didn’t have to pay for any tea anymore. I had too many points. I also knew most of the staff. I cannot turn down a tea party, or a blending lesson, or really almost anything related to tea. All of this is to say I really like tea.
Kew and Leaves via Wasteupso offered a tea blending class at their physical shop. I went with a friend, booked my tickets online and headed there. Our teacher for the class was the CEO of Kew and Leaves, Sung Hyun Jin, who talked to us about her award winning blends and some of her creative process. It was fascinating to listen to her talk about her passion for tea and to hear about her inspirations. Like the reason she made her caramel teamericano was to try and bridge the gap for coffee lovers to enjoy a nice cup of tea. (Despite all my preconceived notions South Korea is definitely a coffee country and less of a tea country.)
The other blend that definitely stuck out was her Seoul Breakfast which she created after living in London and wanting to make her own spin to English Breakfast tea that would be a nice homage to her time in London but also her home country. (There’s black beans in it.)
We got to try at least six of her more popular blends and it was really fun to stand around a table with tea enthusiasts and the creator of these blends and just talk about tea, smelling it and seeing which ones we liked best.
Each taste was poured into ceramic sample cups that she’d made herself during her weekly ceramic classes. Her ceramic teacher was also there with her own booth during the Wasteupso pop up shop. She said her goal is to make more of her own supplies.
She also made everyone a small vegan mung bean sweet which was quite interesting to try. It was sweet and light. After a quick lesson in different tea combinations, like mixing different types of tea like an assam tea and a rooibos, or mixing teas with herbs such as a black tea with peppermint, or mixing tea with something else such as flower petals or beans. She told us you have to be careful to not over power other tastes and to create a balance. She set out supplies and we went to work making our own tea blends. I felt like a mad scientist and loved it.
She set out a couple different tea bases for us with some additives like flower petals and peppermint and some Sri Lankan cinnamon. We were also given a scale (that many of us struggled to get to work properly) and a cup.
We carefully measured things out to get the weight of the ingredients to 2.5 grams. She told us this would work well for an individual tea bag. We DIY’s our own tea bags with a small piece of cloth and string. It was so much fun and so much work that our one hour class accidentally became two hours. Most of which was all of us just making our own concoctions.
Before we wrapped up she gave us a sample of her 바밤바 milk tea that she sells to cafes along with a couple other types as a concentrated syrup. 바밤바 is a type of South Korean chestnut ice cream bar that was a favorite of hers from childhood and this milk tea was absolutely delicious. So much so that my friend bought a container of the concentrate to take home and I bought some to enjoy on my way to the station.
Now you might be like: But wait a second! Wasn’t this in partnership with a waste free company? It was. The cup and straw I got my drink in were made out of corn and not plastic so it’s biodegradable and will break down fully in about 3 months. It probably would’ve been preferable if I’d brought a tumbler to have it put into or bought one of the tumblers they had for sale but when I was told they had non-plastic cups I really wanted to see what it was like. It felt almost the same just a little softer and somewhat like the way frosted glass feels, but more like a thin frosted plastic. Everyone else bought a tumbler or had their tumbler filled up so they could continue to be waste free. I have too many tumblers at home and didn’t want another and was not prepared like I should’ve been. (Every time someone at my old school left they bought tumblers for everyone.)
I went back a second time for a matcha class. Matcha is finely ground green tea that comes in the form of a green powder. It can be used to flavor sweets and desserts or as a drink, on its own or like a latte. It has caffeine in it as well as theanine (which can help reduce stress) as well as some antioxidants.
While matcha is pretty popular in Japan (and gaining popularity elsewhere) it also has a strong history in South Korea. (According to our teacher since the Joseon Dynasty which was around 1392.) The style between the growth in matcha is also a bit different depending on country. In Korea the green tea matcha is covered and left in the shade for three to four weeks which is suppose to produce more vitamins and theanine. Then the stem and veins are removed before the tea is withered, rolled, dried, graded and packaged. In Japan, our teacher, said they add an additional step before rolling which is to steam the leaves.
Now the basics to making your nice cup of matcha: You need a bamboo whisk, a spoon or scoop, a tea cloth, 70° hot water, and 2-3 scoops of matcha. First you need to rinse your bowl with the warm water and let the bamboo whisk soak in the warm water for a couple of minutes until it softens a bit. Then dump out the water and run the tea cloth over the bowl to make sure it’s clean and dry. Then using the small spoon or (chashi) scoop in two or three spoonfuls of matcha into the bowl. If you like a stronger matcha taste go for three, if you don’t like the bitter taste, go for two. Then add the hot water. More water will make it weaker, less water will give it a stronger matcha taste.
You do not want to scrape the bottom of the bowl. That’s a good way to break a bristle and you don’t want to drink broken bits of bamboo. Most of the movement is a rapid wrist movement to create bubbles or foam. This is something I struggled with. Matcha on its own is somewhat bitter. But the best way to tell the difference from good quality matcha from bad quality is the texture. If it has a grainy mouth feel then it’s lower quality matcha. It shouldn’t be grainy. The matcha Kew & Leaves is from Jeju.
Now if you want to make your own iced Matcha latte you fill a glass with ice, pour in some milk (or an alternative) about half way, some agave (or your choice of sweetener), and mix. We used one of those corn straws. Then if you want a pretty layered look pour the matcha down the straw. To make it an einspänner matcha add some whipped cream.
I made and drank at least two of these and loved it. I especially liked the einspänner version.
We also got to sample another of her syrups. She makes an hibiscus and elder flower tea syrup which she mixes with carbonated water. It was a nice light drink to start our class with and sip on with the snacks we had. Like this white chocolate Jeju orange and the red bean chocolate. (You can see in the picture of all our matcha supplies next to the whisk)
Kew and Leaves has a physical shop however the owner tends to be somewhat busy hosting tea lessons for corporations as well as going out to find the best ingredients and creating new blends. They are open though on Saturdays for you to come in and visit and try their award winning teas.