Whole-Leaf Organic Teas with Dragon Pearl Tea
Green Radio
Sean Daily

Episode 104 - Whole-Leaf Organic Teas with Dragon Pearl Tea

Sean Daily, Green Living Ideas' Editor-in-Chief, and Dave Dahl, founding partner of Dragon Pearl Tea, delve into the source of "true" tea and the connoisseurship of high-quality, whole-leaf organic teas.



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Sean Daily: Hi! Welcome to “Green Talk”, a podcast series from GreenLivingIdeas.com. “Green Talk” helps listeners in their efforts to live more eco-friendly lifestyles through interviews with top vendors, authors, and experts from around the world. We discuss the critical issues facing the global environment today as well as the technologies, products, and practices that you can employ to go greener in every area of your life.

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Sean Daily: Hey, everybody. Welcome to “Green Talk Radio”. This is Sean Daily and I am the founder of GreenLivingIdeas.com. Today we're going to be talking about tea and to talk with me on that topic is Dave Dahl who is a partner and the Director of Marketing at Dragon Pearl Tea. Dave, welcome to the program.

Dave Dahl: Hi, Sean. Thanks for having me. You're doing a great thing here.

Sean Daily: Thank you very much. Well, it's a pleasure to have you on the program today. I understand that Dragon has got a different take on tea products and a different really grade of tea from a lot of the standard teas that you see out there. So I've been hearing really good things about the company and I wanted to have you on the program today to talk about tea, in general, and also hear a little about the Dragon story.

So maybe we should start with the Dragon story. Tell us about how you got into this business and what the story of the company is.

Dave Dahl: OK. I should probably begin by saying like most people, I hadn’t really tried true tea until a few years ago. Then I really discovered what the difference is and why fine tea is like fine wine, they're all different and very carefully treated, they're very special. Unlike the teas that Americans are used to buying in the grocery store which are often mint or lemon, real tea flavors the black, oolong white, and green tea are just amazing. So after I discovered this tea, shared it with Judah and my partner, John, is really [xx] Hong. Hong was really the guy who got us started because he had family connections in the tea farming business. So we went toward the tea farms and we just utterly fell in love with the whole idea and that’s kind of where it started.

Sean Daily: What year was that?

Dave Dahl: That was back in 2005.

Sean Daily: 2005, OK. I have a question, if you don’t mind me just jumping in to some of the tea specifics because I have some questions. I am a big tea drinker myself and I'm definitely a lay person when it comes to tea. I know that--it's kind of like wine--I definitely can’t rattle off all the terminology and the processes and everything but I think that my palette has become educated despite my brain maybe not keeping in step with that. So I end up with questions sometimes that I have like, for example, what's the difference between just green and white tea, for example?

Dave Dahl: Green and white tea are essentially the same thing and I should first start up by saying all true tea comes from the Camilla sinensis plant. That doesn’t mean there are things like yerba mate and herb teas and things that are different but the true tea comes from the Camilla sinensis plant. White tea is the tea leaves that are picked and just washed and dry and they're sometimes [xx] but they're not heat cured so they maintain this natural crinkly texture and more aggressive flavor. The green tea is the same plant but it's heat cured and that processing changes it and makes it retain its green color and gives it a more sort of rich and kind of a nutty flavor.

Sean Daily: OK, I see. So as long as we're talking about tea varieties and differences and thank you for that explanation by the way, what is oolong tea?

Dave Dahl: Oolong tea is again the same plant and it tends to use the more mature leaves which maybe a month or six weeks old so they're more developed. The oolong tea is often made with the winter leaf instead of the spring and summer leaves like the white and the green. But the oolong tea, the main difference that defines it is it's partly fermented before it's heat cured so it gives it this sort of greenish tangy kind of flavor. So oolong tea is really special to their thousands of varieties just that oolong.

Sean Daily: Really. I understand also it comes from the Chinese word for black dragon.

Dave Dahl: That’s right, black dragon or black dragon rhythm.

Sean Daily: Yes, I just like that. It's not really significant in terms of drinkability but I like the name.

Dave Dahl: Yes, oolong is the dragon and in Chinese, the dragon is a powerful symbol of good fortune and magic and so we choose that for our name.

Sean Daily: Right, OK. Then I guess, last but not least, would be black tea.

Dave Dahl: Yes, black tea, again from the same plant, is all the way fermented with oolong tea as maybe 30% fermented, black tea is 100% fermented. There's another variation of that called pu’er tea which is a very deeply fermented aged tea.

Sean Daily: How do you spell that?

Dave Dahl: Pu’er tea.

Sean Daily: Interesting, I've never heard of that.

Dave Dahl: Yes, it's a compressed tea which is usually not to most American taste.

Sean Daily: Because it has, what's that word to [xx].

Dave Dahl: It has a real pungent kind of musty flavor usually, so it's an acquired taste.

Sean Daily: Yes, got it. Maybe a little bit more common in other countries like China than your tea here.

Dave Dahl: Yes. In China, you see it pretty often but in America, you'd be hard pressed to find it.

Sean Daily: Yes. Maybe in Asian market, would you find it there?

Dave Dahl: You might, and it's usually in compressed form in a disk or a cake or something like that. So it's a very unusual tea and you break up little piece of it, it tends to be kind of tangy and almost a multiflavor but considered very good if you're into it.

Sean Daily: I'm curious about, can you map for us those four tea types which we talked about green, white, oolong, and black. Is it possible to sort of map that to caffeine content? I know that’s a question that a lot of people have.

Dave Dahl: It is. Technically, tea doesn’t have caffeine but it has a substance called tein which is molecularly the same thing. So it has the same effect of that lift. So calling it caffeine as what most people call it, the level of that is highest in the black tea and it tends to be lowest in the white tea. So the darker the tea, as a general rule, then the more caffeine. However, there's different potencies of tea and, commonly, you hear that coffee has a lot less caffeine than tea. The truth is different coffees and different teas have different levels and the fresher and the more potent your product, the more caffeine it’ll have.

Sean Daily: I see. That’s interesting. You're saying it's not technically, it's a different member of the alkaloid family, it's similar configuration.

Dave Dahl: Well, it's considered identical because it looks the same as far as its molecular structure, but in tea it's called tein and in coffee, it's called caffeine.

Sean Daily: Interesting.

Dave Dahl: It's essentially the same thing, but the effect is very different which may mean that the entire in which the molecule exists affects the way that they act on your body. So most people report that when they drink tea, they get a nice lift and not the crash that they tend to get with caffeine from coffee.

Sean Daily: Right, and it's interesting. I've heard it several different takes on this and I think anyone is necessarily right or wrong or is it presumably so. This came up and we had a guayaki who is a yerba mate juice [xx].

Dave Dahl: Right. [xx].

Sean Daily: Yes, yes. It was a Dave Karr, I think it's his last name, I might be remissing if I'm mispronouncing his name, I apologize. But he's the founder, David Karr, I'm pretty sure of that. Right?

Dave Dahl: Yes, David and Steve.

Sean Daily: Yes, David and Steve. So we were talking about--because there's a lot of information out there about mateine being different than caffeine.

Sean Daily: Right.

Dave Dahl: I was expecting him to reinforce the mateine argument to say that it was just a slightly different variant and that’s that explain why. His take, what he was saying is that it is caffeine that don’t mistake it into same thing but the properties, the reason that you get a different effect from it--because I was asking about that on the podcast--was that it's not being sort of strip mind--my words--the way that in that process. It's more complete and organic and holistic in terms of the way that it is actually processed or not processed like coffee. So coffee, the way that it’s processed and cooked and so forth that the beans are roasted, it kicks out all of the other things that should be there along with it to change the effect on the human body. So anyway, that was his assertion about that. So I'm just an interested student in the whole different alkaloid family.

Sean Daily: Yes, it's difficult because there are so many variables. We like to have a clear cut statistics and we like to hear this is better than that and that kind of thing.

Dave Dahl: Sure.

Sean Daily: But the truth is, if you make a really strong cup of black tea, chances are it's going to have as much of a lift as a cup of coffee.

Dave Dahl: Oh, yes. I can attest to that. [laughs]

Sean Daily: Really, so what we recommend as far as drinking tea, you can naturally decaffeinate the tea if you steep [sp] it and pour that first tea thing out. Caffeine, being a water-soluble compound, tends to come out in that first tea thing so that you get most of it out. Specially if you're going to drink tea at night, it's good to prerinse it.

Dave Dahl: I definitely find, too, that--that’s good to know and thank you for that tip, I didn’t know that. There's definitely a different effect of whatever you want to call it tea’s caffeine or mateine, whatever happens to be in the drink, with both yerba mate and with tea, I have totally noticed a very, very different affect in not only in terms of the jitteriness and so forth, perhaps I'm imagining it, I don’t know. But also in terms of--I don’t know how to say this except that it's sort of the long term effects in terms of feeling--for lack of better word--addicted to it or not feeling that way. With coffee, I find it very addictive, very headache-producing if I withdraw from it, things like that. I find it to be a much more natural and a noninvasive experience much less so with black tea, green tea, and such and with the yerba mate as well.

Sean Daily: That’s interesting. I used to be a big coffee drinker and I got into tea and just sort of forgot about coffee. I have it once in a while but in the morning, I'd much rather have some black tea with milk and sugar than coffee because the real fresh black tea, it's whole leaf is so good, it really does the trick.

Dave Dahl: Yes, it really changes it. We're going to get back with Dave Dahl from Dragon Pearl Tea in just a minute. We're going to take a quick break for a commercial, we'll be right back. Thanks.

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Sean Daily: All right, and we're back with Dave Dahl who’s the Director of Marketing for Dragon Pearl Tea. We're talking about tea today on the program. When last we left off, we're talking about--actually, I don’t know that we got to talking about the differences between good and bad tea. Why don’t we start there?

Dave Dahl: Like any fruit or vegetable, there are ideal growing conditions. One thing most people don’t realize is that tea we’re used to that’s in teabags in the grocery stores is mass produced. The machine farmed tea that’s usually done in flat lands which is in the lower lands and these aren’t the ideal conditions for a number of reasons. One is that photosynthesis has a perfect temperature and at 98 degrees, photosynthesis stops. So down in the lowlands, the potency doesn’t tend to be as good as the mountain-grown teas.

But mountain-grown teas are also in a perfect growing environment but in a pure environment with air and soil that’s clean. So right after that, having mass produced lowland teas versus handpicked and hand farmed mountain teas and that would be one major difference. What to look for would be fresh whole loose leaf. If you have powdered tea in the bag, it’s almost always going to be as low grade as you can get. That’s why we see this flavors like orange and lemon and mint added to them because it doesn’t taste good without it.

Sean Daily: So I'm curious about--do teas have different gradings or grades like wines do?

Dave Dahl: There are different grades and the quality of the tea first depends on where it's from. I don’t have any expertise in Indian or African or South American teas really but my experience is really in Chinese teas. With these teas, the primary concern is the intactness of the leaf. So if the leaves are nice and full whole leaves, then you've got a good quality product. If the leaves are ground up or broken up into little pieces, that’s usually an indication of the lower quality tea.

Sean Daily: OK. I'm most curious about this [xx] a little bit in terms of Dragon Pearl as a company. I understand that you, guys, are big in terms of internal green practices as a company. Can you tell us about that and what are some of the things you, guys, are [xx]?

Dave Dahl: Yes. There are really two parts to that, one is the product and then one is the operations of the business. Starting with a pure product is really important to us and making sure that there's nothing unnatural about the way it's produced and farmed. Then, the next step is all the way to the grocery stores or the food stores where you can buy the tea, what is involved in that chain and it comes to things like how much art work do you have on your box? Where can you cut environmentally to make it make sense, all the way to getting the product to the store.

So one thing we do, for example, is we have a biofuel truck that runs on 100% biodiesel that does our deliveries locally. By doing that, we can also put pressure on our bigger distributors and say, “Hey, come on, we're a small company. We're using biofuel, why don’t you, guys, do the same?” I like what you, guys, are doing because with Green Living Ideas, you can get the word out to consumers and then they have the choice and they can help put that pressure on the larger companies to do the best thing, too.

Sean Daily: Well, yes, thank you for saying that and, certainly, we learn a lot from companies like yours that are implementing these practices. We're just get to be the ones reporting it and providing the choices that are out there. But it's good to hear and it's good to have avant garde companies that are making these kinds of decisions both in terms of the products themselves and making them better, more healthy, more sustainably farmed and grown and such. Also, in terms of social responsibility, I think, and business practices in terms of working with the local populaces and things like that. Those are all really important things as well.

Dave Dahl: That’s right, and since most of what we throw away and just consume and without reusing is packaging so we pay a lot of attention to our packaging. Our foremost priority is to make it airtight to keep the product fresh. But we're looking at using an organic packaging factory that can use biodegradable materials and not just have it made from recycle materials but take that step further because we really don’t like the idea of packaging but some packaging is required.

Sean Daily: Right, unfortunately, that’s a necessary evil in the marketing world although I think there is a “less as more” sort of fill that you can put into and some companies have embraced that where they have that sort of “We're not a look, but recycled materials and minimalist design.” You can do a lot with that.

Dave Dahl: Right, and it isn’t any one thing, it's many little things that come from a consciousness of your footprint as you operate.

Sean Daily: Yes, absolutely. Now, I'm curious, too, I think I heard or read that you, guys, guarantee that your teas are pesticide-free. Is that correct?

Dave Dahl: Yes. That’s right, and in fact, when we first brought the product over here, we have them tested in US labs and tested against other products. It was found that not only ours is pure but a number of products out there that are not very pure that have pesticide residues and that kind of thing. So ironically, drinking tea if it's really low quality may not be all that good for you.

Sean Daily: Right, I guess like a lot of things, there's cheap and there's good, and you can't just paint it with a broad brush where you can say, “All of these types of product is good.” It depends on [xx] details.

Dave Dahl: That’s right. Tea is a very complex plant and there's a lot to know about it and we're still learning.

Sean Daily: Dave, I'm curious about what effect do you see ecology-oriented measures having on sales as a company?

Dave Dahl: Well, I think it depends on whether the consumers are aware of it. But our hope and our belief is that if the consumer understands that this company does it this way and this company does it another way, hopefully, they’ll choose in favor of the company that is most conscious of ecological practices. We leave that to the consumer then our job is to make sure that they know it which isn’t always easy either.

Sean Daily: Yes. Well, we're going to take one more break, one more commercial break and then we'll be right back with Dave Dahl from Dragon Pearl Tea. Thanks, everybody, and we'll be right back.

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Sean Daily: OK, everybody, we're back. We're talking about tea today and my guest, again, is Dave Dahl, who is a partner and the Director of Marketing of Dragon Pearl Tea. Dave, I've a question for you. Are you working at Dragon on any other products besides these three whole tea leave products that we've been talking about so far?

Dave Dahl: Funny you should ask. Yes, as a matter of fact, we have ideas for a number of products and what we're really doing with these products is bringing whole fresh tea leaves into the mainstream market and allowing customer’s access to that at regular grocery stores. Once we have that channel open, we think there's really a market for a number of other natural tea products. Our ideas include having a ready-to-drink product that’s a low acid.

I don’t know if you realize but most products that you buy in a bottle are acidified and have ascorbic acid or citric acid and what we consume in bottles has a tremendous amount of high acid stuff. So all these acidic stuff is really what the market is comprised of now and we'd like to see something that’s more of a natural balanced pH. Our formula for that is really good so we're looking forward to having a bottled product called “ready-to-drink” product. We have some ice cream products in mind, so the next couple of years could see some other interesting things.

Sean Daily: Great! Well, we wish you luck in the development of those new products as well as your current ones. I'd another question for you, too, as far as the company itself. I understand that you had sponsored some charities or charity events. Is that correct?

Dave Dahl: Yes, Judah and I are both big on our favorite charities and there's a lot going on in the community. We often have organizations ask us for tea donations and we're always happy to help [xx] that. A number of places where we've donated tea including things like the “Age Walk” and different fun raising events. Besides tea, we have a number of things that we've been doing even since before the tea business started. We're involved in different telethon and things. Some of our favorite charities are the homeless projects locally, the MS Society, Muscular Dystrophy, and we have our sort of favorite ecology projects. Mine is “Trees for the Future” and “The Wild Dolphin Project.”

Sean Daily: Do you have any websites for those organizations or it's pretty much just that, ThoseWords.com?

Dave Dahl: Yes, it's usually ThoseWords.com. For example, WildDolphinProject.org, TreesForTheFuture.org, and most of these are really easy to look up. American Cancer Society is Cancer.org.

Sean Daily: And if all else fails, you can always Google the words and the magic of Google will deliver you, I'm sure.

Dave Dahl: Yes, yes, and in fact, we're going to have a page on our website linking to all of these, too.

Sean Daily: Yes, and again, I should [xx] and missing that earlier, it's DragonPearlTea.com, the website of your company.

Dave Dahl: Right. Thanks for that.

Sean Daily: Yes, yes, you bet. One of the question, I understand that you, guys, sent some tea to Iraq recently. Can you tell us about that?

Dave Dahl: Well, Judah and I, my partner, we're both sad about the war and against the war and yet we feel like we need to support the troops that are there on our behalf. So we sent about 5,000 tons of tea over there thinking that first of all, I'd say [xx] the alternative to coffee and sodas. I always felt like they use some tea over there.

Sean Daily: That’s great. Have you gotten any feedback from soldiers who [xx].

Dave Dahl: Yes, as a matter of fact, we had some soldiers write and say, “Thanks” and they really appreciate it. So that’s great. Hopefully, all these conflicts will end soon. But meanwhile, we do what we can to support our brothers and sisters.

Sean Daily: That’s great. Well, it has been a real pleasure having you on the program. Thanks for coming on and talking to us about tea and educating our audience as well as telling us a story of Dragon. We wish you much continued success in the future, it sounds like you, guys, are doing really well. Again, just to wish you much success.

Dave Dahl: Thanks, Sean, from Dragon Pearl Tea and thanks for “Green Ideas.”

Sean Daily: Thanks as always to every one listening in today. Remember, for more free on the demand podcasts, articles, videos, and other information related to living a greener lifestyle, visit our website at www.GreenLivingIdeas.com. We'd also love to hear your comments, feedback, and questions. Send us an email at [email protected].

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