This is Teatime, a storytelling series that shares people's experiences with tea.
Through this series, we hope to create conversations about the **complex** history of tea, the role tea plays in people's lives + the differences across cultures.
This week, we talked with Mitalee, founder of Transcendence Coffee in NYC, about her stories surrounding tea.
Q: Name & Background
Mitalee Bharadwaj. I'm a former Apple Engineer and barista, who has always loved the coffee shop as a place of sharing with others and trying new things.
Q: What do you do?
I'm currently the CEO of Transcendence Coffee, a brand creating all-natural, globally-influenced flavored coffee syrups. We focus a lot on using fair-trade spices or local business ingredients and using no flavorings, preservatives, or acidifiers. I'm really excited about creating a new level of representation in the flavors we see in mainstream coffee shops, like Indian Gulab Jamun and Algerian Baklava.
Q: What is your relationship to tea?
I really believe that tea and coffee are both specialty beverages that should be given a platform for storytelling. There are so many varieties of tea with nuanced flavors and I believe that we should share more than just the commodity, but the actual narrative of sourcing all the way to the cup we finally drink in a cafe. Growing up as a South Asian American, I thought it was silly to go to any major chain and see a "chai tea latte" on the menu. Chai means tea. I love that tea, just like coffee, evokes a feeling because of the smell of the tea leaves and the richness of the spices. It's really great to see so many chai and matcha brands (amongst other varieties of tea) popping up that focus on tributing flavors and storytelling to origin countries like India and Japan. Having enjoyed making chai with my family, I eventually ventured off into learning more about ceremonial-grade Matcha after trying some at my university's Japan House.
Q: What significance does tea have in your life? In your family? In your culture?
Growing up as a child of immigrants from South India, a deep-rooted way that we preserve our culture is through food and beverage. We love making Chai on a Sunday afternoon and using a pestle & mortar to ground cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, clove and pepper. I love chai and matcha almost as much as I love coffee!
Q: Share a tea memory & its significance
I remember when I went to college and I met so many friends who had never been exposed to Indian culture, I was really excited about throwing small dinners where I would make a paneer dish or masala dosa, and we would all end the night with a cup of masala chai. I remember when those same friends started inviting me to make a trip to an Asian Grocery store and help them buy the right spices to make chai together. It's really incredible to see how culture can be shared and preserved through food and beverage, and it's a way that I've welcomed and invited people into my own life balancing a mixed identity.