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Spirit Tea: Aiming To Bring Truly Great Tea To Chicago

By Melissa McEwen in Food on Jun 23, 2015 2:20PM

Serving tea at the Caffeine Crawl pop-up (Image courtesy Spirit Tea)

These days, it's not too difficult to find an incredible cup of coffee in Chicago, but tea has lagged behind. That's a shame, because worldwide it's far more popular than coffee and arguably offers a greater range of flavors. Spirit Tea, created by two tea industry veterans Jordan Scherer and Taylor Cowan, aims to change that by educating the food and drink world here about tea as well as offering a rotating hand-picked selection of great teas.

Both have eight years of experience in the industry: Cowan was Director of Training at Adagio and Scherer formerly worked in a tea garden in Taiwan before moving into the coffee industry. He's hoping to borrow a lot from the world of gourmet coffee such as rotating selections and taking training seriously, elements that have become de rigueur for well-regarded roasteries.

Cowan reminds me that the world "spirit" comes from the Latin word for breath. Scherer says tea is "what leaves leave behind- the spirit." But it can be a challenge to capture that spirit, with tea leaves being sensitive to the quality and temperature of the water, as well as how long it sits in the water. Recently, Eater's Bill Addison noted the issues with the tea service at Blackbird, describing the tea as tasting like "tannic dirt." It's an experience that is familiar to me and many tea-loving diners.

Jordan Scherer and Taylor Cowan at the Caffeine Crawl pop-up (Image courtesy Spirit Tea)

Cowan and Scherer hope to change that by emphasizing training (kind of like what Sparrow has done for restaurant coffee) and the flavors present in great teas, rather than added flavors. Cowan says "initially we'll do wholesale and the have opportunity to educate our accounts. There has been plenty of good tea around, only there hasn't been great educator. That dynamic leads to better tea." "We're hoping Chicago really desires true traditional tea," says Scherer.

Their first menu of offerings includes teas like Mountain Spring, an oolong from Vietnam that has creamy, savory mouthfeel and flavors of cinnamon and olives. Another standout is De Hong Purple Cultivar, a heady black tea with perfumes of rose petal and flavors like Scotch. There is no reason to add anything to these teas, they have enough flavors on their own. In a way it's a testament to the evolution of life itself— that every plant is related and therefore the tea plant can share the same flavor compounds as roses.

You can purchase their teas at their website and find them so far at Citygrounds Coffee and the new Cafe Integral at Freehand (19 E. Ohio St.). They'll be offered soon at Vera, Gaslight Coffee Roasters and Big Shoulders.