What started out as a small business in a walk-up in Manhattan in 1995, SerendipiTea in Manhasset has grown into one of the most successful importers and manufacturers of high-quality teas in the world.
The relatively small storefront on Plandome Road is just a portion of the major operations happening behind the scenes. A vast majority of their business is back end, selling to restaurants, food service establishments, gourmet food stores and to private-label tea companies. They sell nationwide and worldwide, with partnerships in Australia, Japan, Dubai, Canada and Mexico.
The sleek and elegant retail section represents the tea world, according to SerendipiTea owner Linda Villano, and is decorated with pieces from Linda’s travels to China, India, Thailand and Nepal. Customers can visit the boutique and pick up tea or tisanes, choosing from about 250 varieties, or they can purchase tea via the Web or call ahead and place an order. Few people are aware of the busy offices and the enormous production area, which are located behind and below the retail store.
SerendipiTea maintains close relations with their suppliers and growers from what Linda calls the “big five” — India, China, Sri Lanka, Japan and Taiwan. Linda also imports good-quality tea from unusual origins such as Guatemala, the Azores, Rwanda and Tanzania. The tea comes to them as a finished leaf that has gone through the drying process. From there, all tea and tisanes are hand-blended with oils, spices, herbs and other ingredients. The aromatic “Buccaneer” with scents of coconut and chocolate, is an organic South Indian black tea, containing toasted shredded coconut, apple, cacao beans, vanilla yogurt bits and chocolate bits. Their most unusual blend is called “Really Goethe,” and is named after the poet. The ingredients in this delightful green tea were inspired by one of Goethe’s poems and include lemon myrtle, rose, jasmine and laurel. This tea along with “Fellini’s Folly,” an organic rooibos tea containing peppermint, licorice, sultanes (golden raisins), orange peel and anise, were award winners in the 2013 North American Tea Championship.
“Even though we blend, the tea itself is always front and center,” states Villano. “We pair a certain type of flavoring or blend with a tea where you want to enhance certain notes that are naturally occurring in that tea to bring it out.”
There are five categories of tea — black, green, oolong, white and pu’erh, which comes from a specific region in China and has been significantly aged like a fine wine. Tisanes are not made from tea leaves; instead, they are a blend of fruits, florals, botanicals, herbs and spices. Sixty percent of SerendipiTea’s offerings are tea, and 40 percent are tisanes.
When asked about tea’s current trend, Linda replies, “Tea is becoming more popular in general, and our youth are discovering tea. We’re becoming more of a food culture, and tea is a part of that.”
There are many benefits to drinking tea, whether it’s green, black, white tea or any other variety, all teas are high in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Eighty percent of the teas and tisanes at SerendipiTea are also certified organic.
This story was originally published in December 2013.