Tools of the Trade is a series in which we ask chefs, bartenders and other food folks which tools they simply can't live without. Today we talk to Steve Schwartz, CEO and Founder of The Art of Tea.
Building a tea empire isn't the dream of many young men, and indeed for Steve Schwartz, the journey was far more complex than a wish for world tea domination. Schwartz, who is the CEO and founder of The Art of Tea, first became interested in botanicals after the death of his mother from cancer when he was 19. He was attracted to Eastern and preventative medicine as an alternative to the Western medicine that had, he thought, failed to save his mother. At the Ayurvedic Institute in New Mexico, and then in travels around the world, Schwartz became an expert in blending and sourcing teas and botanicals.
The Art of Tea began out of Schwartz's Los Angeles home in 2004. It's now one of the world's leading purveyors of high end tea, and supplies many of L.A.'s great restaurants including Bestia, Pizzeria Mozza and Spago. We asked Schwartz what the most important tools are in his life, both for creating and tasting teas and for running a successful creative business.
A Tasting Spoon
“I taste hundreds of teas a month – from raw, single origin teas to complex organic hot and iced tea blends that we hand-craft on site in our L.A. facility. Consistency is key and tasting every ingredient to ensure the delicate flavor profiles are on-point requires Olympic-style precision. My spoon is an extension of me and helps me to pinpoint slight variances, while unlocking the flavor story in each sip. The ideal spoon has a wide mouth and deep belly to provide maximum surface area, so the tea cools quickly and showcases a deep aroma. Over 80% of what we taste with tea is smell, so this piece works wonders. I hand-shape spoons for new staff members at Art of Tea.”
“I have gone through dozens of notepads since I started blending teas in my living room 10 years ago. I have a library of ideas, tea blends and recipes I've handwritten. I used to sleep with a notebook by my bed for when I'd wake up in the middle of the night with some new tea idea or blend inspiration. Now each tea blend is set with a standard in our system on-site. Once we dial in the recipe we assign a lot number with every tea leaf, dried berry, botanical and flower that's traced back to its source.”
White Porcelain Cup/Filter Bags
“This seems simple, but a clean white background allows the finished tea to pop. You should be able to see the bottom of the cup, but the vibrancy of the tea should still shine through. Working with loose leaf means you might get a leaf in your cup now and then, so I recommend using disposable and biodegradable tea filter bags with a built-in drawstring.”
Stainless Steel Bowls
“Large and small stainless steel bowls that are easy to clean are essential for blending each batch. The ingredients in tea blends need to mesh well together and be blended evenly, and the stainless steel bowls allow us to maintain quality control and ensure consistency between batches.”
“During my travels and sourcing trips in Asia, Middle East and Africa, I've learned to appreciate the stillness of dawn. The transition from dark to light, especially in L.A., is one of the most beautiful and inspiring tools to incorporate in the day. I call this my 'hour of power,' and it's a time to start before the world around me wakes and feel gratitude.”