Tea is a bit like wine (perhaps without the heady effect!): a plant, terroirs, harvests, production know-how linked to a cultural heritage, tasting rituals and a sensorial perception to explore. While going to buy Genmaicha green tea, my Madeleine de Proust with its subtle notes of puffed and grilled rice, I met the founder of Origines Tea and Coffee, Natalia. She recommended me other teas as a wine merchant would do. This piqued my interest as I had been looking for more tea training for a while.
A few months later, I was enrolled in the “Tea Sommelier” training course with Origines Tea & Coffee in Bordeaux. For two days, Denis Junqua made us travel the world, to understand the differences between a white, blue, green, red or black tea and to taste even if it meant having the thrill with so much theine absorbed!
I came back to Origines Tea & Coffee to share Natalia’s creative process, which is at the crossroads of the professions of tea sommelier and perfumer. Her origins in Central Asia distill in her an incredible sensitivity for flavors and aromas. During this exchange, her joyful, fresh and limitless creativity inspired me a lot. She dares to associate, to get lost in agreements, to return to the path and often to be surprised to explore further.
An interview to sip with the cup of tea that makes you feel good or like her, a glass of red Burgundy wine!
What is your background?
I was born and raised in Kazakhstan until I was 25. It is a vast country that has never known war and where many ethnic groups and religions live together. I was on the national rhythmic gymnastics Olympic team and when I had to go to a competition, it was about 5 days by train! I grew up in a sporting context in Almaty where I then studied foreign languages and business. I arrived in France in 2005 to complete my master’s degree in international trade at Kedge. When I arrived, I didn’t speak French very well and my greatest pride was the day my friends laughed at one of my jokes!
How did you come to tea?
In Kazakhstan, people invite each other a lot to drink tea. There is a very varied culture in Central Asia and tea unites the whole region. It would be unthinkable to offer a cup of coffee or even a glass of wine!
The tea ritual is inspired by India where chai tea is made with spices. In Kazakshtan, we put hot milk at the bottom of a typical bowl and then pour a very strong Assam black tea infusion, which is sometimes diluted with hot water. My mother traditionally drank it this way and she loved Earl Grey tea.
Tea is an integral part of my culture but when I arrived in France, I started by discovering wine! My most striking memory was the harmony that can be exquisite between a wine and a dish. I remember the integration weekend where, for the first time, I ate very fresh salad, camembert, a baguette and red wine. It was completely new to me and the combination of ingredients was an incredible surprise.
When did you decide to make tea your business?
It happened gradually. I already had a few desires to create a brand of tea and the creation of Origines Tea and Coffee materialized with meeting Loïc (with whom we first became the founding partners and later united by marriage in the private life). The more I discovered these materials, the more exciting and above all endless! A bit like wine… Then, combining the different flavors came naturally.
What excites you most about your job?
I like this feeling when I enter my bubble with all the materials in front of me to compose a tea. I like to immerse myself in a moment linked to particular flavors and to recreate it in a composition. In this process, exchanging with customers in store helps me a lot. For creations on specific subjects, I immerse myself completely in the theme. For the creation on the Alps, I even tried to make a recipe with crozets. I dare without limits and I let my creativity carry me.
Did you create your tea?
The Earl Grey des Amoureux (which we are tasting) is a creation that is my Madeleine de Proust. My mother loved Earl Grey and it reminds me of the cups I served her. It is also one of our best sellers because this bergamot flavor is very popular. Therefore, I wanted to create an even more irresistible tea. A tea that comforts you, relaxes you, reassures you. A kind of therapy. When we are in love, all our perceptions and our senses are increased tenfold. We want to keep and come back again and again to this love. I wanted people to feel that when tasting this Earl Grey.
It is a personal achievement with about 12 ingredients. My greatest satisfaction is to see the customers who come back to the store to fill their empty pockets!
How do you approach the process of creating a tea?
I put myself in a very pleasant bubble of concentration. I’m in a good mood and usually start humming something upbeat. Sometimes I start with a blank sheet where I put ingredients on the list and note some sensations. After that, I don’t set myself any limits. I let myself be carried away by the aromas, the surprises and the associations that can emerge. Sometimes I get good results quickly. Often I grope, I modify and I adjust to find the balance that I like.
I had a very nice project for the gastronomic restaurant of a castle in Bordeaux. The goal was to create a tea that reflected their wines. For the white wine, I started with tea buds, so white tea, and then I adjusted with notes found in wine to compose a harmonious whole. For tea inspired by red wine, it was more complex due to the color of the wine. I chose Pu Erh, Yunnan teas and also added Lapsang Souchong which has smoky notes. For the little anecdote, my research led me at one point to a tea with the flavor of a soup of peas and smoked bacon which finally seduced the chef of the restaurant. It was a nice surprise in the creative search! Today, we plan to work on tea creations from the plants in their garden.
How do you cultivate your sensory creativity?
I got used to feeling everything. Along with wine, I discovered the Nez du Vin from Éditions Jean Lenoir. This is an excellent exercise to train your memory to recognize smells. Then, it is by practicing that you refine your perception, which will always remain very subjective. Some time ago, I found notes of dill while tasting a mango. I was the only one to find this aroma… I dug into the subject because this plant is widely used in our cuisine in Kazakhstan, so I am very sensitive to it. Our brain and our olfactory perception offer so many possibilities!
How do you select the teas that are the basis of your creations?
I taste a lot and I compare for example a dozen Sencha teas. Just like in wine where you taste the same appellation or grape variety, the differences will be subtle but clearly identifiable. Then, only experience allows you to choose according to the quality of the leaf, the color of the liqueur, the freshness of the cut grass or the iodized notes, the finish… It is a know-how that requires a lot of practice to sensitize the palate in addition to knowing the specific criteria of each tea or region.
What are you most proud of today?
It’s more a feeling of satisfaction than pride. I’m just happy to do something everyday that I enjoy. I have arrived where I need to be. I completely found my place.
What are your next desires?
I have a lot of things that come to mind. The main one would be to create “signature” teas to tell the story of a person, a product, a place or a company. Like a perfumer who creates a tailor-made perfume.
What is your drink routine?
In the morning, I stick to my cup of strong Assam, Darjeling or Earl Grey black tea with a dash of milk. When I get to the office, I drink a long cup of coffee. I learned to appreciate it with all its subtleties of origin and extraction differences thanks to the experiences we were able to have while sourcing and tasting during the construction of our range of classic and specialty coffees for Tea and Coffee origins. And otherwise, I love Champagne for its refinement, its pretty “flûte” and its festive connotation. When it rains, a glass of red wine or herbal tea.
What is your most beautiful tasting emotion?
I have an incredible memory of a Japanese-style Cha No Yu ceremony. This ritual is an art. The master of ceremonies is usually a high-ranking person and during the tasting, the world stops. It is a mark of respect, a bubble of humility and deep silence where only the clinking of the dishes and the steam of the hot running water are perceptible. This ceremony immerses us in a hyper inner connection. Our senses are sharpened and it is a tasting in full consciousness. An incredible context that allows us to fully experience the tasting, to be in the present moment and to live a unique sensory experience.
Stream of consciousness
- A book: my current author, Joe Dispenza. I read in French, English or Russian
- A film: Mary Poppins because she is a perfect woman, smiling, kind. She inspires me.
- Music: lively ethnic music that rises to a crescendo. This surely comes from the music that we chose for the GR programs. I also like music that is steeped in history like the songs of Adriano Celentano, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Armando Trovajoli, Joe Cocker. Then in more modern music, I appreciate the music of ‘M’ or Amir and all the music that makes you want to dance.
- A flower: the poppy
- An animal: the deer
- A smell: caraway
- One destination: Greece
- A recipe: plov, a dish made with rice, meat and spices including caraway
- A bottle of wine: red wines from Burgundy and Sancerre
- A perfect Sunday: in nature, in the shade of the pines with the family
- A sport: rhythmic gymnastics. Today I train the children at the GR. I can’t imagine my life without practicing this sport, or dancing. I practice Hall Dance (Dance from Jamaica)
To contact Natalia, here is her Linkedin page
and to find all of Natalia’s creations,
The Origines Tea and Coffee shop in Bordeaux at Saint Christoly and at the Galerie de Rive d’Arcin
All of these texts and photos are the fruit of personal, passionate, committed and long-term work. Thank you in advance for campaigning for respect for artistic creation online. If you like my work and inspire you with projects, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Any reproduction or plagiarism is prohibited.