Snooty Tea Review: JusTea

jt_setKenya is one of the world’s top three producers of black tea.

No way, right? The reason nobody has any clue of this is because Kenyan tea is sold to factories owned by the Big Guys like Lipton, who process it into their own tea while paying the farmers 1% of the market value. (Call it capi-tea-lism.)

Now, this is great if you want to impress your friends with obscure tea knowledge. Even better if you already like to wax poetic about Marx and go around wearing red stars and Che Guevara T-shirts.

But JusTea has other plans. This nonprofit startup is putting the tea industry back into the hands of the growers; its proceeds go directly to the farming communit-teas. Zero pocketed money here. The current crowdsourcing campaign will put a tea-processing plant right in the growing vicini-tea, so that’ll cut out the extra step of taking the leaves to get processed by yet another company.

Given what we know about tea-conomics, time to see whether the actual leafy stuff is as good as its cause.

jt_blackWe start off with the basic Black. Right out of the bag, the dry leaves smell like sun.

It’s a little like that.

If you’re a fan of roasty Chinese blacks, then get ready for a treat. A far cry from its florid South Asian counterparts from Ceylon and Assam, Kenyan black tea takes every deep golden note of your favorite Keemuns and Yunnans–and boom. The roll of a heated drum, as it penetrates and reverberates from sip to sole to soul. The finish is so smooth that you can’t even feel it leave your tongue.

But is this a Lion King of tea? Actually, it’s more like a Lion Queen. Lionesses are the real power within a pride, hunting and taking care of the young, while our Simbas and Mufasas lounge around and emit the occasional roar to tell the other guys to back off. Therefore, this tea is a lioness. Quiet strength.

If we’re going to talk milk and sweetener, the warm flavors of this tea would do well with either in extreme moderation. Just keep the additives simple; no crazy sweetened milks or scented honeys or what have you. This stuff warrants a good, long sip on its own before you start cus-tea-mizing your mug. A cup of this in the morning, and you’ll Be Prepared for anything.

jt_egWith JusTea’s Earl Grey, you’re immediately pummeled with pulverizing pungency. There is nothing “just tea” about this. The bergamot is BERGAMOT but even louder, sharp as cut glass. And this is only the dry leaves! Once in the cup, the aroma tames itself marvelously and the underlying black tea comes through, all smokey gold and playing with the idea that it’s really a Keemun from China. We are reminded that no matter where tea leaves may be grown, they are still the same Camellia sinesis plant. (‘Cause we are all connected in the great Circle of Life, baby.)

The bergamot just does not let you go. Ever. It latches onto your ankle and pulls you into the amber depths of the liquor. Highly insis-tea-nt; constantly badgering you with its presence. In fact, it’s honey badgering you. Because not only does it sass, “Bergamot don’t care!” but it does it so sweetly that you’d swear there was some actual honey involved here. Just a tad. Then it proceeds to linger on your tongue in the aftertaste, floral as a Laura Ashley parade.

Earl Grey afficionados will love this one for its bold tea-meanor, a wild take on the restrained British classic. Just be careful: the florality would clash with most milks, and sweet tooths should stick with a neutral additive like rock sugar.

jt_chaiThe Chai, meanwhile… This isn’t “Chai Ho.”

This is “Chai Whoa.”

You are getting spices that you’ve never heard of before in here. In the dry leaves, where the ginger attacks your olfactories like an eager-but-inept makeout partner, the aroma is peppered with the rich layers of fennel and cinnamon. This smooths way out in the cup as the latter takes over completely: “Ginger, stop embarrassing yourself.” “Yes ma’am.”

The very first sip is a call to throw away your sugar. That cinnamon joins forces with safflower and rose petals to form a band called Natural Sweetness. Unfortunately, this means that the ginger gets left behind–maybe there wasn’t enough room in the van. You can still smell it in the aroma, but as you drink up that dusky ochre liquor, the expected tang is nowhere to be found. Perhaps this calls for a stronger infusion.

Take it straight before messing around with milk and sweetener. This chai has such a unique flavor profile that it bears respecting–enjoy picking out the unexpec-tea-d accents swimming in your mug.

Final verdict? With folks like Tealet encouraging actual fair trade in the tea industry, it’s great to see JusTea also taking this approach for Kenya–plus, the tea itself is staggeringly tas-tea.

Thus, in both flavor and cause, JusTea is truly just.

Cheers.

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