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Ineeka Puts Innovation Into Tea

It opens up like a miniature grocery bag with handles to sit squarely in your mug of hot water.

Inside of it, organic tea leaves swell and swirl, steeping an exquisitely fresh tasting brew that’s smooth, satisfying and noticeably less tannic.

Take a taste of Ineeka teas, founded by a husband and wife team in Chicago whose families have been in the tea business for generations.

Shashank and Sumita Goel tout their company as the only completely vertically-integrated tea brand in North America. That means they grow their tea on family farms along 15,000 acres in the Himalayas north of India and package the teas, themselves.

Ineeka (“little Earth” in Sanskrit”) grows their tea organically and biodynamically in self-contained systems. For instance, the animals on the farms eat the food grown on the farms. In turn, their manure fertilizes the soil. The company employs 25,000 people who also live on the farms. As Fair Trade certified, the company pays higher than wages than the industry norm, too.

But of course, the proof is in the taste.

I had a chance to sample some of the teas, which come in nifty tins that slide open to reveal two large tea bags inside. Not just any tea bag, though, but Ineeka’s innovative “Brew-Tache” system. Carefully, tear open the top of the bag to reveal the whole leaves inside. Handles on each side help the grocery like-bag to hang in the center of your tea cup. Pour hot water into the center of the bag and let the leaves steep for about 3 minutes. If you’re like me and often just microwave a cup of water for tea, just place the open bag in the cup after heating the water.

The Goels favor the “Brew-Tache” over the conventional tea bag because this allows the leaves to unfurl completely so they can express more of their flavors and fragrances.

I admit I found the packaging very clever. The teas do brew up with a surprising purity to them, too. You taste more floral and grassy notes, and a lot less bitterness.

There are seven varieties of tea. I especially liked the Green Limon (organic green tea leaves with organic lemongrass) for its soothing quality and subtle tangy note. I also much enjoyed the Ma-Chai (organic black tea leaves, organic ginger, organic cardamom, organic black pepper, organic clove and organic rose petals. Think chai tea, but not diluted with sugar or milk, so that its warm, spicy notes shine through with no artificial qualities whatsoever.

The tea are not necessarily inexpensive, as one tin (with two bags) is about $5. They’re available on the company’s Web site and at select Whole Foods markets.

But trying them may just spoil you for any other bagged teas on the market.

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