By Mrinalini Kamath
As someone who enjoys the taste of coffee but not its effects on my digestive system, I quickly became a lover of tea. While I like the standard black tea, I most appreciate teas with flavor: Earl Grey, Lady Grey, green with jasmine, roasted yerba mate, Irish crème, amaretto, you name it. I love the variety of flavors available with blended teas.
So Kusmi Tea’s year-old shop on the Upper East Side made me feel like a kid in a candy store. With something like six different varieties of flavored Earl Grey alone, I walked along sniffing every open tin of tea. Chocolate, spicy chocolate, strawberry, mango, rose, citrus – whatever flavor you could possibly desire, Kusmi has it.
Kusmi Tea is a Russian brand that comes to us in NYC by way of Paris with a story that blends romance and history. The name Kusmi comes from the Russian surname Kousmichoff, specifically a peasant named Pavel Michailovitch Kousmichoff, who moved to St. Petersburg in 1867 at the age of 14 and began working as a delivery boy for a tea merchant. The merchant was impressed with Kousmichoff and taught him the art of blending tea, and upon his marriage, gave young Pavel a tearoom of his own. And so began Kusmi tea, known all through Russia and the appointed tea supplier to the czars. Pavel continued to experiment with tea blends, and by 1901, he had 11 tearooms and sent his son Viatcheslav to London, considered the capital city of the tea trade at that time, to open a branch there. While in London, Viatcheslav became a master tea blender himself and took over the family business upon his father’s death. By a twist of fate, Viatcheslav and his family narrowly missed being swept up in the Russian revolution and ended up running the family business from Paris. Over the years, Kusmi Tea changed fortunes and hands until 2003, when the Orebi brothers, who already had a deep interest in cocoa and coffee, purchased the business. Expert blenders themselves, the Orebis have kept most of the original recipes of the Kousmichoffs, including the Prince Vladimir and Anastasia blends, commemorating members of the Russian royal family.
But though the brand is steeped in history with its 19th century original blends, Kusmi prides itself on keeping pace with the times and has a flair for the contemporary. They have a line of Wellness Teas, the most popular of which is Detox Tea. A favorite of celebrities, the Detox blend is often touted by dieters and people looking to cleanse and purify their systems as well as wean themselves off of caffeine. Other wellness teas include two of my favorites, Boost, a blend of mate, green tea, ginger, cinnamon bark and cardamom said to “stimulate the mind and the body,” and Be Cool, a calming and relaxing tea that is a caffeine-free mix of licorice and peppermint. The Wellness pack is rounded out by a sense-stimulating tea called Sweet Love (black tea, licorice, spices, guarana and pink pepper) and the unique Algotea, a fortifying and remineralizing tea made up of green tea, mint leaves and seaweed. I’ve sampled these teas in their loose form, but all Kusmi teas come in both tins (loose) and boxes (bags). In fact, their tea bags are the most elegant I’ve ever seen: Made from muslin (which, unlike paper, doesn’t crush the tea into a powder, but keeps it full leaf) and stitched closed with thread, it almost feels wrong to throw it away. They also have a full range of green teas, (decaf) herbal teas and rooibos.
In addition to coming up with new flavors, Kusmi also keeps its contemporary edge by co-sponsoring or collaborating on events in both the fashion and art worlds. In the past, they have sponsored events at modern art museums and galleries, and in 2006, when they launched their Imperial Blend (another of my favorites, combining green tea, citrus and cinnamon), Kusmi teamed up with another venerable company, Kiehl’s, to come up with a cream that used the tea as one of the ingredients. The website features recipes for different cocktails and iced teas that can be made from Kusmi teas, and as the sole tea sponsor for this year’s NYC Fashion Week on September 8th, 2011, Kusmi will be holding a Fashion Week event where they will be giving away mini tins of Detox tea.
So the next time you’re in need of a cuppa, try sipping the tea of the czars!
Kusmi Tea the NYC store
1037 Third Avenue (@ 61st Street)
Kusmi Tea online