Lauren Danson, owner of Mizuba Tea Company, has been a tea fanatic for as long as she can remember. The Santa Barbara native said that her mother would give her a cup of tea before school every morning, and when Danson began attending college at Westmont, she hosted weekly tea parties out of her dorm room.
“My friends would tell me every week, ‘This is what you need to do with your life,’” Danson said. “And I thought ‘Alright, sure. That would be a dream. [But] I’m going to be a journalist.’”
When Danson had the opportunity to visit Japan last March, she found herself falling in love with its hospitable and generous culture. The defining moment was when she accidentally stepped off the bullet train 15 minutes outside of Kyoto, in a town called Uji. Uji is not only regarded as the best tea-growing region in the world, but it is also the birthplace of the Japanese tea ceremony. She was pretty excited.
“I stepped off the train, and the first thing I noticed was the scent of matcha infuses your nose,” recalled Danson. “You walk downtown, and every single shop is tea-dedicated. Needless to say, I had the best day of my life.”
Upon her return to the U.S., Danson attended graduate school in Denver, Colorado, but the idea of getting into the tea business remained in the back of her mind. “I wondered if I could actually do this as a living,” she said. “I mean, what is vocation anyways?” Finally, after completing grad school, Danson moved home and, on a whim, started her own tea company.
“I decided to reach out to a 100-year-old family tea farm in Uji, knowing nothing about business, knowing nothing about FDA, knowing nothing about importing, knowing absolutely nothing other than the fact that I love sharing tea,” Danson said.
Danson got her first order of matcha tea on September 4, 2013, and just like that, Mizuba Tea Company was up and running.
So what is matcha, you ask? Matcha is from the same plant that all tea is made from, but it is the only tea that is used in Japanese tea ceremonies. The methods of growing matcha are highly specialized: The plants are shade-grown for four weeks before harvest, allowing the bamboo mounting to inhibit photosynthesis, which increases the nutrients of the plant. The greener the matcha, the fresher and more nutritious it is. Once harvest time comes around, there are multiple different methods of picking leaves that determine the grade, which Danson explains on her website. Then the leaves are steamed and stone ground, creating the fine green powder that Danson sells.
Why drink matcha over normal green tea? Unlike the green tea that comes from tea bags, where only a portion of the tea’s nutrients are consumed, Matcha allows drinkers to consume the entire tea leaf, giving them 100 percent of the nutritional benefits. These nutritional properties include chlorophyll (which acts as a blood oxygenator), antioxidants, fiber, vitamins A and C, potassium, magnesium, and a moderate dose of caffeine. There’s even a doctor in town who sells her tea “because it’s so healthy for you,” said Danson.
Also unlike regular tea, which takes several minutes to steep, matcha can be ready in a matter of seconds. Start by heating up some water to around 175 degrees Fahrenheit, but according to Danson, the cooler the water is, the more flavor depth you’ll get out of the tea. Then take a half-teaspoon of matcha, place it in your cup or bowl, and add just enough cool water to wet the powder. Then make a paste, add in your hot water (about 4 to 6 ounces), and whisk your matcha using short, swift, m-shaped strokes. This last bit can be done with one of the bamboo whisks that Danson sells, or by shaking it in an airtight tumbler or coffee mug. An aero-frother or regular kitchen whisk tends to work well, too. “The token of a good matcha is how [much] it froths,” she explained.
As of now, Mizuba Tea is sold at a number of different Santa Barbara locations, and Danson is looking to expand her business to areas like San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle. For now, her matcha can be found in matcha lattes at Scarlett Begonia, and the Lucky Llama in Carpinteria, sold as is at Yoga Soup, in dessert at Sojourner Café, in ice cream at Rori’s Artisanal Creamery, and at numerous other locations. Mizuba’s matcha can also be ordered online at mizubatea.com, and Danson even does Santa Barbara–area deliveries herself.