Guest Contributor Kate Dumont (KD) recently caught up with Chris Cason (CC), co-founder and tea sommelier at Tavalon Tea.  Chris oversees Tavalon’s Voice as editor-in-chief of his tea blog and has over ten years of experience working with loose leaf teas.

KD: Where were you born and where do you live now?

Charleston Tea PlantationCC: I was born South Carolina not too far from a tea estate actually, outside of Charleston, and I now reside in New York City.

KD: How did you discover tea and what do you most enjoy about tea drinking?

CC: As a native Southerner, I was used to tea being served at every meal (usually in the iced form, and usually super-sugared as Sweet Tea), so I couldn’t avoid it and thankfully I didn’t want to!  What I like about drinking tea is that it has something to fit all my needs.  What I like about studying tea is that it has such a rich history that conjures up so many images for so many cultures in each sip.

KD: Sweet Tea sounds delightful.  Do you add sugar, milk, or lemon, or are you one of those straight tea drinkers?

CC:   While I was raised on Sweet Tea, I now only drink tea au naturale.  Milk, lemon, and sugar are really just used to mask bad tea, in my opinion.  Certain exceptions apply, of course, like Masala Chai.

KD: How did you co-found your tea business, Tavalon?

CC: It was actually Tavalon that found me, more appropriately.  John-Paul Lee, another co-founder, was at the World Tea Expo in Las Vegas six years ago.  He was looking for someone to help start the company with the necessary tea know-how to make the world’s best tea blends, and he happened to find me.  The rest, as they say, is history.

KD: I like that name Tavalon Tea.  It reminds me of King Arthur and Avalon, that mythical place and so I was wondering, is that the association for your company name?  If not, how did you arrive at such a unique name for your company?

CC: Tavalon does indeed come from that mythical island paradise.  Since Avalon is paradise, Tavalon is tea paradise!

KD: What is unique about your tea business?

CC: What Tavalon is trying to do is make tea accessible, #1.  Most other tea companies try to translocate the tea cultures from other countries and force them upon Americans.  We take the opposite approach: create a new American tea culture through teas made specifically for us.

KD: I understand that you wrote a book on tea called “A Guide to Tea.”  Why did you write the book?  Is it still in print?  Can I order it on Amazon?

CC: I actually wrote my book while I was still working with Adagio teas (which I left to start Tavalon).  It is still in print and available on Amazon.

KD: What is your favorite tea(s) to drink and why?

CC: My favorite tea changes depending on my needs.  Right now, a good Taiwanese Pouchong is what I’m craving.

KD: Do you have some tips to share with the readers?  Like, “always warm the tea pot first.”

CC: There are literally thousands of teas out there.  Try something new.  And always support your local tea shop.

KD: Do you see any trends in the tea industry?

Tea CocktailCC: I think we’re going to see a lot more use of tea in cocktails in 2009.  Also, I have a feeling that hibiscus is going to make a big splash as the new “it” herbal ingredient.  The best trend, though, is that quality is getting better in general.  It used to be that it was impossible to get a good white tea in the U.S., now even Lipton sells an (almost) drinkable option!

KD: Do you have any other future predictions about the tea industry, tea drinkers, tea bars, etc?

CC: I definitely don’t see tea hitting its peak yet; probably within the next 10 years it’ll get the recognition it deserves.  When this comes, you’ll see tea used in just about any application imaginable.  I’m looking forward to the day I can drive my car on green tea.