Consider Oliver Rich, founder and owner of Tea Guys has been a father more than 120 other times, and those "children" are not only gorgeous as well, they're delicious.
Well of course, we're speaking of the scores of flavorful Tea Guys blends, which Oliver dreams of, yearns for, conceives, carries to term and finally bears, in much the same fashion as a family producing offspring.
Most of this process typically happens in the Tea Guys lab, but Oliver will be the first one to say - seemingly always with a laugh - that the mixing muse can strike pretty much anywhere.
Like, exactly where?
"One of the most unusual places was in London, not far from Piccadilly Circus," grins Oliver. "We were visiting family, out seeing the sights on foot. We passed an open air market and a vendor was offering some of the most gorgeous lemons I've ever seen. There was one sliced open on a board, so that lemon scent was strong and present. Right next to his cart was someone offering herbs and spices, and I was getting this simultaneous whiff of the lively, tart fresh lemon on one side, and this earthier, deeper nearly-lemon from somewhere else. I glanced and the spice vendor was pulverizing some coriander seeds for a customer. Right away, I thought that this would be a wonderful base combination for a tea blend."
So, that was it, right?
"No, not quite," adds Oliver with another, slightly bigger grin. "I loved the lemon-on-lemon pairing concept. However, I knew that another taste component would really make the flavors sing in tea. And that hit me a few days, actually, in one of the many pubs that London offers. I was sipping a gin and tonic, and the juniper flavoring leapt out as the ideal companion; I couldn't wait to get back to my lab and start working out the ideal proportions. And that's where our Lemon, Coriander and Juniper blend came from."
Pretty cool; inspiration can strike anywhere. So how exactly does Oliver turn those flavor ideas into a drinkable tea blend?
"It may sound a bit high-flown, but once I have the flavor vision, the most important next step is to choose the right tea base. It's like the artist's canvas. For example, that particular Lemon, Coriander and Juniper blend is done with a classic green tea. I experimented with a few black teas, however it just wasn't clicking. The natural lightness of the green plays wonderfully with the lemon and other ingredients. Plus, it's very low-caffeine and for some, that's ideal."
Cool – so what about the recipe itself? How does that happen?
Oliver becomes expansive on this topic. "Well, I'm not exactly a formally-trained chef, but I truly love to cook. I grew up in a family that really appreciated taking meals together and it seemed we always had something great going in the kitchen. We were exposed to a lot of flavors and textures, things from outside traditional American foodways. I was encouraged to join in at an early age, and I found it fascinating how just a little bit of this or a dollop of that would influence the final taste so significantly. One of my first jobs after college was in the flavorings industry, and that expanded my appreciation for ingredients even more. The bottom line today is that I am fortunate to have been born with a pretty sensitive nose and palate, then my life experiences helped build on that, and so now, my instincts are generally pretty on-target."
Do you always nail it first time out?
A big chuckle. "Good grief, nobody's that good! There's always plenty of tweaking and adjusting. Even if you took a tea blend recipe and reproduced it identically once a week, all year, there would invariably be subtle variations. That's because all of the components, from the spices, nuts and fruits to the teas themselves, can change very slightly through the year. But that's why we constantly test and re-retest, to make sure that we're keeping the flavor as consistent as possible. Because that's our company credo: flavor first."
With well over one hundred "kids" to nurture along, Oliver's got a big task at hand tending his brood. And, he never knows exactly when a chance taste or aroma might inspire him again. But at Tea Guys, it's all in the family, and it's all good.