Brendan loves tea. America loves coffee. Brendan has tried to turn America on to tea and yet, despite his efforts, here in the States, tea remains a sad bag, bobbing on the surface of a paper cup of neglect.
But there’s hope in the form of “oocha” — a new cold tea drink that’s starting to show up in stores around New York. It’s made by a company called Drunken Meadow. And the other day, owner Furay Chang stopped by the studio with a sample for Brendan. He kicked things off by asking, “Will tea ever defeat coffee?”
Furay Chang: You know, that’s actually a question I get really, really often, and… I don’t think so, to be honest.
Brendan Francis Newman: And you’re a tea entrepreneur! Why don’t you think it can overtake coffee?
Furay Chang: I think Americans are just so used to the coffee culture that it’s going to be really hard to erase. You know, everybody thinks tea, they think, “Old people are drinking it!” Or they’re thinking, “British tea party.” They don’t associate it with it being cool, or hip, or anything like that.
Brendan Francis Newman: So you’re not just a tea entrepreneur, you come from a tea family. Right?
Furay Chang: Yeah. Yeah, I do.
Brendan Francis Newman: Tell me about you tea bona fides [laughs].
Furay Chang: So my family is originally from Taiwan. They’re actually still there right now. We grew up in the countryside. In the beginning, they were just growing fruits and vegetables and then my uncle decided, “Hey, everyone around us is growing tea. Let’s try it!”
Brendan Francis Newman: Smart idea.
Furay Chang: Yeah, so he started doing that, and we’ve been growing oolong tea since 1991.
Brendan Francis Newman: Your company is called Drunken Meadow. Does it’s name also contain your origin story?-
Furay Chang: I got the name from Chinese. And in Chinese it’s “Zuì cǎo diàn,” Drunken Meadow. And I got that because my great-grandpa, he was a poet. And when he started the farm — or when he lived on the farm — he would always write a lot of poetry. And then eventually, he wrote an anthology, and he named it “Drunken Meadow.” And I thought, “Hey, this is a-“
Brendan Francis Newman: “What a cool way to honor him.”
Furay Chang: Yeah, what a cool way to honor him. And he started something really, really cool. So I’m just going to take the name and keep it.
Brendan Francis Newman: All right, and so Drunken Meadow then… it’s more metaphorical. It’s not like, “Let’s get drunk in the meadow.”
Furay Chang: No, But you could do that if you want to [laughs], by all means.
Brendan Francis Newman: So the reason we have you here is because you have a product in the market that’s making waves called “oocha.” And the basis of that product is oolong tea.
Furay Chang: Yeah, it is.
Brendan Francis Newman: So first tell me the definition of oolong tea versus black and green tea.
Furay Chang: All tea comes from the same plant, and you get oolong tea, or you get green tea, or black tea based on the process of making the tea. Any tea with 30 to 80 percent oxidation is considered oolong tea.
Brendan Francis Newman: So this means the tea is desiccated, dried out, or toasted?
Furay Chang: Yeah, it’s dried out-
Brendan Francis Newman: So black tea is all cooked…
Furay Chang: …It’s fully oxidized. Black tea is fully oxidized, and green tea is none. So in-between that is considered oolong tea.
So the reason why I think oolong tea is so special is the range is so broad. You can have an oolong tea that’s really similar to green. And then you can have this really toasted, roasted black tea that’s considered oolong.
Brendan Francis Newman: How did Taiwan come to identify with oolong versus one of these other teas?
Furay Chang: So based on the origin of oolong tea — it’s from Southern China, Fujian, and a lot of the people of Taiwan are from that area.
Brendan Francis Newman: I see.
Furay Chang: So I think they just brought the plant over, started the tradition, and it just flourished from there.
Brendan Francis Newman: With a twist on the oolong though, you have introduced oocha. Now this is piggybacking a little bit on the popularity of matcha.
Furay Chang: Yeah, it’s a crazy craze right now, matcha [laughs].
Brendan Francis Newman: So matcha — if I’m understanding correctly — is green tea, non-oxidized tea, pulverized into little bits, and then kind of whipped up and blended with a hot water, correct?
Furay Chang: Yeah, that’s right.
Brendan Francis Newman: Why is that so gangbusters?
Furay Chang: I have no idea, to be honest. Like…
Brendan Francis Newman: I think even Starbucks has matcha now.
Furay Chang: They do. I don’t know, I think a lot of Americans love adding milk to everything. And I don’t blame them, because I add milk in my coffee, occasionally, I’ll add milk to my tea…
Brendan Francis Newman: I’m going to pretend that you didn’t say that you drink coffee.
Furay Chang: [Laughs] I said, “Occasionally.”
Brendan Francis Newman: OK. So matcha lends itself to milk, which is in keeping with American beverage preferences…
Furay Chang: Right, and I guess [that’s] how you kind of lure Americans or new consumers to try something different, is you add milk or you add sugar.
Brendan Francis Newman: Or you could put cheese on it.
Furay Chang: Or you could put cheese on it, yeah! I wouldn’t be surprised if someone comes up with matcha cheese [laughs].
Brendan Francis Newman: So matcha is popular the world over, right?
Furay Chang: Right, right.
Brendan Francis Newman: But oocha, it’s making that same sort of drink from oolong. Am I correct?
Furay Chang: Yeah, you are correct.
Brendan Francis Newman: You brought some here for us to drink, so let’s just go for it. It’s a beautiful pea green color.
Furay Chang: Right.
Brendan Francis Newman: I’ll crack it open. I’m going to pour you a little bit here.
Furay Chang: Thank you.
Brendan Francis Newman: And then I’ll take a sip here [tries tea]. Mmmmm.
Furay Chang: Good?
Brendan Francis Newman: It’s good.
Furay Chang: Right?
Brendan Francis Newman: There’s like a little… Am I crazy? There’s a little lemony…
Furay Chang: Yeah, and it’s like… it’s got a very sweet undertone to it.
Brendan Francis Newman: Yeah, there’s like a melon kind of thing in there too.
Furay Chang: Yeah.
Brendan Francis Newman: It’s definitely got the grassy thing, which most green teas have.
Furay Chang: Right, but it’s not bitter, like your traditional matcha.
Brendan Francis Newman: So do you think this could maybe topple coffee? Are we stuck with Frappuccinos?
Furay Chang: It’s going to be hard. I’m trying though! I’m trying though.
Brendan Francis Newman: Yeah.