Michael Menashy wants everyone in the world to love what they do. This heartfelt man laughs often and lives life on his own terms, one tea cup at a time.
No one can deny that we’re living in a “teasurgence” and Michael’s company Tea Sparrow is at the helm. He spoke with us about the First Annual Iced Tea festival and how we can turn ourselves from tea consumers into tea connoisseurs.
How early did your tea passion begin?
Funnily enough, when my Mom immigrated to Canada from India in 1969, she went into a supermarket and bought Red Rose Tea. She went back the next day and said, “Hey, your tea is stale!” She didn’t realize that was what North Americans drank. All tea bag tea has to be stale before you can pack it because it can sit on the shelf for years.
So we needed to increase our low standards.
Loose-leaf tea was what I grew up on. I always had an affiliation for things like teapots. We are a big tea family. My grandfather loves ceramics and I ended up becoming a ceramicist myself. I received a big award and went down to the World Tea expo in Vegas. Once I got there I realized I knew nothing about tea. I was blown away. I realized there was a massive gap between what’s available in the world industry and what we get in North America. It became a gift to try and figure out how to turn consumers into connoisseurs and how to turn connoisseurs into affiliate experts.
There was a missing bridge.
There still is to this day! Statistically, only 20% of the North American population drinks loose-leaf tea. The rest are still consuming that stale tea bag tea. Tea Sparrow was about connecting the dots with the incredible blenders and the local domestic markets.
How did you end up increasing your own tea knowledge?
Jane Pettigrew, the world’s most forefront tea sommelier came on board and showed us how to scorecard tea and rate the flavour profiles. We have rated teas in the thousands now. We collect data for the whole world industry. We have 164 on backlog that we need to get to.
You may have a bigger list than most, but what is one of your tea essentials?
There are some superstar teas out there and those tend to dominate my tea cupboard. There is an Earl Grey supreme made by Rishi. It is the ultimate. I am a sucker for that tea. It gets me every time.
If we wanted to become a tea sommelier, or at the very least a connoisseur, how would we do it?
It’s about scent identification. When you say that something tastes sweet, do you mean molasses sweet or ripe banana sweet? It’s being able to finely articulate to yourself, based on your own taste memory, what exactly is coming out of this tea. Ten people can have ten different experiences of food. Everyone will find a unique characteristic of the tea. We noticed that certain teas were unilaterally loved. There are common denominators between different cultures. There is a common shared palate and it is our mission to find that common denominator.
Which flavour profiles are Canadians inclined towards?
Canadian palates are a bit inclined towards sweet but also towards tartness or acidity. The US members have a higher affiliation for sweet or salty. Believe it or not, many teas do have a salty taste!
And people get an opportunity to try their hands at scorecards at the Iced Tea Festival?
Everyone gets a sample cup and a scorecard at the Iced Tea event. We email the results to everyone. We can all open our horizons. We can all start questioning.
The first annual Iced Tea festival is on July 19th at Heritage Hall from 11-6pm. If you buy your tickets in advance (which you can do here) you can get two-for-one tickets.
More tea for everyone…embrace your inner tea nerd!