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The Food Life: The Perfect Cup of Tea

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The art of tea-making is something that most of us often neglect; the majority of us simply use a tea bag and fill a pot with boiling water and call it a day. In actuality, tea-making is a delicate process, that to some can be considered an art form down to the last detail.  We visited Emeric Harney of the ever-popular Harney and Sons, Master Tea Blenders, to learn how to make the perfect cup of tea, just in time for the winter.

"I drink about 10-15 cups of tea a day!" proclaims Emeric Harney, a third generation owner of Harney and Sons, as he prepares the counter with various teas for our tasting.  As we soak in the airy atmosphere of the tea salon, admiring the photos taken by Emeric from his tea buying trips around the world, we notice him setting up the long bar table with a beautiful display of black, white, green, and oolong teas.  The aroma envelopes us as we watch Emeric prep each flavor in its own unique manner.  "Today, we're going to try the four basic teas in order to show you the difference between them, and demonstrate some basic techniques for tea making as well."  As he opens each oversized tin from the displays behind him, Emeric passionately explains in detail his impressive knowledge of where each tea comes from, how they are grown and picked, what climates grow the best kinds of teas, and the importance of using the correct temperature to brew each type.  Emeric demonstrates that certain teas require less than boiling water otherwise the tea leaves will burn and have a bitter taste, which often happens with green tea.  He does so by making one cup with boiling water and another with less than boiling water, and the difference was extremely noticeable.

As we watched and listened, Emeric's passion and knowledge as a tea connoisseur became clear but "that wasn't always the case!" he hesitantly admitted.  "It wasn't until about a few years ago when I went on a buying trip to India with my dad that I realized that this is what I wanted to do."  While the teas steeped, Emeric pulls out his iPad and scrolls through richly colored photographs of his "tea adventures" in India.  Each photo captured something unique to the environment.  Manicured piles of tea leaves being tended to, teas being smoked, weighed and sorted.  He explained that on this trip he was able to fuse his two interests of photography and the art of tea.

Growing up in Connecticut, Emeric was the younger of the two Harney brothers.  He was never one to be tied down to a place for too long, always longing for adventure and exploring various interests, Emeric dabbled in music, acting, fashion and photography.  It wasn't until his father sat him down and said, "Emeric you can't keep doing this, you need to figure out what it is you want to do" (insert Emeric's imitation of his father's voice).  Soon after, he realized that his true calling was right in front of his eyes.  Fast forward to today, he proudly shares with us that many of the exclusive tea combinations that are currently available, were developed by him.

After getting a crash course in proper tea preparation, our attention shifted to the tea salon, where they offers small tea snacks, tea floats and tea-flavored macaroons. "We don't offer the typical tea sandwiches in our café.  We try to do things a bit more special, like our Tea Floats, which are made with our seasonal carbonated iced tea, today is the Paris tea [a flavor developed by Emeric], topped off with a scoop of tea-infused ice cream [Earl Grey was our favorite]."

Started in the 1980s, Harney and Sons was the brainchild of John Harney, 81, (Emeric's grandfather) who to this day is still active in the business, and remains the head buyer for all teas.  You'll always be able to find a "Harney" in the store, which makes the visit even more special.  We concluded our tour with warm bellies and walked out with a bag full of their signature tea tins.