Tea is one of those things that unites people. The experience of sharing a cup with friends, or that momentary feeling of steamy relief with the sip of a chamomile blend when you’re sick or a bedtime ritual that soothingly lulls you into slumber.
It also comes with other healing and beauty benefits that Tracy Stern, founder of Salon Tea, has harnessed in her commitment to making green living fashionable through tea.
As part of our Behind the Burner series, I got the amazing chance to chat with this fabulous lady whose sense of style is instantly captivating from her Vogue-worthy wardrobe to her recyclable tea tins.
You’ve had a love affair with tea since childhood. What is it about tea that captivated you? Did you ever want to do anything else or has it always been about the tea?
What captivated me and sparked my love of tea was the ceremony and table setting. The preparation, entertaining and setting up are just as important and exciting as the tea itself. Tea was fantasy, historic, romantic, artistic and culinary. From childhood teaparties with dolls to present day with friends, flowers, china, silver and a bit of imagination and inspiration is what makes tea such a special event for yourself or to share with others. Tea is what brings people together and that is my motto: Enjoy life. Drink tea. Celebrate often.
You’ve reawakened the whole experience of tea and heightened tea fashion in the process. Was this always part of the plan or is that how it naturally evolved?
I have always been influenced by fashion and design since childhood. I won best dressed in nursery school! I think that recreating a high designed, packaged branded tea is necessary in today’s market. SALONTEA is ‘the fashionable tea’ and appears in the most fashionable retail stores throughout Europe. I believe that I am just reintroducing tea as modern and fashionable [as it has always been so throughout history]. SALONTEA has garnered much press in international fashion magazines, TV and spreads worldwide.
Is tea education part of the process? What are the main elements you would share with someone interested in learning more about tea?
Tea is like fine wine. The more you love tea, the more you want to learn the various grades of tea… what side of the mountain , the elevation, the time of day it is plucked, the way it is fermented, processed and graded, and so on. What I wish for people to learn is purely what they like, and to incorporate it into their daily regime. Find a tea that’s suits your palate and enjoy it, experiment with it and make it your lifestyle and special ceremony.
Do you have signature blends? What are your most popular flavors? What inspires your tea creations?
I have 7 signature blends based on taste that I hope would please everyone’s palate. I blend them all in small batches as if they were bottles of fine perfume being decanted. When you open each tea, you are first blown away by the scent and then by the taste. My most popular are THE LOVER (chocolate chai tea), which is delicious with steamed milk and sweetened. It’s heavenly and tastes sinful with out the calories! Also, THE ARTIST (pai mu tan white tea infused with ginger) is very clean, refreshing, pure, crisp and cleansing. I get inspiration from traveling the globe and bringing spices back from different regions. When last in Dubai, I noticed people were drinking ‘honeybush tea.’ In Egypt, mint tea was served in every store. I love the Austrian pastry shops, Parisian cafes and old French tearooms as well as proper British hotels serving afternoon tea with scones.
One of the best things about your teas is that they also as delicious as they are beneficial. What ingredients do you use that offer tea drinkers the greatest health benefits?
I love blending teas that taste great because I know that people will be hooked on the flavor, but will receive the numerous benefits of tea. I also have a beauty tea which has various blends with herbs ands botanicals to further enhance health benefits. THE TOXIC BEAUTY is a detox tea with ginkgo, St Johns wort, amongst other botanicals, blended with green tea. Our other best seller is THE SLIMMING BEAUTY its blended with guarana to naturally suppress your appetite and yerba mate to speed metabolism. We cant keep enough of this one in stock!! All the beauty catalogues sell out.
Tell us more about Charitea™, your new organic tea where you’ll be donating 10% of the proceeds to charitable organizations.
CHARITEA™ has been in the works for a few years. Some we have blended for different charities and given the profits straight to that charity, but now we are introducing our latest CHARITEA™ , our first organic blend of black tea with mariogold flowers and mango pieces. its delicious hot or cold and 10% of the portion of the sale will go directly to the various charities listed on our website. This is our first all organic tea and will be sold alongside our signature and beauty teas.
Do you feature any other organic teas in your collection?
Our first 100% organic tea is CHARITEA™. But we use as many organic ingredients as possible in all of our other blends.
Oprah and many other celebrities are big fans of your teas. How does it feel to be a tea purveyor to the stars? Do you think tea and fashion go hand in hand?
I love that stars love my tea and its such good fortune to be featured in Oprah’s magazine as her favorite. I remember when I met Jennifer Love Hewitt, and she sipped our SOCIETY HOSTESS tea. She said it was the best vanilla tea she ever tasted! Also, its great to be so well received Internationally. I was thrilled to find that Charlotte Gainsbourg (Serge Gainsbourg) and Naomi Watts are fans of SALONTEA. It’s such a wide range from rockers and writers to Candace Bushnell, Ciara, Dick Clark, Gavin Degraw, Lindsay Lohan, Shannon Elizabeth and Oprah to Hollywood starlets. I am completely overjoyed!
You’ve expanded your tea business into a beauty line that also harnesses the beneficial powers of tea. What types of products do you offer? Why did you decide to go in this direction? What are some of greatest beauty benefits of tea-infused skincare?
Tea and beauty go hand in hand. Beauty comes from within and when tea is ingested, it will transform your hair, skin and nails to grow, glow and shine! On the surface layer of your epidermis, tea will also rejuvenate skin cells, and knowing this led to our line of tea-infused beauty products. We have had much success with our eyetea, lipblamtea, bathtea, and footea creams and lotions. This is one area I will be developing further down the road. Now that we know tea helps fight free radicals and can eliminate skin damage, you will be seeing tea as an increasingly more prominent ingredient in skincare products.
Is green living important to you? Do you embrace as eco-focused lifestyle?
Green living is paramount to me personally — and my lifestyle. I participate in mass transit, recycling, using cloth instead of paper, turning off lights, and conserving water (except when it comes to boiling water for tea!). My tea products are packaged in containers to keep, savor and share. If you use the bath tea Lucite box, you can just take off the sticker and use it for storage — anything from candy to change to cotton balls. I like to encourage my customers to be creative — use the boxes to wrap a gift or store your lipbalms. And one of the reasons I prefer to sell loose tea is to reduce waste. Best of all, you can use the empty tims to store pencils after the tea is gone!! Recycle, reuse!
Do you enjoy a traditional high tea daily? What do you like to eat with tea? What foods do you think complement tea the best?
The traditional afternoon tea is something I enjoy on occasion with friends but I have 4 pots of tea daily and always incorporate it into my cooking and baking. I use tea as you would an herb or a spice and I also bake with it, and even use it creatively on popcorn! Tea is my one all-purpose item I cant live without when preparing all dishes from poaching salmon in green tea to baking chai tea pancakes. These recipes are all found in my book TEAPARTY, published by Random House. I made 20 different tea parties with limitless recipes incorporating tea, including how to learn the basics about brewing, storing and sharing.
You’ve already accomplished so much but what are your visions for the future? Where would you like to take Salon Tea next?
I would like SALONTEA to replace Starbucks!!! My first tea store will be opening in NYC’s Upper East Side at 75th and York Ave, in March 2009. It’s a small concept store based on the franchise model. I’m sooo excited. There will be a disco ball and custom tea blending station with retail products and my specialty drinks also being served. In addition, check out Anthropologie Stores , where they willfeaturing my book, TEAPARTY, in all of their holiday displays!
Do you have any holiday tea specials or events planned?
Yes! I will be featured on a segment with Behind the Burner, and will be signing books and having a tea tasting on December 20th from 11am-1pm at the Food Emporium TRUMP tea store on 68th and 3rd Avenue in New York City.
You’ve built a tea empire around the one thing you’re most passionate about. What advice do you have for those who want to follow in your footsteps?
Follow your dreams, believe in yourself, take chances, be creative, be positive, and think BIG! And, most importantly, enjoy yourself and all the moments in your life.
The journey continues…
If you want to see more of Tracy, be sure to visit her website, and you can get VIP access to all of her tea tricks and tips at Behind the Burner, including an exclusive video of the ‘celebritea’ herself! And because Tracy wants everyone to be able to share in a high end tea experience, she is offering an extra special discount off the purchase of any of her tea products by entering code: BTB09. Next week, Behind the Burner takes us behind nutritionist, Jodi Greebel, author of The Little Black Apron, followed by Sarah Endline, sparking social change through Sweet Riot, her line of ‘peace’ candies on a mission to promote a multicultural world.