La Colombe Tea Tasting
La Colombe, a local Philadelphia cafe prized for its carefully crafted coffee, has launched a new tea brand, and we were invited to check it out to let you guys know how it is.
For those of you who don’t know La Colombe, it is a craft coffee roaster offering high quality coffees and treats. Founded in 1994, in Philadelphia, it now operates 11 cafés in the North East region (Washington DC, New York, Philadelphia and Chicago) and has developed partnerships with several local coffeeshops and national brands.
To ensure the best quality coffee, all the barristas have been trained to know how to serve each and every of the 12 different coffee types. A company dedicated to not only selling coffee but also the craft of coffee, La Colombe provides coffee programs, most of which are free and open to public. If you are interested, you can check out all their events here.
A personal anecdote (Aurelie): I, a French international student, already knew La Colombe. When I settled in Philadelphia, my parents kept wanting to go to the Rittenhouse location for our morning coffee, both for the taste and for the beautiful ceramic coffee mugs. According to my parents, beautiful cups infuse the coffee with a different flavor than ugly plastic cups.
We were really excited to attend this tea tasting with Alexis Siemons, La Colombe’s tea consultant who has worked in the tea industry for 9 years. She has developed a tea portfolio, which can be seen on her Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/teaspoonsandpetals/.
The tea tasting was set at the original La Colombe Coffee in Fishtown. We were immediately charmed by the post-industrial style and artistic decor of the store. Attracting a hip, young Philadelphia crowd, the Fishtown location is the ideal place to grab a coffee and a snack with friends on a freezing winter day or a good meeting spot to eat a hearty breakfast before visiting the trendy surrounding area. All the soups, salads and sandwiches are made from scratch in the on-site kitchen.
La Colombe wanted to offer tea that matched the quality of the coffee, so they decided to create their own tea brand which would cater to tea enthusiasts. All the teas are organic except for the Taiwanese teas, which follow the organic standards without being certified.
Some challenges quickly appeared in the creation of the tea program. First, La Colombe had to find teas that would adapt to and fit in a coffee environment. As explained by Alexis, a very delicate white tea may not reveal its whole range of flavors were it be drank in a place filled with the aggressive smell of fresh coffee.
Another challenge was representing different regions and tea notes on the menu. In total, Alexis came up with three loose-leaf teas, three tea sachets, and two herbal tisane sachets. La Colombe chose not to offer any tea with added fruits and flavors so that the customer can enjoy the pure flavor of the high-quality tea leaves.
The whole process of brewing the tea is magical. Alexis measured the temperature right down to the degree, and weighed the water and tea to the precise gram, to ensure that the teas assume their fullest potential. Even the water quality was taken into consideration. Alexis has developed training manuals for the barristas to know how to infuse the different teas. The whole brand concept could be summed up with the formula: “Find the right temperature, the right leaves, and the right taste”.
We had the opportunity to taste the entire tea menu, and let us tell you, all the teas are delicious! La Colombe encourages customers to re-steep their tea since their teas are made from whole leaves and don’t lose their flavor as quickly as commercial brands.
Next we will tell you about each tea we tried:
The first tea we tried was the Genmai-cha made with sencha and brown rice. It had a nutty and grassy flavor, while remaining fresh and light.
The second Japanese tea we sampled was the Hoji-cha roasted green tea. Surprisingly, it had a sweet, smoky, caramel-like flavor that we both really enjoyed.
The third tea we had was the Yunnan breakfast tea. This is a Chinese twist on your classic black breakfast tea. The floral notes enhance the flavor of this familiar and comforting beverage. It is a well rounded tea with classic lemon zests and sweet and floral undertones.
Then, for our fourth selection, we had the Oolong tea. Although not a certified organic tea, Oolong cannot be sprayed with pesticides because it depends on small insect bites to obtain its delicate flavor. The chemical reaction develops a honey flavor that compliments the nutty notes of the tea. Alexis recommended that you bloom the oolong tea leaves, since they come packed in tight balls, to awaken the flavor.
Our fifth tea was the Ruby Oolong. Alexis described the taste of this soothing tea as baked pear. Its aromas builds over time on the palate, so this needs to be carefully and slowly sipped.
Our sixth sample was the Pu’erh tea. Alexis insisted we taste this tea last and in small sips because it has a potent aroma and is an acquired taste. Pu’erh tea is often packed into bricks in order to be fermented anywhere from 85-120 days but La Colombe gets theirs in loose leaf form. Pu’erh ages like cheese, which gives it a very distinctive flavor. The color and taste resembles that of coffee. After initially being hit with the earthy flavor, we were pleasantly surprised with its naturally sweet aftertaste. Pu-erh goes well with dim sum, cheese, or chocolate.
Our last two samples were not teas, but tisanes. We were very happy to see La Colombe uses the term “tisane” rather than herbal tea, which can confuse some people into thinking it contains actual tea leaves. For Alexis, this distinction was very important.
The first tisane was the Peppermint and Cardamom Tisane. It was a refreshing beverage and tasted like the Holiday Season in a cup.
We of our favorites was the second tisane, the Golden Turmeric Tisane. We really appreciated the sweet fruity notes combined with the spicy turmeric. With its sunny orangey yellow color, it is the perfect beverage for a cold and snowy winter day.
As you can see, we drank a lot of tea during the tea tasting and can confirm that La Colombe has successfully created a tea program that can stand up to its outstanding coffee.
-Jennifer E. Higa & Aurore Guglielmi