They say that “first impressions are lasting impressions, and this vibrant emporium of artisan loose leaf tea with a zesty coloured interior and enchanting aroma is as memorable as its vivacious owner.
While Bolu Tea® is discretely hidden away behind a group of nondescript neighbourhood shops in one of Auckland’s exclusive suburbs, it is easy to see why Shai Nair’s store is now firmly on the map as a ‘must do’ destination for both tea connoisseurs and epicureans alike.
Whether you’re seeking the healing benefits of an Ayurvedic blend, a sip of spicy chai or perhaps yearning for a little luxurious gift in the form of the most expensive tea in the world, “handpicked under the moonlight” at USD$1,000 per kilo, Bolu Tea® is worth a visit.
Classical symphony softly plays in the background as I enter the store, a fragrant ‘first flush’ English breakfast tea is gently poured and I am transported on a delightful journey to the plantations of Darjeeling in a cup of biodynamic bliss. As the only registered trademark and licensed stockist of Darjeeling tea in the Australasian territory authorised by the prestigious Tea Board of India, Shai is one of the few female international importers and exporters in this part of the world in a traditionally male-dominated industry.
Exceptionally knowledgeable and multi-lingual, she comes from a family background of managing tea estates and was formally educated in Switzerland before falling head over heels for a Kiwi.
It was only after graduating from a renowned tea institution in the United States and relocating to the sleepy green pastures of Waikato that Shai discovered her true calling was to foster a “spirit of community and love” through tea.
“In this age of constant hurriedness, many people have forgotten the relaxing ritual of taking a moment out to make a cup of tea and gather together. Now it’s time to get back to basics and pour a ‘pick-me-up’ that is soothing for the body as well as the soul,” says Shai.
Bolu Tea® is biodynamic and hand-picked from single-estate plantations located in Darjeeling, which tightly controls its ‘terroir’ in a similar fashion as the esteemed wine-growing appellations of Champagne and Bordeaux in France. Many may ask what ‘biodynamic’ actually means and Shai explains that, “it’s essentially organic tea grown without harmful pesticides that has been farmed according to spiritual and ethical principles originally developed by Rudolf Steiner.” “I have a particular passion for the premium tea province of Darjeeling, forty-five minutes from Nepal on the North Eastern frontier. Only 60 plantations exist in this area, which has a very special legacy dating back to the 1800s giving it so much character in its roots. The people there are magical and we are grateful for their help. Freshness is also paramount. I know that our tea arrives within three weeks of harvest from the plantation to the cup.”
The Bolu Tea® range of fragrant loose leaf tea is extensive, spanning eight categories from; black, white, green, Oolong, blends, blooms, Ayurvedic and wellness and all so deliciously tempting, judging by the in-store experience which is an exquisite showcase of award-winning packaging that is a colour-burst of choice.
Shai is simply encyclopaedic with her depth of tea knowledge and patiently answers all my novice queries about the difference between ‘first flush’, tea picked in spring and ‘second flush’, which is from the second harvest in summer.
Pristine little glass-topped sample jars are unlocked before my eyes, revealing aromatic and authentic samples of herbs, rose petals, Rhododendron blossoms, berries and autumnal coloured larger leaves — all perfect ambassadors of the Bolu Tea® collection.
“If you’re not a tea drinker, usually start with English breakfast tea. Don’t taint it with milk or sugar and do find your character as you progress with your palette,” says Shai. Such invaluable guidance about ‘all things tea’ reminds me of similar experiences I’ve enjoyed in the company of coffee baristas and wine sommeliers.
As I’m leaving, my eye is drawn to the rainbow collection of designer tea pots on display made by an artist favoured by home decorating guru, Martha Stewart. Shai mentions they’re museum quality, as she deftly pours without spilling a drop and specifically sourced from the United States to compliment the tea, alongside locally hand-crafted tea cups in a striking pohutakawa design.
The Bolu Tea® store is open weekdays 11am-4pm (except Thursday) and on Saturday 1pm-4pm. Private tastings for special celebrations or corporate groups are available on request and Bolu Tea® ships worldwide via www.bolutea.co.nz.