After her camping gear was stolen at the World of Music, Arts and Dance Festival in England, Jennifer Thompson found herself regrouping with friends in the medical tent. As Brits are wont to do in a crisis, someone kindly brought her a cup of tea. "That cup of tea stuck with me," she says.
Later, Thompson came across the Tiny Tea Tent at the festival, "It was a huge inspiration. There was floor seating on pillows and big chalkboards with what seemed like hundreds of different kinds of tea." The owners were two sisters from New Zealand who travel to festivals around the world selling tea. Thompson says she could tell they loved their work. "They were just beaming. And I thought, 'I wanna do that.'"
Thompson returned to the States with a clear vision for a new business and in time opened her own mobile tea cart. Parked at 1626 Myrtle Ave. in Eureka, the Loose Leaf has a detailed two-page menu of organic teas and herbal blends.
The cart has been open for about five months. At first business was slow, "A lot of people just wanted espresso," Thompson explains. "I kind of got a little deflated, thinking that this maybe wasn't the right thing." But customers were enthusiastic and eventually word got out. These days, business is humming along. And now the Loose Leaf offers coffee — roasted specially for her by Old Town Coffee & Chocolates — for the fiends among us.
Thompson also serves local wildflower honey and orders from Mountain Rose Herbs, Humboldt Herbals and Moonrise Herbs. She plans to buy a small espresso machine so she can make chai tea lattes and will soon develop a menu for tea-oriented foods like scones, tarts and wraps. Thompson has even connected with the owner of a small nursery in McKinleyville that has tea plants, and hopes to grow her own tea down the road. "Within five years I want to have a fixed location here in Humboldt County, and at least one or two more carts," she says. Thompson will also be traveling with her cart to serve tea at festivals and events near and far.
Sharing knowledge with fellow tea enthusiasts is Thompson's favorite part of the job. "I feel like I know a lot about tea, but it's only the tip of the iceberg of information that's out there," she says. Recently she found out that putting dairy in black tea counteracts the bioflavonoids. "It takes away the things that are good for you in your tea. So you're really just drinking for sport."
So how do you brew a good cup of tea? For proper brewing, water temperature is crucial. Thompson explains that for black and herbal teas, the range should be between 200 to 212 degrees Fahrenheit. (She sets her temperature gauge at 202.) Using an air pot, she cools the water down a bit for green teas. Depending on whether it's Japanese or Chinese, the ideal range for green tea is 160 to 180 degrees. White teas like a relatively chilly 160. To produce the perfect cuppa, Thompson says to keep in mind that herbal teas like to be steeped for five to 15 minutes, while black teas require between three to five minutes.
The Loose Leaf is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Tuesday and Thursday from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. For more information, or to reserve the tea cart for your event, call (707) 496-1049.