Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Tea With Terroir: A Review of Queen's Pantry + Giveaway

Welcome to the first installment of "Food With Stories," a quasi-journalism series I hope to continue on this blog. First stop: Queen's Pantry, Leavenworth, Kansas.


It had been three years since I’d talked to Zach Gentzler. We’d met working a three-week-long shift on a political campaign in quiet Newnan, Georgia and, since he’s a Kansas kid and I’m from Virginia, hadn’t seen each other since. Still, I clearly remembered his level-headed positivity, old-world manners, and the fact that he liked books (hurray), running (meh), and tea (yip-yip!). When Zach contacted me a few weeks ago about reviewing tea from his family’s shop, I quickly accepted. Tea and a chat with an old friend? Is there even a choice?

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On a Wednesday, inside a crowded Starbucks, I dial the store and wait through the phone ringing. When he answers, I jump. In three years, his vocal register has taken a plunge.
 “Hey, this is Queen’s Pantry, Zach speaking.” It takes me a moment to realize that the intelligent, energetic kid who’d run beside me through a Georgia summer is now full grown, pursuing one of his several passions as a career.
“Is now a good time to talk?” I ask, hoping it is but not wanting to intrude.
He laughs. “I’m sitting here stalking another tea store on Instagram. Now is a great time.”  Zach’s tone is slow, drawling. The words almost steep in his voice and you can see why this guy chose the tea field for his first love.
“I really, really love tea,” he tells me with a laugh. “There aren’t many teas I don’t like. We sell around a hundred and seventy different blends in our store, and I’m always looking for new teas, learning new intricacies. What makes it taste that way? What is this blend’s history?’
‘A well-grown tea has a…well this probably isn’t going to mean a thing to you, but it’s a wine term: a good tea has a terroir, which is French for ‘a sense of place.’ You can almost taste the location of a well-grown tea. I love learning things like this.”



Zach has traveled here and there in his quest for further tea-knowledge and grew to love rooibos (not technically a tea, due to the absence of tea leaves in the blend) while on a trip in South Africa. “Every evening we had this space of time and you’d either drink terrible instant coffee or a cup of rooibos, so I fell in love with it. Partially for the tea, partially for the memories and friendships surrounding it.”
To listen to him, you’d think he was an art professor lecturing on a beloved Degas. And that’s what I love about Zach: he’s out to show the world that tea, far from being the fussy beverage of frilly parties, is simultaneously an ancient art-form and everyman’s drink. With so many varieties of tea becoming available the US—both new varieties and high-quality examples of the classics—, come more opportunities for Zach to help his customers find the perfect tea for their life. He lovingly describes the possibilities of the newer teas:
“It’s pretty cool.” He laughs.  “At least for Americans. I want to show people what tea can be. I mean, there are huge varieties of flavor profiles, like teas with jasmine and orchid tones, or a smoky flavor.”
 I ask Zach if he has a pet peeve, one thing he would correct about peoples’ way of thinking about tea. Again, the well-known chuckle:
“Oh gosh. So many. So many I want to correct. But the main one  I should correct: brewing times. The wrong brewing time really negatively effects tea. So many people have a mental taste profile for tea as being really, really bitter and if a tea is properly brewed, it’s almost never bitter.”
I can tell it’s a major issue for him because the back of his Queen’s Pantry business card includes a brewing time-chart for the varieties of tea they sell. In my package he also includes a second magnet-backed chart for the fridge. It won’t be Zach’s fault if you brew your tea bitter. You can come crying to him—he loves talking tea over the phone—but you can’t blame the staff of Queen’s Pantry.
But Zach didn’t always know he was destined for a drinkable career. Queen’s Pantry was originally operated by an American couple and managed by the wife’s elderly British mother. Over time, the Gentzler family formed a relationship with the store and Zach’s sister, Sarah (Gentzler) Kirby, became an employee.
“She got home one night and told us they were going to sell the store and, totally joking, said we should buy it. Over dinner that night we jokingly chatted about what it would be like to run a tea-store: the changes we’d have to make, the logistics involved.” I can hear his easily-provoked smile through the phone. “Actually, it was really, really terrible timing,” he tells me. “Dad had just been diagnosed with multiple myeloma and the family was dealing with that on top of normal life.”
But good ideas often pester one till they get a hearing. After much prayer, talking, and consulting wise friends, on the essentially British Guy Fawkes Day (November 5), the Gentzler family became the owners of one little tea shop. They moved the store across town and on November 11th of the same year, re-opened Queen’s Pantry.
“We tease and say Leavenworth held a parade for us,” Zach laughs referencing Leavenworth’s annual Veteran’s Day Parade. For the Gentzlers, ownership of the store has come with many perks, such as relationships with other Leavenworth merchants who will often drop in to “talk shop” and discuss local news. There have also been challenges:
 “Advertisement is a big one. It’s kind of hard to get the word out.” After all, not many people move to a new town and Google “tea shops near me.” I ask Zach about that.
“Tea shops can take a little digging to find,” he says. “Because, like us, most of them don’t have a huge advertising budget. But if you dig, you’ll find ‘em.”
 Victories and challenges aside, Zach, who has been both Queen’s Pantry’s retail and office manager for the past four years, is in it for the pure joy of tea.

“There’s this wrong idea that tea is a feminine thing and coffee’s masculine. One reaction I often get is, ‘Oh, tea is a girl job. Why’s he doing that?’” I can sense his brief frustration and picture the old Zach with his brow furrowed, blue eyes snapping. But Zach shrugs it off with his signature good humor. “Actually, second to water, tea is the most-consumed beverage in the world. In some cultures tea-making is strictly the man’s job.” He pauses, then continues with a wry grin in his voice.  “There have been a lot of great men who’ve drunk tea…”
A lot of great men, as customer-favorite blend, “Churchill’s Toddy” attests.  Zach sent a couple ounces of “Churchill’s Toddy” along with a selection of other teas in a package from Queen’s Pantry which I have no shame calling the best thing to show up on my doorstep this year.
Sampling the tea was like Christmas morning…over and over again. I greatly enjoyed all the teas, but for the purposes of this post, I’m going to highlight my favorites. First is a fragrant brew more Earl Grey-ish than any Earl Grey you’ve ever sipped. “Earl Grey Cream Tea” not only tastes beautiful, but is a pretty, blue-flecked blend. “Carrot Cake Rooibos,” the second tea, is perfect for an early morning treat.  Like Zach, I’d never before been a fan of rooibos but my first cup left me simultaneously delighted and fighting disappointment that I didn’t actually have a slice of carrot cake to eat. Queen’s Pantry mixes six to nine tea blends in-store and, serendipitously, one called “Rachel’s Evening Blend” is among them. “My blend” as I have taken to calling it, is a decaffeinated green tea with spearmint and lavender. The latter flavor softens the identity of spearmint, turning it into an almost floral flavor ideal for relaxation at the end of a tense day. For a perfect black tea (cream, no sugar), you’ll love “Glenburne Autumn Crescendo” which Zach orders from the American-based branch of an Indian family that farms at Glenburne in Darjeeling, India. And last but not least is the “Organic Long Island Strawberry” green tea. Though I loved it hot, I can’t stop thinking how excellent it would be iced. The slight sweetness of dried strawberries compliments the brightness of the green tea, leaving one with a drink perfect for summer, or for conjuring summer in the chilly off-season.

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Since receiving the sample teas from Queen’s Pantry, I’ve become a ministering angel of “the brew which cheers without inebriating,” pressing on all my friends and family a sip from whatever cup I’m drinking.  They’re probably sick to death of me, but I can’t help it. I want the rest of the world to be able to experience real tea. Not the massacred versions from the grocery stores but tea carefully sourced and learned by someone who, above all, wants to educate the world about an intricately simple drink. That’s the mission of Queen’s Pantry, and I’m a fan.



To help spread the love, Queen’s Pantry is giving away a tea-lovers package including an tea infuser, and 2-ounce packages of three teas: “Glenburne Autumn Crescendo," “Carrot Cake Rooibos,” and “Organic Long Island Strawberry Green Tea.” To enter, use the Rafflecopter form below. And while you wait to see if you will be the (very luck) winner, pop over to the Queen’sPantry website and browse their beautiful selection of teas/imported foods. In an age when we routinely plunk down five dollars for an insipidly-made latte, spending the five dollars on several ounces of long-lasting tea-leaves is so much a better deal, it’s nearly laughable.  I know one thing: as soon as I run out of sample teas, I’ll be restocking my own pantry to bring it back to a queen’s level of classiness.
Enter the giveaway below, then head off to goggle at some teas!


This was not a paid promotion. I was not under any obligation to give a positive review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.


29 comments:

  1. Oh wow! I don't think I've ever seen so many diverse tea choices! Chai, Christmas Spice, and Crème Brulee were all seriously calling my name, and then I saw the Scottish Toffee Pu-Erh, and well, I can't refuse toffee, so I choose that as my favorite.
    Thanks for the giveaway Rachel! This post totally brightened my entire day :)

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    1. Woops! I follow through Bloglovin' :)

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  2. (I follow by email. ;) )

    I'm not much of a tea drinker, but I keep wanting to try. I love iced sweet tea and hot black tea with sugar. Maybe it's because I have trouble thinking of tea as something that doesn't have to be sweetened. Or maybe it's because I just haven't found tea I really like yet.

    I think the Earl Grey Cream Tea sounds lovely. Also the Carrot Cake Rooibos.

    This post was marvelous!

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    1. Thank you, Abigail! I needed an artistic touch to the post so I decided I'd sketch it quickly. I'm so happy it turned out. :)

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  4. Oooh, I love tea, and I come from a family of dedicated tea drinkers. I discovered Rooibos about a couple years ago, and I like it a lot...some of my family doesn't agree though. To me it has such a natural caramel, flowery taste to it that really makes it delicious. Of all the delightfulness on the Queen's Pantry website, "Churchill's Toddy" (ginger, cinnamon, vanilla? Mmm!), and Baroness Grey (I looove me some lady grey), caught my eye.
    Great interview, I can't wait to read the rest of you awesome posts that are in this series! :)

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  5. What a fun interview, Rache! :) Now I want to drink tea all day. ;) That Autumn Crescendo tea sounds so heavenly!

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  6. OH RACHEL!!!! I AM DROOLING....wait is that what one does for tea??? I am not sure but you CERTAINLY HAVE given me a THIRST FOR TEA!!!!!!!! Oh it's TERRIBLE!!!! I am going to have to make myself a few pots today. All of the teas you mentioned sound delicious (If I don't win I am going to have to find a way to get my hands on that strawberry one I had one years ago, but none of them have lived up to it, and this sounds
    just about right...)
    Black...
    Creme Brulee
    Galaxy Quest
    Paris
    Royal Bengal
    Russian Caravan
    AUTUMN CRESCENDO
    Vanilla Chai THEY ALSO HAVE A PUMPKIN Chai.... *sigh* TEA!!!
    Green
    okay this one has me REALLY curious China Gunpowder...doesn't that just interesting and the description sounds like Taiwan "rock" tea
    Kyoto Cherry Rose festival..

    And I'l stop there or I'll be on Queen's Pantry all day long...not that it would be bad but Oh...I think I might have found a place to replace my favorite tea places in Taiwan.

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  7. I think the Earl Gray Cream tea sounds heavenly. Earl gray has always been {almost} my favorite, so an even more "earl-y" tea would be fabulous! :)

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  8. The Carrot Cake Rooibos sounds delicious!

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  9. I follow the blog through Bloglovin', by the way :)

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  10. Oh, man. That jasmine green tea sounds to die for. (I love meeting other tea drinkers. We are a minority, but together we are strong!)

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  11. I follow through the handy blogger default whatchacallit. Your posts show up on my dashboard... what's that called? Blogger. You know. The old-fashioned way. ;)

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  12. WOW. The tea choices are amazing. The caramel chocolate melt sounds fabulous, as does the chocolate mint & creme brulee- and I'm especially fond of any type of peppermint tea.

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  13. The creme brûlée tea sounds amazing!

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  14. I don't drink tea much myself but I LOOOOOOOOOVE the way it smells. Way better than coffee, in my opinion.

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  15. I've always like green tea and I do drink a lot of it. I like the Dragon Well - Lung Ching.

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  16. Wow, so many! Well, the Chocolate Covered Cherries one certainly caught my eye! YUM
    Digicats {at} Sbcglobal {dot} Net

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  17. I followed as MsCarolsue on Bloglovin
    Digicats {at} Sbcglobal {dot} Net

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  18. The Carrot Cake and Misty Mountains Chai tea sounded really good. But I think the HMS Bounty tea wins, hands down. :)

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  19. Tea!!! I love tea. Queen's Pantry's sweet peach white tea sounds amazing.

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  20. The Ashby's Christmas spice tea sounds wonderful and a good way to get in the holiday spirit.

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  21. I followed via blog lovin
    Thank you for the giveaway, it's simply wonderful!
    Churchill's toddy sounds intriguing, I must say. But Earl Grey is so good!!!!

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