This week, a large county paper did an article on three companies in the specialty beverage business who are focused on something other than wine in this, the Wine Country of Southern California, the beautiful Temecula Valley, with a topography and climate much like that of the wine-growing regions of Europe.  One is the owner of a microbrewery, one is a tequila producer, and then there’s us…a specialty tea purveyor.  The reporter told me we all have one thing in common – an extreme passion for what we do.

He was here once in person, and followed up by phone several times, appearing to be honing in on one question each time:  Do you get frustrated about wine getting all the attention from the city and the press in this area rather than your niche/beverage?   What it basically boils down to is how any business feels in an area that is best known for something else…a bit left out?  No sour grapes (pun intended) – it just causes us to be more creative.

One thing I’ve done is attempt to get winery chefs here interested in coming in to cup teas because teas actually cleanse the palate and make wine tasting more enjoyable.  Well-known chefs are now using and promoting recipes featuring tea.  Our own T Ching contributor, Chef Robert Wemischner, has done posts on tea and cooking.  Food Channel master chefs use it to impress TV judges in cooking contests.  Using tea in recipes is “edgy” and “cool” right now.  I hope that is a trend, not a fad!

Tea and wine are similar in some respects.  The region in which they are grown contributes so much to their flavor.  Indian teas, as all here know, are easily differentiated by region, as are teas from other areas of the world.  They are both high in antioxidants.  They are both useful in cooking and as accompaniment to foods and can actually enhance the enjoyment of foods.  Both have been found to have considerable health benefits.

I think that all of us who are in the specialty tea business are, in some ways, frustrated no matter where we live and what the emphasis or spotlight in that particular area is simply because we want so much to share what we have learned and love about tea and often find it difficult to get press attention.  The World Tea Expo and their World Tea News have given a real boost to specialty tea purveyors at all levels, medical studies on tea are getting attention in health journals and magazines, authors like Dr. Weil are helping put tea news on popular TV shows like Oprah, and now even the “mainstream press” is beginning to do more to highlight the subject.  In fact, it looks as though the Fall may find our own company talking about specialty tea on a PBS show about dining.

I’m not going to give up getting these winery chefs to take tea seriously as something that can not only enhance their wine tasting, but also bring new life to some of the dishes they have been serving.  Perhaps we can even sell and display some of our teas in their gift shops.  As I remember, someone at the last World Tea Expo was actually selling teas with wine in them?  Wowzers.

Wine is fine, but I say “tea is incredible” and should be a star, even here in the WINE Country.