By JEANETTE LENOIR
A 5,000 year old leaf drink is making an impact on a culture addicted to its rival; coffee. American culture, like life itself, is in a constant state of change, and tea has taken an important role in facilitating this culture shift that’s embracing tea. Facilitating this change is Miriam Novalle, an entrepreneur with a nose for fragrances and a genius mixologist fluent in all the notes of tea. “Tea as liquid communication,” is how Novalle describes this unique language she speaks. “I’m a painter, a perfumer that put both of them together in a cup of tea,” she said.
Twenty-five years ago, Novalle, with help from a couple of friends, including Peter M. Brant, opened her first tea salon, (T Salon) in the basement of the Guggenheim Museum in SoHo following her success from developing a fragrance called Listen with trumpet player and record company executive, Herb Alpert. “Peter Brant and dear friends helped open the first T Salon below the Guggenheim Established in 1992. Brant was the landlord with an idea, but it was really my funds and two other dear friends that helped build it,” she says.
Sitting with her grandchildren on their special summer days together at one of their favorite tea stops in New York City; The Hyatt, one of her major tea accounts. Novalle, a new age and hands-on American grandmother who has a mission to influence and shape the next generation of tea drinkers, starting with her own two grandchildren, explains her move as an idea that developed following afternoon tea in Liverpool, England. “Everything was fabulous except the tea was washboard. I said, I don’t get it, I thought the English were supposed to have a great cup of tea.” That disappointing cup of afternoon tea in a country known for drinking the ancient brew is what led Novalle to her new venture utilizing her God-given blending forte to create the perfect cup of tea in her own country. Following her success from her partnership with Alpert, Novalle relocated with her young daughter to Florence, Italy. She says her travels across the globe is what opened her to the tea drinking culture. “We realized the whole world was drinking tea except for Americans in the 90s.”
Despite not being the main morning beverage of choice for many American consumers in the country’s relatively short democracy, tea played a major role in the formation of an independent America. Nonetheless, tea was a hot commodity regularly imported to American colonies in the 18th century. However, heavy taxation from Britain led to the December 16, 1773 destruction of tea in America by way of The Boston Tea Party, a significant event in American history that ended our love affair with the leafy drink.
“So, I did a little research, did my due diligence and I was going to open this little tea shop with teas from all over the world.” She says it was that idea that led to the suggestion from Brant to open a tea room in the basement of the Guggenheim that was being built in SoHo at the time. “So, I built a 5,000 square foot, 257 seat tea room. All of a sudden, out of nowhere in the City of New York—they had never seen such a thing…who comes and opens a 5,000 square foot tea room?!—180 teas that I started putting my nose into and started blending…black teas, green teas, white teas.” Novalle says she kept building her tea empire with a variety of flavors like beet root, ginger, oranges and raspberry leaves until her sister’s health scare inspired her to develop a tea wellness program. “Nine years ago she got ovarian cancer that’s when I realized it can’t just be tea anymore; it had to be a wellness program. It had to be tea that makes a difference in your life.
She says her tea blends and creations couldn’t just be for having afternoon tea anymore. “And, so I went to India and sat with an Ayurvedic Doctor and told him what was going on with my sister. I told him everything she had and I told him what the world was dealing with. And, not only cancer but women that were always fearing their weight, people that can’t sleep, people that are always going through these cleanses and not really taking care of themselves and so we sat and worked on my wellness tea line. I worked on it for two years.” She says. Novalle goes on to explain that she uses tea for people that need to find themselves in a quiet moment just like the story of the birth of tea itself, which according to her and historical accounts, started with a Buddhist monk who accidentally discovered the mighty leaf.
Novalle’s new creation called High Tea was born out of her sister having ovarian cancer. “Here’s a woman that goes to chemo at the end of every month, here’s a woman that comes back and her immune system is shot, she’s completely almost left lifeless after going through this,” she says as she explains when she learned about the CBD—an oil combination of the Hemp and Cannabis plant—her sister was taking to help her through her illness. She says, “CBD Hemp is legal if there is 3 percent less THC in the product.” Novelle says she soon traveled to Colorado and found organic growers of Hemp CBD that’s grown just for the health benefits. “I took it back home to New York and I started blending,” she says as she talks about the booming business of this new High Tea craze. “Now, everybody and their brother is coming at me,” she quipped, adding, “Every well-known chef, every grower in Colorado and Oregon calls me every day on the phone, I mean, it’s like insane… I didn’t realize what industry I was getting into. How big it was, (11-billion dollar industry) how helpful it can be for people with Leukemia. … People with Parkinson whose hands are shaking that drink this CBD and you can see, all of a sudden, their hands calming down.” Novalle goes onto share a story of her client in Minnesota that uses her CBD products for her dispensary that’s seeing a major boost in sales, especially among cancer patients that find the product helpful in their healing journey. “And today, she’s on the road repping my products because she believes it helped her with her cancer,” she says.
Research by the World Health Organization shows tea beating coffee when it comes to measurable benefits; however the temperature of the popular morning and afternoon beverage is what makes a difference in how the human body processes it. “On the basis of available data, the working group concluded that coffee is possibly carcinogenic to the human urinary bladder. Evidence further suggests that coffee may actually protect humans against cancer of the colon and rectum. The risk for breast cancer was shown, with remarkable consistency, to have no association with coffee drinking. The second monograph evaluates the carcinogenicity of black and green teas. Although available data were judged inadequate to classify tea according to its carcinogenic risk, the analysis uncovered evidence suggesting that the temperature at which tea is drunk may be a more important determinant of risk than the chemical composition of the beverage.”
Despite the health benefits and ever expanding flavor combination of tea, Novalle says tea is not a substitution for coffee. “We’re never going to substitute. That’s like substituting the love of your life. I don’t think you ever want to substitute the love of your life. You just want to enjoy it, open your mind to it, and realize it’s a healthier lifestyle. If you would like an open healthier lifestyle, a bodhisattva lifestyle and have God in your heart, and being open, it’s going to happen with anything, but a cup of tea helps.”
America may be a Johnny-come-lately to the world’s tea table, but thanks to innovators like Miriam Novalle, the country is quickly catching up and even paving new roads to access all the benefits of this ancient and holistic brew.