“I’m sort of the underdog, but I try to stay positive that our culture will embrace this at some point,” said David De Candia during a phone interview, mildly steamed. “I’m always championing tea, but the U.S. is very coffee-minded. Tea is the number-one consumed beverage next to water worldwide.”
As part of his tea-vangelical mission, De Candia will be in Santa Barbara on Thursday, June 5, leading a free discussion and tasting sponsored by Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf-where he’s production manager and tea buyer-and the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation. “It’s a not a class kind of class,” he joked. “I’ll touch on the basic types of tea, give some of the history, talk a little about culinary aspects, then we’ll taste some tea. We’ll mingle, talk, taste, get to watch a DVD I did on tea-growing in Sri Lanka.”
His laidback presentational approach makes sense for the subject, of course. “Tea is what people deep down really want-to take some time,” he explained. “Tea is all about now, it puts you in the present. You can’t multitask making loose tea or you’ll mess it up. People need that little time to sit back and reflect on life.”
Reflecting on his own life, it took time for De Candia to steep in tea’s ways. More than 10 years ago, he was hired to run Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf’s plant, as he had a background in business administration and distribution. He started tasting samples of tea with a cupping set mostly out of curiosity. He reminisced, “I was doing it in this little room with all our old Vitamix blenders waiting to be repaired. I’d think, ‘What am I doing? Am I doing it right?'” Some books and a course at the Specialty Tea Institute deepened his knowledge and whetted his interest. But, he insists, “Nothing teaches you about tea like a trip to origin.” He went to India, witnessed tea plucked in person, and had an even deeper connection to a drink he calls “spiritual.”
“The last year and a half, that’s all I do-social programs, blending, going to origins,” he explained. “I never thought something like that would happen in my life. But more than that, it’s the people aspect that’s been really phenomenal. Yes, I’m buying all this tea, but what else can we do? If you see they need a community center or daycare center : little by little, we’ve been able to help.”
In Santa Barbara, De Candia will help people learn how to move from the old-style tea bag-at one point in the conversation he decried “broken-dust tea bags”-to whole-leaf tea. He mimicked people at similar events: “They ask, ‘Don’t add anything? What do you mean steeping?’ I make it enjoyable, but there’s a definite education thing going on.” He has had lots of practice teaching as a member of the visiting faculty at the California School of Culinary Arts. “I teach chefs how to taste tea,” he said. “I help people embrace it for what it is, how to pair food with tea, and how they can use it for marinades, dry rubs, and salad dressings.” He’ll be offering some of those tips during his seminar, including recipes.
He’ll also do his best to share his passion for his favorite tea: oolong. “I loved it since I got here. I love experimenting and tasting all sorts of oolong,” he rhapsodized. “It has two leaves in a bud, it stays intact, and it’s full of floral flavors and aromas and is very fruity, usually peach. It’s got good color in the cup-it has everything you want in tea.”
It doesn’t take much to get De Candia to extol the glories of tea, which should make him a fine tasting leader. “Unlike coffee, tea is not so in your face-it’s very versatile,” he preached. “You can tell a chamomile from an English breakfast much more easily than you can distinguish coffees.” No doubt after a session with De Candia, anyone will be able to taste tea to a T.
Steep in master tea blender David De Candia’s wisdom at a free tea seminar and tasting on Thursday, June 5, from 5-8 p.m., at Casa de la Guerra (15 E. De la Guerra St.).