MEM Tea of Watertown has specialized in sourcing, blending, and distributing high-quality loose leaf teas since their founding in 1999. Here at Chill, we’re proud to serve a number of flavors including English Breakfast, Moroccan Mint, China Green Jade, Rooibos (decaf), and Mark’s Chai Spice (customers can get it hot or latte-style), as well as Black and Crimson Berry iced tea!!
We love how MEM sources artisanal, orthodox-processed, single-origin leaves, and how they freshly grind the spices that go into their award-winning chais. That said, it was wonderful to have the opportunity to visit their headquarters in Watertown for a tasting and conversation with Director of Education Suanne Scalise!
The second we stepped through the front door, we were enveloped in an aroma of tea and herbs. It smelled delightful! Turning into the warehouse, shelves were stacked with packaged tea ready to be shipped out to accounts. As we passed the rows and rows of what seemed like countless different flavors, we reached the tasting area with a table afront a wall of different teas. Suanne began steeping a few of them, and then set them out for us to taste. Boxes of samples from tea gardens in Japan and Sri Lanka were stacked to the side.
“We do tastings here or at accounts’ locations,” Suanne said. “People like to come here because we have so many teas — over 100 — and can’t carry them all out. We brew a variety of options, and after tasting, they narrow down a list that’s appropriate for their place.”
Suanne, who has been with MEM for almost seven years, is in charge of tea education and training. She said everyone will usually choose an English Breakfast and a Green Tea. Herbal and hibiscus blends are also popular.
Looking back at the teas she laid out, Suanne explained when evaluating tea, it’s important to look at the leaves and smell the aroma.
So where do MEM’s handpicked teas come from, and who chooses them?
We learned MEM uses mainly the major tea production companies in places like India, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, and Japan. They’re also beginning to explore Africa. Herbs, on the other hand, come from all over the place; they just got three thousand pounds of ginger from India, and some cinnamon from Vietnam. Suanne said herbs and spices are much more varied throughout the world, though there are only so many places that make good tea.
“We have people who work with us go to origin, kind of like buyers and brokers. We’ve been working with them from the get-go. They go to origin, to the auctions where there are 75 cups lined up, and go down the lines and taste. Then they send us samples to taste test and narrow it down.”
To our surprise, Mark, who founded MEM, originally started with a coffee company called Espresso Express, (FYI: MEM are the initials of his full name, Mark Eli Mooradian). Suanne worked for that company along with GIlbert Tsang, current owner of MEM.
“We were in the coffee business; back then, loose leaf tea wasn’t as popular. The idea of tea houses had always been wished upon.” They sold tea and coffee, and eventually got more into tea. “[Tea] is way more diverse, I think,” Suanne said. “You might drink green tea but dislike black and the others. I find everyone has some sort of tea they drink for health, comfort, family tradition. Tea is diverse enough everyone has had it. It doesn’t take much to find something for everyone with tea.”
Tea was Mark’s idea; they thought coffee became oversaturated in Boston at that time, and now it’s unusual to not have whole leaf tea in a restaurant. It’s different than a machine-manufactured tea bag, (MEM didn’t have tea bags until a few years ago!). Specialty tea, like specialty coffee, is usually hand-produced and picked to get the right part of the plant. Suanne told us specialty coffee makes up three percent of all coffee in world and specialty tea makes up four percent of tea in world.
MEM currently has about 600 accounts from the Boston metro west area to New Hampshire, Maine Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and New York. They even have some customers as far out as California!
“Everyone [at MEM] drinks tea — a lot of it — and are really into it. It took me, a regular heavy coffee drinker, about four years to not need it anymore. Everyone gets excited about drinking the new teas when we get them.”
And her goal? “I always give people as much education as they want, and keep it fun and informative. I don’t want tea to be a chore. I want it to be fun.”
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