After moving to Japan at age 9, Naoko Tsunoda was immersed in the country’s tea culture. This early exposure to tea influenced her career path.
“In Japan, drinking tea comes naturally,” said Tsunoda, director of Global Tea Quality and Development at Teavana. “You drink it all of the time for every personal or social occasion. It’s embedded in the culture.”
Tsunoda moved to the United States for college and culinary school, all the while feeling homesick for tea, which was not widely consumed in America. It was during this time she decided that opening a tea store would be her ultimate goal.
“While in culinary school, I won an award for cooking with tea,” she said. “I knew I was on to something, but didn’t yet know where my passion for tea would take me. I worked in a Japanese restaurant, a bakery, a catering company serving Southeast Asian fusion fare and an upscale tea salon, but I still held on to my dream of operating my own business.”
In 2006, Tsunoda learned that a new Teavana® store was opening in a nearby mall. “When I walked into my first Teavana store, I was dazzled by the 100 teas that lined the wall, just like tea boutiques in London, Paris or Tokyo. I instantly applied and when I was hired, I thought from day one that I would like to design the teas someday. This became my new dream,” she said.
Ten years later, Tsunoda is doing just that. She has created countless tea blends and shares her tea knowledge with partners (employees) at Teavana and Starbucks.
Here are five traditional tea types and Tsunoda’s favorite varieties found at Teavana stores.
White tea is the palest and most delicate of all teas and comes from the youngest leaves of the tea plant. It is light in color and delicate in taste and known for a subtle, naturally sweet flavor.
“White tea is the least caffeinated tea to drink,” she said. “It’s perfect for those who want a light, clean tasting beverage that is close to water, but with a refreshing flavor.
Green tea is not oxidized, but rather processed by steaming in Japan or pan firing in China. These light processing methods yield a gentle brew with a moderate amount of caffeine and a fresh floral flavor.
“Green tea is vegetal and sweet,” added Tsunoda. “It’s not as delicate as white tea, but fuller in flavor with more body.”
Oolong tea comes mainly from China and is known for its full body, floral notes and sweet aroma. When infused, it produces a light, golden color with an orchid-like aroma and smooth finish.
“Oolong teas are for those who appreciate complex flavor profiles. Orchid and floral notes add to its richness,” she said.
Black teas are the most oxidized of all teas, giving them their robust taste. The process of making loose black tea involves withering then rolling the tea leaves followed by a long period of oxidation. The black tea leaves are then fired, resulting in a loose-leaf black tea with a complex yet recognizable smell and full-bodied, strong flavor.
“Black tea is often the point of entry for new customers looking to try a pure tea. American iced tea is often made with black tea, so customers often have a familiarity with it,” said Tsunoda. “If you are traditionally a coffee drinker, these are good transition teas because they are generally full-bodied with caramel and malty notes with a cocoa finish.”
While the majority of teas come from the Camellia sinensis plant, herbal teas are made with dried fruits, flowers and spices. Herbal blends are naturally caffeine-free.
“Year after year, Teavana integrates more than 400 ingredients into exclusive herbal blends, all inspired by epicurean trends, mixology and global tea cultures. Herbal infusions are best for those looking for dynamic citrus, berry, floral, mint and spicy flavors,” she said.