Brewing the Perfect Cup of Tea: Secrets from Fairfield’s Leaf & Ardor

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Enough already, winter! I know…it’s winter in New England you’ve got to expect snow and sub-zero temps, but come on Mother Nature, haven’t we suffered enough? When you’re frozen to the bone and three layers of clothing just aren’t cutting it anymore, you’ve got to warm up from the inside out and a steaming cup of tea is the perfect antidote to winter’s frosty chill.  Leaf & Ardor Tea Co., a Fairfield-based company crafts amazingly beautiful sip-worthy teas. Leaf & Ardor was founded by two local women, Connie Pappas and Cristina Copersino, who share a love of tea and the endless culinary possibilities it represents.

I had the opportunity to speak with them about launching a tea company and learned the secrets to making the consummate cuppa.

Fairfieldista: First, how did you meet?

Cristina & Connie: Before we founded Leaf & Ardor we worked together on professional projects and soon realized we have similar professional and personal values surrounding quality food and drink, aesthetics/good design, and sustainability; and that we also had complementary skills and senses of humor which led to an ease in working together.

At the start of each of our meetings Connie would make a pot of tea (often her own blends) and serve it in beautiful bone china teacups that were a gift from her aunt. This is a ritual we created which set the tone for the meeting. Who doesn’t feel more open and at ease when sharing tea with a friend or colleague?

Fairfieldista: What are your work backgrounds? Were you involved in the food and beverage industry?

Connie: Cristina is very detail oriented and loves to research – she honed these skills in her work as a lawyer and marketing professional. She also loves cooking and entertaining and has a passion for food and beverage pairings. Her work with food entrepreneurs and small businesses helped inspire her to co-launch Leaf & Ardor.

Cristina: Connie is highly creative and loves to collaborate with people to find solutions while having fun. With a varied educational background and many passions, including the arts, effective communication, and natural health and healing –– Connie lovingly brings her NYU certified business and personal life coaching skills into the daily operations of Leaf & Ardor. We both love the creative process of crafting new recipes and blends, marketing, and service.

Fairfieldista: Why did you decide to launch an artisanal tea company and why did you believe the time was right?

Connie & Cristina: We were chatting in the summer of 2013 about how it had become so easy for people to spend hours and hours staring at a screen, tied to the smartphone, etc. There seemed to be something missing – a lack of connection and ritual – and we wanted to change that. We believe it’s a timely issue that so many people experience, so we created a three-pronged mission: to promote mindful moments throughout the day, a connection to others and community, and an engagement of all of the senses. Deciding on teas and gifts came after we created this mission, as we’ve seen in our own lives the way tea adds meaning and openness to shared experiences, and a fuller enjoyment of time spent with oneself.

We created our teas to be beautiful and natural gift items, while at a price point that supports everyday enjoyment. There’s currently a lot of interest in the U.S. about tea as a daily beverage, its uses and benefits. A big part of the process for us is educating people about the different varieties, wellness benefits, and ways to use tea in cooking. For example, our Ruby Rose Hips tisane, which is an herbal blend of rose hips, hibiscus, and lemongrass, is a vitamin C powerhouse, naturally caffeine-free and perfect for warding off colds this time of year. It also happens to be delicious infused into a panna cotta, used as a base for a Prosecco cocktail, or cold-brewed with fresh fruit and herbs in the summertime. We believe it’s important to have fun with the blends and let the creative process take over in the kitchen.

Fairfieldista: How do you craft your blends?

Connie & Cristina: In preparing our blends, we look at all of the steps in making a cup of tea and seek to create a full sensory experience for the customer at each stage. From opening the package and enjoying the heady aroma, to watching the leaves, herbs, and petals steep, to drinking the tea and appreciating the nuanced flavors – we want each step of the process to be as enjoyable as possible. We are always sampling and trying new things in the kitchen, and also like to keep in mind pairing ideas, fruit infusions, and recipes that could be concocted with the teas and blends. Sometimes everything comes together in a day and sometimes it takes a period of many months to get everything just right.

Fairfieldista: Educate us a bit – is there a big taste difference between loose tea and the tea that you make from a tea bag?

Connie & Cristina: While tea bags offer a measure of convenience, we find that loose-leaf tea allows the full, fresh flavor of the tea to come through. Loose-leaf tea makes it easier to appreciate the nuances and subtleties of different teas and blends. It also allows for a multi-sensory experience and meditative moment while watching the leaves unfurl and release their full aroma, color, and flavor. Loose-leaf is also more sustainable than bagged.

Fairfieldista: What goes into making a really great cup of tea? How long should you steep loose tea and does it depend on the blend?

Connie & Cristina: The quality and freshness of the tea leaves are certainly the most important factors when it comes to a great cup of tea. The loose-leaf steeping method, where the leaves are in direct contact with the water, is preferable, but if you’re using a bag, the leaves should have space to unfurl and expand. In general, use 1 teaspoon of tea for every cup of water you are brewing. (Although some teas and herbal blends differ – for example, white teas require two teaspoons per cup. We suggest referencing the packaging if you’re not sure. Heat the water to a rolling boil for black teas and tisanes (herbal blends) only. Green and white teas are more delicate and should be steeped in below-boiling water (approximately 170°). This is very important because green teas especially can become bitter-tasting if steeped in water that is too hot.

When it comes to steeping time, a general rule of thumb is: 5 minutes steeping time for black teas and tisanes (herbal blends); 3 minutes for green teas; and 1 – 2 minutes for white teas.

Fairfieldista: What do you hope people experience when they enjoy Leaf & Ardor teas?

Connie & Cristina: We enjoy hearing from our customers about their unique culinary and entertaining experiences, and encourage people to share Leaf & Ardor teas –– whether as a gift, while entertaining, or visiting with a friend, family member, or colleague. Tea can be a potent vehicle for creativity and conversational flow. We also encourage people to create their own enjoyable ritual and modern twist on teatime –– to feel free to experiment and make it their own – try infusing with fruit, adding brewed tea to a healthful smoothie, or pairing it with sweet or savory dishes. We encourage everyone to check out our blog for some great recipes and entertaining ideas, and visit our website for online gift orders.

Additionally, Leaf & Ardor teas can be found at the following local markets:

Darien, CT
Palmer’s Market

Fairfield, CT
The Pantry

Cinch Gourmet Meal Market

Ridgefield, CT
Ridgefield Organics & Specialty Market

Westport, CT
Saugatuck Craft Butchery (served at café)

The Granola Bar

The Organic Market

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