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East meets West Coast 

From the Boston Tea Party to a sweet staple of the Deep South, our nation has a long tea-related history. In fact, most people around the world enjoy different dried leaves steeped in water. Some even participate in ceremonies or rituals. Even in modern pop culture, teas have been big news. Remember hearing about the antioxidant powers of green tea? Or the antibacterial benefits of white tea? Major brands have jumped on the holistic bandwagon, but what if we're going about it all wrong?

Local tea importers the Swann Sisters are getting to the core of the hype and asking hard questions: What makes a good tea?

click to enlarge SISTER, SISTER :  Eli Weisgerber shows off the tricks of her trade after a recent tea tasting class held at Steynberg Gallery. - PHOTO BY KYLIE MENDONCA
  • PHOTO BY KYLIE MENDONCA
  • SISTER, SISTER : Eli Weisgerber shows off the tricks of her trade after a recent tea tasting class held at Steynberg Gallery.
# How do you reap this drink's full benefits?

Tea, the Swann Sisters discovered, is about more than dropping a bag into boiling water. The answer to their questions is pretty simple: Find fresh teas, brewed and picked with the same delicacy as they were grown. All of Swann Sisters' teas are handpicked from small family farms. The plants grow in ideal soil, without chemical pesticides, and are shipped direct so they retain nutrients.

Eli Weisgerber soon to be Eli Swanson makes up half of the Swann Sisters. She said that she always knew that she would be working for herself, but importing teas just kind of fell in her lap.

The other Swann Sister, Celestina Swanson (Weisgerber's future in-law), began tea tasting as a sort of hobby while she was living in Beijing. She brought back tea for her compatriots and realized the appeal that fresh teas have. The Swann Sisters fell in love with tea, and now have made it their mission to introduce fresh, high-quality tea to the Central Coast.

Trying to change the masses' perception of tea has led Weisgerber to one conclusion: They must taste the difference for themselves. Every week at Farmers' Market, she sets up a tea bar and brews to perfection her custom blends of greens, jasmine, black, white, and more exotic flavors for passersby.

Education is the second part of her plan. A recent but devout connoisseur of teas, Weisgerber helps those who sample to savor the nuanced flavor of each offering. Often, she said, people let tea steep too long, which can make the finest tea turn bitter. She also stresses the importance of buying whole tealeaves and storing them correctly.

The first in a series of tea tasting classes, held at Steynberg Gallery in February, revealed the proper temperature to steep teas and how to serve them. The class featured a traditional GongFu ceremony and history of each tea and each tool she used. Weisgerber shed light on the health benefits of tea, including relaxing with a cup. For most attendees, it was an opportunity to try new flavors and experience old favorites with a fresh palate.

Taste the difference in Swann Sisters tea at the Rock Espresso, Morro Bay Coffee Co., and Sunshine Foods in Morro Bay. In SLO, visit New Frontiers, the SLO Co-op, Monterey Street Espresso, and Steynberg Gallery. The next tasting at Steynberg will be held March 31 or you catch the teas every week at Farmers' in San Luis Obispo. For more information, call (920) 202-1067 or e-mail eli@swannsisters.com.

Send business news to rmiller@newtimesslo.com

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