The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf’s master tea blender David De Candia returned to Manila last week for a series of talks and workshops on tea blending. De Candia has been a tea specialist for 21 years, creating blends as well as traveling the world to educate people. Some of his career highlights include being appointed by the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka as ambassador of Ceylon Tea for North America and Canada. He was also invited by the United Nations to deliver a talk on tea’s relevance.

Becoming a master tea blender was definitely not De Candia’s plan, as he originally started out as a warehouse manager for the company. “I needed a job. I primarily was just curious about tea. But over time I realized that I love tea and I enjoyed finding more about it.” His extensive knowledge on tea was evident during his talk, where he discussed the origin, quality, innovations, and sustainability of tea. “I source from 10 different countries. I buy only from small growers and family-owned farms. I don’t buy from middlemen, exporters, and wholesalers. I go direct to the source, because it helps with quality.”

He admits that women are better at plucking than him (and men, in general) probably because they are more nimble-fingered and have a gentle touch. Usually it takes six weeks for the plucked leaves to arrive in De Candia’s factory in California and when they do, he experiments with them, prepares the blend, and then packages and ships them to the stores. “I’m basically just an e-mail away if you have questions or concerns about the shop’s teas. Creating blends take up most of his time, but De Candia enjoys every bit of it as he also gets to impart his knowledge to tea enthusiasts.

And since he was already within reach, I sat down with him briefly as I had questions on his journey so far and what’s in store for tea.

Did you take formal training before becoming a master tea blender?
I’m actually self-taught. No one really showed me how to do it, but there are a lot of different aspects to it and you can find courses online. Going to expos also help. There are quite a number of them and they are popular.

How is blending tea different from creating blends for coffee or liquor? Do you need special tools and equipment to accurately create blends?
You have to look at flavor, color, and aroma when blending tea. You have to consider the flowers and their colors as well as the different ingredients. With coffee you just have to be mindful of the flavor and aroma. As for tools and equipment, you can start with small, home items. But eventually you will need a tea blender if you want to get more serious.

Do you have any idea where tea trends originate?
I don’t, but I do know that some of the trends make sense and some of them don’t last. For example, the health benefits of green tea have kept that trend going. It makes sense. It’s good for you and it tastes good. Bubble tea, on the other hand… it’s still around but it didn’t really stick like true traditional tea. And I don’t really worry about following trends, that’s marketing’s job.

But what do you think will become big in the tea industry by next year?
Cold brew tea is still gaining popularity. It’s convenient. People won’t have to heat the water and they just have to put the tea leaves directly. Anything simple and easy is sort of the trend these days. Millennials are also a driving force. Mostly they want single origin teas now. They want to know the story behind the tea, thanks to their access to the internet. I think it’s a good thing that they don’t just focus on the flavor but they also value the story, and if it’s giving back to the origin.

What is the biggest misconception people have when they think of tea?
I just tell people don’t just drink when you’re sick or having indigestion. Drink it even when you’re not sick. It should be consumed morning, noon, and night.

Personally, how do you like your tea? Do you have a favorite blend?
In the morning I usually drink tea with milk and sugar. Throughout the day, I drink iced or hot tea, depending on the temperature. My favorite would have to be oolong. It’s by far the most complex type of tea I have encountered with its flavor, aroma, and variety.

How do you see the tea industry a couple of years from now?
It continues to grow! It’s going to be big just like how coffee was. There’s no shortage of tea, and there never will be. We still have plenty of bushes out there. Most importantly, more people are learning about it and I think this education will be the key to the continuous lifespan of tea.

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