Thursday, June 29, 2017

Steep Thoughts: Ravi Kroesen

I'm so pleased to present my interview with Ravi Kroesen of Royal Tea New York. Ravi has worked at quite a few great tea companies including The Tao of Tea and Bellocq, and is now the Director of Tea Operations for Royal Tea New York.  I recently met Ravi at an evening of tea and cheese pairings, and knew I had to learn more about his tea journey. He has had quite a few fascinating adventures. Read on to learn more about his experience.


When did you first discover your passion for tea?It was during 2000, my first year in the business. I was working as warehouse manager for The Tao of Tea and all the tea inventory was transferred to the warehouse. Having over 100 single origin teas to drink through built a foundation for this passion. The two teas in that selection that really put me on the path were a Mi Lan Xiang Phoenix and a Frozen Summit.

You’ve lived overseas and have traveled through tea growing regions. How has this shaped your approach to tea?

Being raised Sikh and living in India for seven years created an appreciation for chai of all varieties (including plain black tea with milk and sugar). Although I don’t drink chai much these days, it provided a familiarity with tea that made me prefer it over coffee, helping to lead me to where I am today.

I feel travelling to origin helped broaden my understanding of tea on so many levels, from the growing and production of the tea plants, to the consumption of the finished product. Visiting China for the first time opened my eyes as to how dynamic and alive China’s tea culture is. Taiwan and Japan both reflect this dynamism as well. Having the opportunity to see farmers create such amazing teas is a humbling experience, as it really puts into perspective how small a part we play as importers.

What advice would you give to those that want to learn more about tea but aren’t sure where to start?
Drink. Read. Repeat.

For drinking, cup as many teas as possible. This allows you to expand your pallet and appreciate the subtler qualities of what separates great tea from good tea. Spend time at your local teashop. Not only will this expose you to teas you have not tried, but it will hopefully put you in contact with other tea drinkers, who may help you along your journey.

For reading, there are the message boards and blogs. There are the periodicals, like Tea Journey and Fresh Cup. Fresh Cup puts out an annual Tea Almanac (which is good for the beginner) and has back issues available to buy on their website. Books for people who are ready to learn more about the growing regions and specific teas, I would recommend - Tea: History, Terroirs and Varieties and Tea: A User’s Guide

How do you select the teas you sell at Royal Tea New York?
As a B2B wholesaler, we look for value teas. Teas that have good character and flavor, but won’t break the bank. We put all of our teas that we approve through a two-step cupping process. The first step, through which most teas we cup are rejected is a competition brew, 3 grams of tea, 6 oz of boiling water for 5 minutes. This allows you taste everything in the tea, including all the defects. If a tea passes this round, we then submit it for a standard brew, which would mimic the parameters we recommend our customers to brew the tea. If the tea passes, we then decide if the tea fits into our offering and purchase accordingly.

What changes have you seen in the tea industry since you’ve been a part of it, and what would you like to see change in the future?
Regionally specific tea purveyors on the web have been the biggest change I’ve seen. Rather than carry tea from all the major tea producing countries, you see these websites focus on a country or a few areas in a country. I think this is a good thing as most of these purveyors are drawing on personal contacts and bringing better quality tea to the U.S. Market.

I would like to see a shift towards single origin tea continue to grow. There has been a lot of talk about tea’s Third Wave. Demographically speaking, there has been a huge increase in the interest of tea with the Millennial Generation and there has never been a better opportunity to make this change.

Tea education has been a touchy subject in the industry due to lack of standards, and the need for learning through experience. Can you share some of your own feelings on this subject?
The need for standards is essential for tea to grow out of its current state. STI (Specialty Tea Institute) and others have attempted to implement systems, however, without a stronger push by the tea industry itself, there will never be enough momentum to make this a reality. The SCA (Specialty Coffee Association) is a great model to draw from, in terms of replicating a system for analysis, grading and certification. As Royal Tea moves into the second half of this year, we will begin to utilize this knowledge to implement more standardization with all the teas we source.

You recently co-hosted a tea and cheese pairing in NYC. Do you have any advice to give on creating successful flavor pairings?
I had the fortune to take several classes from Tomislav Podreka (Serendipitea) before he passed. The biggest lessons I learned from him was that Darjeelings pair with almost everything and that green teas can work really well with dairy. Here is a link to the tea and food pairing article he wrote for Fresh Cup back in 2001 –

Other than that, I enjoy pairing higher quality Dancongs and Taiwanese Gao Shans with savory dishes.

What has inspired you lately?
In my last trip to Yunnan, I met a “tea originalist”, who makes his tea from seed propagated bushes, using traditional processing methods and equipment. This was his attempt to replicate how tea would taste during the Tribute Tea era. I will be cupping some of his teas next month. Whether any of what he produces is good, I still appreciate his passion and respect for tea’s long history. Similarly, I am inspired by the upcoming generation of tea enthusiasts in the U.S. The level of knowledge, access to information and availability of quality tea has never been greater. I am excited for what the future holds.

Do you have any personal tea rituals?
A porcelain gaiwan and a flask are the two methods through which I drink most of my tea. A porcelain gaiwan gives you the best representation of a tea’s true character, whereas a flask allows for me to take a tea of my choosing on-the-go. I have several semi porous clay pots I use on occasion, my favorite being a Petr Novak pot.

If you could go anywhere in the world right now to have a tea adventure, where would you go and why?
Almost any of China’s tea growing regions. If you are a fan of tea, there is no other country where you have access to so much quality tea and the ability to drink it.
Thank you so much for taking the time out for this interview, Ravi! I look forward to hearing about your upcoming projects. To learn more about Royal Tea New York, you can visit their webpage

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