Food & Drink » Epicurious

Coffee's cooler cousin is home grown in Pemberton



One of the oldest and world's most popular drinks is enjoying a higher profile in Whistler.

Tea remains under the shadow of its higher profile hot beverage cousin coffee, but thanks to the recent opening of DavidsTea the simple drink is the headline beverage at the relatively new outlet across from Whistler Olympic Plaza. The chain operation comes into the village on a tea foundation laid many years ago by the Namasthé Tea Company.

According to David (yes, there really is a David at DavidsTea), the best tea grows in wet locations at really high elevations.

"Picture a misty mountain setting in India or China and you'll get the idea," says David on his tea website.

Isabelle Ranger of Namasthé is working to put Pemberton on the tea-growing map.

Her company is currently growing about 15 plant species used in the production of loose-leaf tea at Riverlands in Pemberton. She says she's looking to increase that number as her company grows and supplies more products to more clients.

Ranger started her tea company in 2006. The company has seen steady growth since those early days.

Ranger imports fair trade tea from companies that hand pick their product and blends the import with what is produced on the organic growing fields at Riverlands in Pemberton.

"Our goal is to do 100 per cent of what grows in Canada from the farm," she says.

The Namasthé line of products includes Earl Grey, Mountain Mint, Savasana, EchinaChai, Fresh Tracks and Jasmine Green Dragon.

Ranger is growing lemon balm, cornflower, fennel, verbena and Echinacea to name just a few of the plants grown in Pemberton to be blended into Namasthé tea.

According to Ranger, the plants grown here are developing their own taste.

"We try to basically push a few to grow here and it gives a special taste as opposed to what you would get commercially or from another country and that is what we're trying to showcase," she says. "What grows in Pemberton tastes much different than what grows everywhere else because of the soil and the water."

She says the quality of the plants grown in Pemberton is different.

"We're not about luxury but we're about really amazing quality," she says.

By blending the imported teas with the locally grown plants, Ranger says the best of both worlds is captured.

About 95 per cent of Namasthé's end product is going to clients like restaurants and grocery stores. The rest, says Ranger, is purchased online through the Namasthé website.

Ranger is driven by fair trade and environmental preservation so she sources quality producers and when her customers are finished with the product, all of the waste can be composted.

The packaging, which is done in Whistler, includes certified home compostable tea pouch over wraps made from carbon neutral renewable sources of wood pulp.

Ranger envisions a busy year ahead. She believes her growing company will be so busy there won't be enough time to participate in the farmer's market this year.

"I think we're going to be too busy at the farm," she says. "This year we're going to focus on the farm and making sure production and everything is done on time."

A large Canadian coffee outlet is interested in purchasing Namasthé tea and she says an American company is also interested in her company's products.

While Ranger and her company crank out six tea blends, the folks at DavidsTea are offering eight different varieties of tea with various blends of each variety. Technically, not everything at DavidsTeas actually fits under the tea umbrella. Maté is a South American favourite that goes through a different process and is generally served with hot water that hasn't reached the boiling point.

The teas at DavidsTea are available at café outlets found all across Canada and David has opened a few U.S. stores. Customers can choose from white, green, black, oolong, pu'erh, rooibos and herbal teas.

For those who aren't fully briefed on the tea varieties here is a quick crash course. White, green and black teas are so named by the colour of the leaves and buds used in their production and hue of the liquid once the tea is brewed. Oolong is not a black tea and not a green tea, but something in between with very limited growing areas in Taiwan and China. Pu'erh goes through a long drying process before it is ready. The Chinese know it as a dark tea. Many pu'erh teas look like coffee once it is poured. Rooibos comes from South Africa and it contains no caffeine. Herbal teas don't use traditional tea leaves. Herbal teas can include fresh or dried flowers, leaves, seeds or roots.

With that, this column has to wrap up there because it is teatime!