Bill Waddington, owner of TeaSource, reads tea leaves. No, he doesn't tell people their futures, but he is often right about predicting the next big thing in the American tea industry. Like fancy winedrinkers, he can talk at length about the different notes in the tea, the curled up shape of the tea leaves and whether there are gold flecks present; the earthy smell of the tea, its hint of pink color, and of course, its taste.
At the two TeaSource locations (one in Highland Park neighborhood of St. Paul, the other in St. Anthony), Waddington and his colleague Gretchen Pruett host classes on tea basics and discuss Waddington's latest finds. Among them, are display teas - tea bundled up with strings of silk, attached to a flower that literally blooms in your cup when served. While display teas have been around a long time, most don't have a pleasing taste. However, because of their ongoing research, TeaSource has found a few display teas that taste as good as they look. TeaSource offers Red Flower Jasmine, a green tea with a light taste of jasmine and red or pink flowers as well as Lion's Mane, a green tea with a slightly nutty flavor, similar to pumpkin seeds.
On a recent visit, Waddington seemed most excited about dark tea - an new entire category of tea, like white tea, black tea, or green tea. Waddington was introduced to dark tea on a recent trip to Taiwan and China. Dark tea contains good bacteria known as a probiotic, the same way yogurt does. The tea comes in cakes that can be broken apart. Depending on the age of tea, the leaves can be baked a few times or many times, with each baking adding another layer of flavor to the tea. TeaSource has both dark tea from small cakes and from large cakes. The flavors are totally different. To me, the small cake dark tea has a softer taste, whereas the large cake dark tea was a bit murkier in flavor. TeaSource describes it as bringing to mind "walking through a deep, dark, shadowed forest."
While I could have drank a whole kettle of the Lion's Mane display tea, the word that popped to my mind while tasting the dark tea, was simply 'unusual.' Still, if the flavor doesn't at first entice you, the novelty may. After all, as Waddington says, "How many times in your life do you taste something you've never tasted before?"