Like a lot of new college graduates, Joshua Kaiser spent time traveling. But while others backpacked from Paris to Prague, Kaiser studied rare and unusual varieties of tea in mainland China, Taiwan and Japan. A year later, in 1997, he founded Rishi Tea. Rishi means "pioneer," roughly, in Sanskrit; Kaiser is the first to bring to America varieties such as Organic Yunnan Golden Needle, a black tea with a sweet malty finish ($5 an ounce), and Plum Blossom, an oolong tea scented by the plum trees grown alongside the bushes ($20 an ounce). He even flies home to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with bags of tea in his luggage. Unlike tea importers who depend on middlemen, Kaiser has developed close relationships with producers. "Most tea makers are not just farmers, they're calligraphers, I Ching fortune tellers, antiques collectors, even university professors," he says. Kaiser, who calls himself "a student of tea," is eager to keep learning (866-747-4483 or www.rishi-tea.com).
All tea comes from the Camellia sinensis bush, but there are many ways in which tea can be grown, harvested and processed. The altitude of the farm makes a difference in the flavor of the tea, as do such factors as soil type; when the tea is picked; whether buds, leaves or both are picked; how the tea is withered, rolled, sifted or otherwise handled; and whether it is fermented. The best way to sort through the dizzying array of tea varieties is to taste the five basic types, from delicate to robust. White tea has a sweet taste and a fragrance reminiscent of chestnuts. Green tea ranges from clear, sweet and flowery to iridescent and bittersweet to nutty with a buttery texture. Oolong tea, the complex one, offers a nearly infinite spectrum of colors, aromas and flavors. Almost as varied, black tea can be full-bodied or light and crisp. Rare, aged pu-erh tea has the pungent aroma of wet leaves.
Tea & HealthAlthough green tea gets most of the attention (and hype) as a great source of antioxidants, new research shows that white tea and black tea may be just as powerful in that department. Even oolong and pu-erh teas contain some antioxidants, which researchers have found reduce the risk of heart disease and help prevent certain cancers. Tea is also a good source of fluoride, strengthening teeth, and contains flavonoids, which help keep bones strong. How much tea do you need to drink each day to get significant health benefits? Three to ten cups, according to the experts.
Tea & Beauty
Côté Bastide China Tea Shower Gel contains deep-cleaning black-tea extract and is infused with a warm, fruity scent ($36 for 16 ounces from eluxury.com; 877-890-7171).
Origins A Perfect World White Tea Skin Guardian has twice the protective and restorative antioxidant powers of its green-tea counterparts ($30 for 1 ounce; 800-723-7310).
Philip B. Chai Latte Soul and Body Wash combines black-tea extract, honey and milk proteins to soften and smooth skin, while cardamom, black pepper and ginger provide a spicy scent ($38 for 5.5 ounces; 800-643-5556).
Demeter Earl Grey Tea Bath & Body Oil owes its comforting aroma to Indian black-tea essential oil and a hint of lemony bergamot ($14 for 3 ounces; 800-482-0422).
--Mary Rose Almasi