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Tea turns over a new leaf in Grover Beach 

Forget the processed powdered tea you’ve downed with a little cream and sugar. Now aficionados can indulge their taste for freshly picked teas from the Fujian Mountains of China, thanks to the Dragon Pearl Tea Company, billed as “the only American tea company buying directly from the farm.�

click to enlarge PHOTO BY CHRISTOPHER GARDNER
  • Photo by Christopher Gardner

# “The biggest advantage is the freshness of our tea,� says Dave Dahl, Dragon Pearl Tea Company co-founder. “Factory farm teas contain pesticides and impurities that ours doesn’t, because it is raised in the mountains away from industry.�

For Dahl, Judah Sanders, and Hong Xiang, the co-founders of the new Grover Beach tea import company, exposure to the intricate flavors of fresh mountain-grown teas during numerous excursions to China changed their lives forever. “In 2004, I was in Hong Kong,� Dahl says. “I flipped out when I tried the tea. I brought some back and my tea drinking friends also flipped out.� Dahl searched unsuccessfully to find comparable quality Chinese tea in America, and then, along with his partners, had the good sense to convert their obsession into a business.

Then Xiang, through his family connections, introduced his partners to an organic tea co-op in Fujian. On six separate occasions, the three founders traveled to mainland China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, tasting teas and inspecting farms. Upon arrival at the warehouse, each batch of tea is tested for impurities and tasted for flavor. Last week, the partners rejected a shipment of oolong tea. “It was flat and flavorless,� Sanders says. “It was not the batch we specified.�

One of the biggest weapons in the tea company’s campaign to make a splash with Central Coast lovers of fine food and drink is planned tastings—in small black porcelain cups—to be held weekly at local markets. “It is fun to learn the different tea flavors,� Sanders says.

The fledgling company currently offers five tempting teas including varieties of white, green, and black tea. White tea is hand picked when the leaves are about three days old. “White tea is the purest form of green tea,� Sanders says. “It is not processed and has the greatest health properties and the lowest amount of caffeine, though it is labor intensive.�  

You have probably heard that tea is good for you. A number of recent studies promote the potential health benefits of both black and green tea. Researchers claim that drinking tea substantially reduces the risk of heart disease and helps prevent the development of several types of cancer. The anti-oxidants delivered through tea drinking is billed as 100 times greater than the punch of vitamin C.

For fledgling tea drinkers, Dahl offers some advice: “A purist doesn’t use a tea bag. They steep their tea in porcelain or glass, because it doesn’t taint the flavor. In China the first steeping is poured out, the second steeping is more powerful, unlike powdered tea.�

Looking for a spot of tea? Dragon Pearl whole teas are now available at Spencer’s Fresh Markets, New Frontiers, Golden Gong in Grover Beach, Plumerias in Pismo Beach, and Windmill farms in Nipomo. To view available teas and tea accessories including porcelain-steeping cups, go to www.dragonpearltea.com.

Staff writer Karen Velie compiled this weeks Strokes and Plugs. Send your business news to kvelie@newtimesslo.com.

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