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How Naoko Chooses Key to Teas Products

July 27, 2020

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A Tea Passion Embedded All The Way Through

Tea is the second most drunk beverage in the world other than water. This means that tea impacts millions of people’s everyday lives and for me it’s the same. The ritual of drinking tea has impacted my life in wonderous ways. Most importantly tea means conversation, connection, family, one with nature, health & wellness, and it is borderless. Tea has also gained me a career in uplifting two famous brands, with one of them being one of the world’s most recognized and iconic brands for specialty coffee cafes and for creating amazing customer connections. The other, an American specialty tea retail boutique with so many dedicated customers and fans who brewed quality loose-leaf teas from this special boutique into their daily tea ritual.

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Opening Key To Teas is a 20 Year Long Dream

Ever since I was a little girl, I dreamt of opening my own cafe one day. In fact after college with an education that had nothing to do with tea, one of the first jobs I was about to take was as a tea sommelier in Manhattan at a European tea house flag ship store on Park Avenue. But I decided to nurture the nagging desire I had to want to attend culinary school and I'm glad I made the decision as this tea store couldn't remain open after a year.

Gaining skills and training along the way, I would have the opportunity to work as a line cook at a tea bar/restaurant cafe in the heart of 5th Ave., NYC. Over a span of almost two decades, I would gradually build and hone skills to lead tea quality and development at two companies. One a global food & beverage company with an enormous footprint, and the other an amazing specialty tea boutique founded by a husband and wife team.

From this extensive experience, I bring the best of what I learned to Key To Teas and as my own company, I can be fully responsible and accountable to select and curate our entire tea portfolio and customer experience.

Here are the KEY elements on how I've always decided and will continue to decide on what makes our collection:

Origin Narrative

Most impacting single origin pure teas, terroir or where the tea is grown will inevitable impact the taste of the final product as the soil content and environmental climate vastly differs from regions within a country to comparing teas from different countries. This is what makes the depth of tea as compelling as a fine wine, cacao bean, or coffee.

Tea Criteria

  • Visual: Cohesive size of dry leaf with multiple color hues where applicable. Wet, infused leaves are more tell-telling than dry, revealing freshness and vibrancy of tender leaves.
  • Aroma: Simple to complex, subtle nuances can be detected mostly in the first waft as the hot air molecules travel up the nose, where floral, vegetal, fruity to spice notes hit the olfactory bulb, where the sense of smell is processed in various regions of our brain.
  • Cup Color: Clear, cloudy, star-bright, dull, the color of an infused tea reveals so much of the teas character.
  • Taste: Taste is King. If the tea doesn't taste good, you as a customer, will never come back. Fortunately we have a variety of teas & botanicals to choose from, each with their own pure to complex taste.

Specialty Grade

As a food lover, my approach to tea has always been about enjoying the entire gamut of fine to low grades and appreciating all in between. I can appreciate a Hershey's Milk Chocolate bar all the way up to a wickedly dark single-origin 90% cocoa chocolate. But I have been fortunate to discern that the nuanced find foods are almost 100% of the time, nurtured by the producer vs. its commodity counterparts. Growing in Japan where new tea harvest or shincha was always available, I have come to strongly prefer seasonal teas plucked at its peak harvest so you can enjoy the freshness and subtlety of flavors.

Ritual and Pairings

Almost a decade ago, I started compiling recipes of incorporating tea as an ingredient in recipes. It was the final project at French Culinary School that got me into this kick of reinventing a 5 course French meal with tea. Jasmine Dragon Phoenix Pearls green tea vinaigrette anyone?

My first love was pastries so I've shared my most beloved tea cookie recipes in our Recipes section.

But who says you can't pair dark chocolate thin Oreos with our Tung Ting Fireside Oolong? We are here to bust the status quo and consuming and enjoying tea should be as easy and approachable and after all, the Oreo is America's favorite cookie and mine too. It seems sacrilegious but the creamy umami of the oolong penetrates right through the sweet, chocolaty cookie and cream that is like no other.


So Here We Are! Thank you for discovering us and hope you'll bring Key To Teas as part of your new tea journey or seasoned tea lover's daily ritual and experience. XOXO

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