As part of helping to moderate an international-themed Facebook tea group, and just due to being curious about the subject, I talk to people in different places about tea. One of those people is Claudia Aguilera, a tea enthusiast in Mexico, and founder of TÉ EN HEBRAS HINDIE, (on Facebook here). I had previously been surprised to learn that tea isn’t produced in Mexico, although the climate is suitable in places.
She answered questions about tea culture there and her experience as follows.
- Can you say a little about specialty tea awareness and consumption in Mexico? How large is the demand? Are there specific types that are popular, eg. Japanese green teas or Chinese oolongs?
Specialty tea awareness in Mexico is something that just started. We can say it has been around for 20-30 years and it’s been built by the new experts along with the tea culture. Still a lot needs to be done, shared, and settled in order to see better results and positive answers by consumers. The demand belongs to a small percentage of population and is highly related with the power of acquisition, since having access to it is always an expensive option.
Because of our connection to USA, some teas on trend like matcha are becoming very popular in our country. The thing is, very few people know what it really is and why it is becoming so popular, but they are willing to buy it because it’s trendy and related to health, again referring to a small group of consumers. Black teas are known from tea bags, but good quality black teas like Darjeeling do not have much popularity yet.
Brands like Teavana, are introducing teas like oolongs which is helping people to open the door to new options, mostly because it’s advertised as a fat-burning product.
- How long have you been interested in specialty tea? What got you started, and which type is your favorite?
I’ve been interested on these types of teas since I had the opportunity to travel to Europe 7 years ago and discover the amazing variety and quality of teas around the world. Later on I became more interested on getting to know the roots. That was the time when I met the Tea Sommelier Certification, and it totally made sense to me–the fact that this complex world needed more attention and study. I honestly have something with oolongs; I love the complexity of its flavors depending on its oxidation, the possibilities of every infusion, the process of production and the art on the leaves. In general, I am very curious and always enjoy a good quality tea, but the journey of discovering makes it all the way more interesting.
[editor’s note: nice answer!]
- In the US, the earlier tea tradition was essentially the same as the British version: black tea prepared as tea bags drank with milk or milk and sugar, and also sweetened iced tea, then leading to floral blends and such. Were those also the starting points in Mexico?
The consumer behavior with teas in Mexico was not completely like in the US. In this country, since ancient times, herbal remedies were part of the culture, and there is rich knowledge of the uses and benefits of many plants. Every Mexican family has its remedy recipe, mixing different herbs and roots for any ache. Considering this, we can observe that the Camellia Sinensis introduced itself as another plant but was not really considered for its benefits in the beginning. This information is kind of new to consumers and it has just started to receive some respect and consideration.
- Is specialty tea interest developing differently on different levels? I mean in the US, we see people getting introduced to blends, then to different lighter oolongs, Japanese green teas, or maybe better black teas, but then tea enthusiasts might prefer pu’er, Wuyi Yancha or Dan Cong instead.
In this case I can say, we are managing it very similarly. I found out the excess of sugar consumption had lead us to sweet blends in order to introduce teas in a friendly way, slowly migrating to specialty teas. Learning and educating our palate is key to really appreciating the real natural flavors. Still, there is a big effort needed considering sweet sodas are directly competing with tea drinking.
5. Are both Western style brewing and Gongfu cha style brewing used?
As tea culture is just starting, the western style brewing is gaining more strength. I can see how us, tea sommeliers, try to first make people aware of the correct brewing methods in order to have a good tea to drink. Gongfu cha is automatically dismissed as it is considered a ritual just for special occasions. Anyways, there are some tea masters teaching this ritual and some tea ceremonies are offered in different places of Mexico. Hopefully, it will gain more attention in the spiritual world and in different disciplines such as Yoga.
Part two reviews more related issues: if there is a connection with tea appreciation in Mexico and South American teas, tea production in Mexico, Claudia’s experiences with developing tea awareness there, and tea and Mexican food pairing. See you then!