Maine’s Gourmet Teas
It’s odd that Americans have yet to discover tea that’s nearly 5,000 years old and the most consumed beverage worldwide. Perhaps that disconnect happened when we chose freedom over tea by dumping it into Boston Harbor? But, Mainers like discovering themselves and their state, and more and more folks are finding out how wonderful the mighty leaf is.
Just like its craft beer industry, Maine’s tea companies are committed to quality and solidarity. Green Tree Coffee and Tea, Cup of Sea, Tempest in a Teapot, and Bar Harbor Tea Company are here to either warm your bones or cool your jets, depending on the weather.
I actually began drinking tea out of necessity. Coffee in excess gave me jitters and bellyaches, so I needed an alternative. Gradually, tea would become my daily beverage since it’s so versatile in flavor and mood. Once I began drinking “loose tea” I was hooked. The freshness was undeniable.
John Ostrand, owner of Green Tree Coffee and Tea said, “Generally, speaking, I think Maine, like the rest of the country, is just discovering loose teas.” Most of us are familiar with the box or tin containing several little bags. Loose tea, however, allows you to scoop leaves into bags or reusable tea steepers. “Once people discover the difference in quality and that they can do their own ‘blending,’ they are more interested in tea,” he said.
Ostrand began roasting coffee for the hospitality industry as early as 1997. Located in Lincolnville Beach, Green Tree Coffee and Tea eventually expanded their offerings, carrying blended gourmet teas. Preferring his “jolt of coffee” in the morning, Ostrand said, “I just really started enjoying tea in the afternoon.” The Fogbuster (black) and Wellness Blend (herbal) are popular blends for their rich flavors. The Ceylon Estate and Organic Green Ginger Pineapple are delicious iced on a hot day.
Cup of Sea blends locally sourced seaweed and loose tea, which has a pleasant, salty essence that is unlike anything I’ve had, short of tasting the ocean itself. Founder Josh Rogers said, “Seaweed is local and it’s as ‘Maine’ as lobsters or blueberries.”
Emigrating from Canada to Grand Manan Island, Rogers’s great-grandparents enjoyed both eating seaweed and drinking tea. While working in New York City, Rogers recalled his great-grandparents’ passions and combined them into a memorable tea as a testimony to his home state.
“I missed the Maine Coast so much that I wanted something with the power to transport me there every day,” he said. “The aroma and taste of our blends have that effect.” In doing so, Rogers’s company is the first worldwide to sell seaweed tea. The Sailor’s Cure-All, an herbal, is a turmeric-ginger/seaweed tea, an aromatic, zesty blend that serves as a good remedy for inflammation. The Great Wave, a green tea, possesses a mellow, saline goodness. The Sea Smoke is the rauchbier or the Islay scotch of tea— a delicious blend of dulse seaweed and smoked black tea. Rogers describes Sea Smoke as “camping by the beach in Maine.” The Bold Coast Breakfast is more of a traditional black tea with subtle oceanic notes, yet rich in flavor. An iced Emerald Honeybush is refreshing on a summer day as well. These teas are available at their retail shop Heritage Seaweed in Portland, along with several specialty stores across the state.
By saying “a tempest in a teapot,” one might refer to something small or insignificant being overblown. Though Tempest in a Teapot is a small operation, the quality of their tea is significant. Sisters Tammy Blake and Rebecca Emerson bought the business from the previous owners in 2015 and decided that Maine ingredients would be a large part of their blends.
“We have been so blessed with great farmers in Maine,” said Blake. “We dry Maine blueberries, cranberries, mint, raspberries, apples, peaches, and blackberries for our blends, using farms and orchards from Deer Isle to Dresden.”
Operating two blending houses, (Stonington and Cushing, ME) Tempest in a Teapot sells to many places such as Whole Foods Market in Portland, The Good Life Market in Windham, and the Tradewinds Marketplace in Blue Hill. Having discovered them at the Winter Farmers’ Market in Brunswick, I found them personable and knowledgeable about their craft. They always had several samples for sipping pre-pandemic!
|So how does caffeine in tea generally compare with coffee?
Black tea (50% less)
Green tea (30-35% less)
Herbal tea (Caffeine-free)
Black tea blends such as the Peachy Keen and the Backyard Blackberry provide a morning boost with a fruity finish. The Summer Blueberry, an herbal, contains lemongrass, which complements the dried blueberries wonderfully. The Holy Cranberry contains cinnamon and ginger root for a calming, yet festive, sitting. For a hot summer day, the Iced Rosie is an excellent choice. As Blake said, “It is a precious blend of hibiscus, rosehips, honeybush, and orange. Our customers make popsicles with it and sometimes add a little orange vodka!”
Bar Harbor Tea Company opened in 2006 and its owner Stacy Downey has been proud to serve Mainers ever since. “We were on the forefront of the ‘Go Local’ movement,” she said. “Our company was born out of a great love for fresh tea using local ingredients like wild Maine blueberries without artificial preservatives.” Hand blending and packaging in-house, they source tea from trusted growers.
“We are here for the sake of good tea,” Downey said. “Not only do our customers appreciate the taste and local flavor, but the attention to detail.” On a hot day, try the Wild Maine Blueberry or the Pomegranate Green iced for a refreshing treat. In addition to their retail store in Bar Harbor, you can find their teas in several specialty shops, such as Wilbur’s of Maine in Brunswick where I bought my grandmother Christmas tea. She loved it.
Tea, like beer, is a craft that involves quality and commitment. Generic teabags and domestic lagers should not define the craft. We all discovered craft beer at some point, right? Why should the journey end?
Story by John Breerwood. John has been magazine writing for more than 10 years and enjoying the outdoors since childhood. He currently resides in Topsham, Maine. He teaches English at Lewiston High School, and just recently published his first novel, Sinking Dixie, last year.