May is a busy month, filled with end-of-the-year programs, dance recitals, and graduation ceremonies. But, for the women in my family, May means one thing – it’s time for tea.
For the past 20-plus years, I’ve been hosting an annual Mother’s Day tea in my home for the moms in our family. This year, however, our celebration started a month early with a visit to Louisiana’s first tea farm, Fleur De Lis Tea Company.
If you happen to be a weekly reader of my column, you may remember reading my article last fall, which covered the farm’s first event, the annual meeting of The United States League of Tea Growers.
Since then, owner and founder David Barron has been busy perfecting his tea processing techniques. Currently, he has recruited the help of Ms. Beverly Wainwright, a tea consultant from Scotland. And recently, I had the privilege of meeting Ms. Beverly at our Hammond Farmers Market, where I was offered to join her for a private tea tasting at the Fleur De Lis Tea Farm.
Thanks to the hospitable David Barron, I was welcomed to bring my sister-in-law, Melissa Kuhn Cleveland, who was in town from Washington state, and my mother-in-law, Brenda Kuhn, who is a plant lover, along for the trip.
Upon our arrival, David greeted us and shared some updated facts about the farm. The grounds now have several thousand Camellia Sinensis plants. Commonly known as tea plants, the leaf buds and top two leaves of this plant are used to produce most teas, including green, black, oolong, and white teas. Also, rows of Southern magnolias have been planted near the farm’s tea house, which was drafted by my Uncle Sal Cali in collaboration with David’s vision for this local tea company, which hopes to eventually be open for public events.
Inside the tea house, we found more updates. Interior designer Earl Savoie has added another landscape painting, which contains a focal point of the perfect outdoor setting for a spot of tea. Also, David has completed the construction of his tea tasting area which has a custom Fleur de Lis design incorporated into the counter’s woodworking. Inside, we also found Ms. Beverly Wainwright ready and waiting for us with a table set for tea tasting.
Formerly a businesswoman in the U.K., Ms. Beverly began her career in the tea industry after volunteering on a tea farm in he south India about 12 years ago. Now the owner of “The Scottish Tea Factory,” Ms. Beverly specializes in processing tea leaves, offering her services to tea growers, usually near Scotland.
Now, she has ventured here to share her knowledge with David and assist him in making the best possible Louisiana-based tea. And what a knowledge base she has!
As we sipped samples of a beautiful amber-colored tea grown at Fleur de Lis tea farm, we learned a plethora of facts about brewing tea. One factor is the temperature of the water, which is most important in brewing green tea, as scalding the leaves will result in a bitter taste. Steeping time, which can vary from 2 to 6 minutes, for different varieties of tea can directly affect flavor. Also, we learned that tea, unlike coffee, contains L-theanine, which promotes clear thinking and offsets the stimulating effects of caffeine.
Then, Ms. Beverly took us on a tour of the processing area where she is currently conducting experiments with Louisiana-grown tea leaves. The standard method for processing black tea, Ms. Beverly said, consists of four basic steps.
First, she showed us the bamboo racks where the leaves are withered, which takes about 14 hours and requires hand rotating the leaves during nighttime hours. Secondly, she demonstrated how the hand-cranked-style machine is used to twist the leaves. Next, she showed us the heater proofer where the leaves are placed for 3 to 4 hours. And lastly, Ms. Beverly showed us the dryer where the leaves are put on racks to complete this processing, which takes about two days.
As I left Fleur De Lis Tea farm that day, I was gifted with a sample bag of tea leaves as well as a headful of brewing tips.
So, this Mother’s Day I was all set. I used the glass tea pot and silver strainer gifted to me by my mother-in-law, Brenda Kuhn, to brew beautiful amber-colored tea. And as my mom, Joann Cali, and the ladies in my family gathered at my home this past Sunday, we celebrated my sister Cindy Lavergne being the 2022 recipient of the Holy Ghost Community Mother Seton Service Award, enjoyed each other’s company, and took time to sip a cup of tea from Louisiana’s first tea farm!