Tea Time with Anna Mariani: The Future of the Tea Industry
We continue our tea influencer blog series with a woman who's known online as The Tea Squirrel. Anna Mariani is a tea blogger, consultant and digital content creator and photographer based in San Francisco. She's been a tea lover for as long as she can remember. But when she moved from Italy to the States four years, Anna started getting pretty serious about tea. We can't wait for you to learn more about her favorite blends and what she thinks that future of the tea industry will look like.
Q: What’s your background in the tea industry?
A: I'm originally from Italy, which is well known as a coffee-drinking country, so it’s always fun to see the look of surprise on people’s faces when I say what I do. I occasionally drink coffee, but my first choice is always tea! My tea passion has evolved over time and has seen some turning points.
One of them was my trip to Kyoto, Japan in 2015. Traditionally, in Japan tea is a form of art and a powerful reminder to treasure each moment and appreciate the beauty of simple things. I’m also a huge fan of Japanese tea gardens, their deceptively simple aesthetic and peaceful environment. Another turning point was a visit to the Chinese Garden in Portland, Oregon in 2016, where I fell in love with gongfu cha, the Chinese method of brewing tea in multiple short steepings. I started educating myself in a lot of different ways, attending industry-specific conferences and guided tastings, but, most importantly, drinking a lot of tea and comparing, contrasting, researching and questioning everything.
When I moved to San Francisco, my tea passion could no longer be ignored and The Tea Squirrel was born. My blog is a way to share my tea journey and has helped me build a sensory library of tea memories, scents, flavor notes, aromas and textures, connect with like-minded tea drinkers, tea educators and tea businesses and - I hope - inspire others to explore the wonderful world of tea.
Q: What do you appreciate most about tea?
A: Tea is as simple as leaves and water. It couldn’t be any simpler really, yet there is something magical about it. For one thing, flavor. Tea can have incredibly complex naturally occurring flavor and aroma notes that are so delicious and unexpected, they will leave you speechless. Some teas display floral notes like orchid and gardenia, some teas chocolate and honey notes, some others freshly cut grass and vibrant, savory notes. The variety in the world of tea is mind blowing, especially considering that it all comes from the same plant, Camellia Sinensis.
I love pairing tea with food in unconventional ways and using it as an ingredient in recipes and cocktails. Some of my favorite pairings are cold brewed white, green and oolong teas with oysters on the half shell, tea and cheese and tea and chocolate.
Last but not least, tea can bring people together in a fun, uncomplicated way. I’ve had countless memorable tea gatherings, the conversation flows really well and you always end up with new friends.
Q: What do you enjoy doing while drinking tea?
A: I enjoy sharing tea with friends and loved ones, but I also appreciate the opportunity to reclaim time for myself while brewing and drinking it. I definitely enjoy detecting familiar aroma and flavor notes because most of the times, those bring back memories. Sometimes I can’t help myself, my mind starts wandering and I’m already designing food pairings or flavor combinations and ways to incorporate that particular tea in recipes.
Q: What are some of your favorite tea brands/sellers?
A: I like to support local tea purveyors and we have some excellent ones around here in San Francisco and the Bay Area. Here are some of my personal favorite tea sellers:
Song Tea and Ceramics (2120 Sutter Street, San Francisco). A small, highly curated tea shop known for its exquisite aesthetic and artisanal, small batch, directly sourced, often experimental teas.
Tap Twice Tea (online only, they are based in the Mission district in San Francisco). Their teas can be found at neighborhood grocery stores in San Francisco and on the menu at some restaurants. They are particularly keen on the social aspect of tea as a shared experience.
Blue Willow Tea (Berkeley). Owner Ali Roth sources her teas personally. She has a tea house within the tea house, an authentic Japanese tatami room where she performs the Japanese tea ceremony.
Silk Road Teas (online, they are based in San Rafael, in the north bay). High quality, directly sourced artisanal teas, and a lovely selection.
The Phoenix Collection (Lagunitas). Owner David Lee Hoffman has one of the most extensive collections of pu erh and other fine teas and has a small tea museum in Marin county.
Imperial Tea Court (Ferry Building, 1 Ferry Plaza, #27). Owner Roy Fong is one of the most knowledgeable tea people in the Bay Area. Imperial Tea Court was the first traditional, completely tea-oriented tea house established in the area.
Yerba Buena Tea (online and at the Ferry Building farmers’ market). Grace and Chad specialize in herbal tea blends, some of the tastiest I’ve ever had!
Q: How would you encourage someone to start drinking tea?
A: I wish I could invite them for a tasting and show them how cool tea is! I’d definitely encourage them to try many different teas and brewing methods to find out what they like and what fits into their lifestyle. The variety is so incredible, there is something for everyone! If you are adventurous and like traveling and exploring other cultures, chances are you might be naturally drawn to tea. Especially at the beginning, don’t be afraid to ask questions and to experiment, tea lends itself to it. Ultimately, it has to work for you and be something you enjoy and look forward to.
Q: What health benefits have you experienced from your tea routine?
A: Stress relief is the main benefit for me. The simple action of brewing tea helps me disconnect from my busy life for a few precious moments during the day. I focus on it, I appreciate the beauty of the present moment and I instantly feel refreshed and full of creative energy.
Q: Five years from now, what direction do you see the tea industry headed?
A: The tea industry is heading towards high quality, specialty tea with values. People want great taste but they also want to know where their tea comes from and how it’s made and that it’s benefiting local communities and the environment. I can see more and more restaurants providing creative tea and food pairings beyond traditional combinations. And more tea sommeliers.
Who are some tea bloggers or social influencers that you follow? We'd love to connect with them!