Meet the Deli Detail: We’re introducing you to our passionate team of experts. Today’s featured Deli crew members is our Tea Specialist
Meet the Deli’s Tea Specialist
According to our tea specialist, being the Deli’s Tea Specialist requires him to, “Mostly drink tea and wax philosophic about the state of the world.”
Don’t let him fool you – he takes this role very seriously. He’s the reason we have an entire wall of tea that tastes as good as it looks. He’s constantly tasting different teas and blends to see if they might have a home on our shelves. As you might be able to tell by the wide variety of teas we carry in our new and improved tea selection, our tea specialist is ambitious. It’s even in his personal vision to complete The World Tea Academy’s Tea Specialist certification.
“I bring my years of experience from working at the Deli in tasting, evaluating, and selecting great food… [My job is about] knowing how to build a selection that represents the wide spectrum of teas that are traditionally made and full-flavored balanced with what guests are looking for and actually buying,” says Jackson Kon said.
Beyond tasting and merchandising, his work also includes collaborating with our import partners to source and buy teas, writing blog posts and social media posts, and working with our Events Coordinator to teach classes about tea.
“Ari is right. Tea is one of the most affordable luxuries. How many other world-class experiences can be had for $25?” he said.
Our tea specialist is committed to curating unique teas and tisanes (a fancy term for herbal teas) that other shops don’t offer. From unusual to approachable, our tea selection has something for everyone.
“Ancient herbal teas from Greece? Check! Funky, two-decade old Pu-Erh aged in Hong Kong? You betcha! And of course, you can ask for a sample! These days we’re still not preparing samples to try in house but we’re still happy to send someone home with a small taste,” he said.
He says the Nan Mei, sometimes called Ya Bao or referred to as “Purple Tea” is one of the most unusual teas the Deli stocks.
“It’s made from branch buds (as opposed to leaves/leaf buds like most tea) that are plucked in the late winter. The tea bushes/trees that produce these buds are wild, so the harvesters will spend days foraging for just a few kilos. After picking, the buds are withered and sun-dried, sometimes likely baked or wok-fired to reduce the moisture enough for packaging and sale. And the flavor? Like nothing else. The mouthfeel is thick and silky. It smells like fresh rain in a garden and tastes like cucumbers and pine,” he said.
Not all of the teas the Deli carries are as far out as this one. Our most popular tea is our collection of iced tea blends. Partly because they’re delicious, partly because they’ve been served here for years, and partly because they’re the most affordable Zingerman’s tea on the shelf.
On top of making sure the Deli’s tea selection is widely varied, our tea specialist also keeps an eye on tea that’s trending to make sure our guests have access to the latest in the tea world.
“Matcha is a big thing right now. Yerba mate seems to be up and coming. In the world of traditional tea, tea makers are constantly coming up with new variations and farmers with new varietals. The Golden Eyebrow and Milk Oolong were both introduced in the last 15 years. For barista drinks, matcha is still very popular. We’re starting to see other tea/botanical powders being used for lattes like Hojicha powder or Butterfly Pea Flower powder. We have started experimenting with these ingredients at Zingerman’s Next Door but we do not currently offer any drinks made with them,” he said.
Starting your Tea Journey
If your interest in tea is piqued, consider dipping your toe into the world of tea by attending one of the Deli’s tea classes or try asking one of our friendly retail staff, or our tea specialist himself, for some assistance.
“Ask for help! We love giving recommendations. If you want to choose on your own, start with a tea you already know and love. Then find something in that category (say, oolong tea) and try it out. Read tasting notes. Does your mouth start watering? That sounds like the tea for you,” he said.