From Minturn to Taiwan in the name of oolong |

From Minturn to Taiwan in the name of oolong

MINTURN For Chris Chantler, going to Taiwan for oolong tea is like going to Champagne, France, for bubbly.Taiwan is famed for the quality of the oolong tea it produces. And a group of Americans at the forefront of the loose-leaf tea business are going next week to see for themselves what makes Taiwanese tea so special. Chantler and Vail Coffee & Co. partner Craig Arseneau are headed to Taiwan next week as part of an American tea delegation, almost all of whom are in the business of selling loose-leaf tea. Chantler said hes come to know other people in the business over the last 15 years or so, and said he feels honored to be invited.While the United States remains a coffee-drinking country, the tea business is growing fast. Chantler said tea, and especially loose-leaf tea, is the fastest-growing part of the hot beverage market in this country, and makes up almost 20 percent of his companys business.Our goal has been to help the coffee houses we serve to distinguish themselves by becoming coffee and tea houses, Chantler said. Weve been very successful at that.And, while fine tea houses and restaurants on the coasts have been serving loose-leaf teas for a while, the idea is starting to catch on in resort areas, Chantler said.Adding loose-leaf tea is telling customers youre giving them the best in the world, he said. Youre giving a special presentation. To create the idea of serving something distinctive, companies that specialize in loose-leaf tea have to keep their bags packed. Not long ago, Chantler was in India for three weeks, looking for something special to bring back home. He found it, in the form of a delicate white tea grown on one farm. The Harrods department store of London bought some of the crop. Vail Coffee & Tea bought the rest.The only places in the world you can get it are at Harrods and in Minturn, Chantler said.Chantler expects to find something unique in Taiwan. For one thing, he wants to continue his companys policy of seeking out and dealing with individual growers. Thats important for quality, and for making sure Vail Coffee & Tea is dealing with growers who treat their people right. But Chantler also is looking to unlock some secrets. The island nation is famed for the variety and distinctive flavor of its oolong teas known as Formosa oolong. Just how those teas are grown and treated after harvest has long been considered something of a mystery.Those techniques create amazing floral characters and aromas, Chantler said. Its like going to the Champagne region of France for that wine versus whats produced anywhere else.Vail Coffee & Tea already has 55 varieties of loose-leaf tea available. Ill bring back some new teas from this trip, Chantler said. Ill be interested to see what I learn.Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 748-2930, or

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