Featured Tea Company: Imperial Tea Court
Q- What’s the history behind the company, how did you get your start?
A- The original Imperial Tea Court opened in San Francisco Chinatown in 1993. It was started by Grace and Roy Fong. Grace is a native of Beijing while Roy is from Hong Kong and was previously working as a tea wholesaler. They opened Imperial Tea Court to bring the finest Chinese teas and tea ware as well as their experience of traditional Chinese tea houses and tea culture to North American tea lovers.
Q- Where are you located?
A- While the original Chinatown tea house has closed, there are two Imperial Tea Courts in the Bay Area, one in the San Francisco Ferry Building and another in Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto, adjacent to Chez Panisse. In addition, the spirit and fine teas of Imperial Tea Court are available to a global audience on the Imperial Tea web site.
Q- From what countries do you get your tea?
A- Imperial Tea Court is focused on the finest green, oolong, and puerh teas from China. These teas are personally selected by Roy Fong on buying trips to China. Unlike most Chinese tea vendors in the U.S., we do not rely on middlemen. Because of customer interest we also offer a few top-quality Japanese and Indian teas. In addition, Roy is preparing newly acquired ranch land in Northern California as a tea farm. We look forward to offering customers some unique California-grown teas when the plants are mature in a few years.
Q- What do the customers mean to your company?
A- It’s all about the customers! Our greatest pleasure is opening the eyes of Western tea lovers who may not know about the extraordinary history of tea culture in China and the exquisitely rare and delicious historic teas of China.
Q- What are some of the difficulties with selling tea?
A- One of the biggest challenges is overcoming the common view of tea as a quick, cheap beverage. It’s a tribute to the tea plant that even the processing remnants that are used in commercial teabags have a pleasant, refreshing taste. Imagine how much more potential there is in fine tea leaves carefully picked and processed by trained professionals. Cognoscenti in China pay hundreds, even thousands of dollars per pound for the rare teas that we offer in our tea houses.
Q- This is a three-parter. What tea does everyone order? What tea would you suggest for tea newbies? What is your most unique tea?
A- Our two most popular teas are our Organic Everyday Green, a delicious and affordable green tea with the additional health benefit that it’s certified organic, and Roy Fong’s signature Monkey-Picked Tie Guan Yin, a richly flavorful oolong tea that Roy personally processes with traditional firing techniques. For newbies we recommend the Monkey-Picked Tie Guan Yin. Packed with flavor and aroma with both floral and roasted notes, this tea appeals to a wide range of palates and is truly an awakening, for people used to teabags, about what they’ve been missing in terms of fine tea. Our most unique tea is unquestionably our incredibly rare Imperial Tribute Harvest Purple-Tip Puerh, which was produced entirely from the first leaf-buds of a grove of ancient wild puerh tea trees deep in the tropical forest of China’s Yunnan Province. The leaves are so full of nutrients that they’re actually a reddish purple color, rather than green, and the tea tastes sweet and fruity with no bitterness. This tea is delicious to drink now but will continue to improve with age over many decades, similar to Bordeaux wine.
Q- What makes your tea company unique?
A- What truly sets us apart is Roy Fong’s 25 years of experience in Chinese tea markets, his deep contacts with Chinese tea producers that give him access to teas that simply aren’t available to the average buyer, and our commitment to offer some of the world’s finest traditional Chinese teas to our customers.
Q- In three words, can your sum up the culture of your company?
A- Our tagline says it all: “Experience the tradition.”
Q- What is the company’s mission?
A- Our mission is to share some of the world’s rarest and finest tea with our customers and spread the appreciation of Chinese tea culture around the globe.