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On tea with Imen Shan of Tea Habitat

Looking to expand beyond her career as a data analyst, Imen Shan started Tea Habitat in 2007 as a passion project. As a Chinese native, Imen understood the language used in many of texts and teachings about tea, and has used this rich knowledge to build and grow her business.

Having featured some of Imen’s teas at our shop in Echo Park, we wanted to share more of her story and some of her knowledge and insight on tea. What follows is our first Morning Rituals featuring tea!

Imen, do you have a morning ritual?

The first thing I do when I wake up is turn on the kettle and make a cup tea.

How did Tea Habitat come into being?

Tea culture is almost non-existent in the US, but it's rich and abundant on the other side of the world. 

My goal has been to introduce Chinese tea culture to the US, and to bring in the best teas for myself and those who treasure it as I do. Learning about tea has been an ongoing effort of mine for almost 20 years. It's like a bottomless ocean filled with knowledge, pleasure and wisdom.

What makes a tea special, in your eyes?

Tea is special on its own. Out of all the botanicals on this planet, it is the one and only that has been used for tens of thousands years. It's a beverage ingredient that has been through the test of time, and proven to  benefit human health. Modern science has shown tea can prevent many chronic problems, prolong human life, and improve the quality of life. On top of that, it's delicious, nourishing, improves mental clarity and emotional pleasure.

We’re all about seasonality in coffee — as well as at the coffee shop. Is seasonality important in tea? And what times of the year are best for certain teas?

Tea is seasonal — from the growing, to picking and processing, to drinking. Additionally, each region has a different harvest time depending on the climate, altitude and varietal. Harvesting can begin as early as February or as late as November. 

The processing of tea divides the finished product into 5 categories; each category is associated with the season and time of the day for enjoying. Light color tea is best enjoyed in the morning and early in the year, darker color tea for later in the day and later in the season, medium color teas for in between. This is how the universe works, tea is just part of the universe and follows the rule of the universe. 

What do you love about tea? Or if that’s too difficult… what are 3 things you love about tea?

Tea is not only a beverage, it is energy, it is medicine, it is philosophy, art, history, a way of life; it has even been used as currency. The importance of tea was the cause of wars for millenniums, well into recent history. It's a connecting agent of ceramics, paintings, poems, and philosophy. Tea is significant in every aspect of life today, even if we don't drink tea. Vitamins, baking, energy drinks, health supplements, etc. It bottom lines health benefits that are essential to human life — both mentally and physically! 

Could you talk a little about tea ceremony? What is it?

Gongfu tea is a method of tea brewing, involving a lot of steps and details, the purpose is to maximize the potential of tea, extracting the most nutrients and flavors in a timely matter. In Chaozhou, Guangdong province, this style of tea is a way of life, and is not considered a ceremony (although there are tea offerings at ceremonies, but those do  involve consuming the tea). 

 Gongfu tea requires the right water — either purified or local spring water — where a specific tea is grown. It also requires the right tea wares (made from local clay), the right size kettle, teapot and teacups. Fire from small stoves heats the water in a small clay kettle, which fully activates the energy of water. From there, water and tea pouring techniques allow tea essence to flow into a cup of water with control. In the process, one's mind is cleared away from stress. Socializing with tea in this way pulls people together.

This is the first time we’ve really talked about tea on Morning Rituals! Do you have any last tips for people looking to brew better tea at home? Or things to look for when purchasing tea?

Always use purified water, such as reverse osmosis.

Use porcelain ware, no metal — except silver or gold. Glassware and stoneware are not recommended, as they have a lot of minerals that are not ideal for tea. 

Buy whole leaf, loose leaf and non-blended teas. Tea should be made as pure as it can be.

Pay attention to your body sensation as well as your taste buds. Tea is more than a palate pleaser, it can enhance your energy or drain your energy. You body should know what it needs whether you need recharging or letting go of something in you.