The inspiring story of Liliana Lopez, the founder of Melez Tea, and tea blends stretching from Istanbul to India, from Japan to Scandinavia...
What does a tea sommelier do?
A tea sommelier knows most of the world's types of tea, how best to store them, how to prepare them, how to serve them, how to taste them, and how to pair them with food. I decided to become a tea sommelier to learn more about tea, but I'm not practically working as a tea sommelier at the moment.
How did you become interested in an unusual and unconventional career like this?
I studied business administration and was working in marketing in the hotel industry in New York before deciding to move to Turkey with my husband, who was my boyfriend at the time. I was really passionate about fragrances, fragrance blends and the world of perfumery. My love for fragrance and perfumery eventually led me to the world of tea and herbs.
From the tea culture when I moved to Turkey; I was very impressed that historically Istanbul and the Spice Bazaar are a place where plants from all over the world are traded. When I started living in Istanbul, I had the opportunity to stop working on my career and instead follow my passion to travel the world and take lessons on tea. The more I learned about tea, the more I wanted to share it with everyone and that's how Melez Tea came to life. My partner in this business also fell in love with the world of tea and has always supported the idea, even when most people said it would be impossible. We really wanted to be the first to step into the world of tea and encourage people to take their own journey of discovery into this magical world, from rituals to tea artisans, traditions, history and blending.
What is the most frequently asked question about tea; do you answer this question?
The most frequently asked question about tea is what is my favorite tea... Actually, I don't know how to answer that. My favorite tea changes according to my mood, weather and time of day. I prefer to drink iced tea on sunny days and typically use Boost or Tahiti; because I like sharper flavors. At night, I prefer soft teas with less caffeine like Beauty or Escape. These days I drink Golden Milk and Boost daily to boost my immunity.
Which countries and tea cultures are you most inspired by when preparing a new tea blend?
For the Lifestyle collection, I was inspired by important moments or places in history. For example, Beauty was inspired by Marie Antoinette, Bold was inspired by 1940's Havana, Spice was inspired by Indian Masala Chai. Every tea in the Universe collection is inspired by different cultures or traditions around the world, from Tahiti to Scandinavia.
India is the culture that inspires me the most when creating a new blend. They have a very rich plant tradition and this is a very important part of their lives. Ayurvedic medicine is still widely practiced in India.
I also draw inspiration from Japan in terms of the hybrid's aesthetics. All of our stores and the majority of our accessory collections are inspired by Wabi-Sabi, which focuses on finding beauty in imperfections in Japanese aesthetics. The inspiration for Wabi-Sabi is actually the Japanese tea ceremony.
So, do you have a tea ceremony and a tea preparation/drinking ritual of your own that impresses you?
I like to drink matcha in the morning when I don't have coffee. I take my favorite matcha bowl and whip up matcha and love to drink it from the bowl. We have a new ritual these days when we start staying at home. Every night, after our child is asleep, we choose a different tea to enjoy pleasant conversations.
What should we pay attention to in order to make a good cup of tea?
It depends on the type of tea; because every tea has an ideal temperature and brewing time. We write this information on the packaging of all our teas. White or green tea made with boiling water becomes bitter; this destroys the bland taste of these teas. If the tea leaves are steeped for too long, they produce more "tannin", which makes the tea bitter.
If you have time; actually the best way to make tea is to do a tea meditation and be really present in the moment. You can watch the water slowly boil, watch the leaves dance in the water as they open slowly, smell the aroma of the tea and then taste it. That's when you realize that a small tea ceremony, as Thick Nhat Hanh said, is a daily mindfulness practice that monks also use.
How important are the chemical properties of water when brewing tea?
The chemical properties of the water in which the tea is brewed are really important. It should also be different from the water you use to brew coffee. The water considered ideal for making tea is natural spring water.
Is there an ideal type of tea for every hour of the day?
I think this is very different for every person. But usually when you wake up in the morning you look for more caffeine and a stronger taste; less caffeine and a milder flavor in the afternoon, or a more fun drink like iced tea or a tea latte... At night, you probably want a warm, enjoyable cup of tea.
How should we store the tea so that it does not lose its properties?
It is very important to store the tea in a tightly closed container, away from the sun and light, in a cool and dry environment. Tea should also be kept away from strong spices, as it easily absorbs odors and aromas.
How can we find healing both physically and psychologically from tea blends?
As I mentioned before, tea is of great psychological importance because it creates moments where you can meditate or get away from it all every day. We try to tell you stories with the tea blends of Melez and this makes this escape easier. In a way, drinking tea creates a moment where you just show love to yourself and take time for yourself.
Teas, fresh spices and herbs have more benefits than we can count. Because of these powerful effects, they have been used in Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. For every disease there is a herb, tea or spice; however, if you are planning to use the tea as a medicine, you should always consult a doctor first.
Do you have an interesting reaction to the blending of different teas in a country like Turkey where black tea is popular?
Yes, we have been working on blending different teas for the last five years; We got really positive reactions and observed a positive change. In Istanbul, most cafes and restaurants have unique tea options on their menus. People also became more interested in iced tea; they want to make healthier drinks for themselves and their loved ones.
Which foods do you think go well with which Melez Tea varieties?
I recommend stronger flavors with black teas such as Black, Spice, Wake Up or Bold; because the taste of neither the food nor the tea should overpower each other. Chocolate desserts, meat selections and moldy cheeses are good choices. It is better to pair green and white teas with more delicate flavors such as milk and vanilla desserts, fish varieties or soft cheeses.
Can you describe a great cup of tea?
A great cup of tea; It is a tea where you can sit comfortably and enjoy all the notes and flavors of tea and take you on a journey with every sip.
What if we asked your favorite Melez tea?
If I only had one choice, I would choose Beauty. It was one of the first mixes I came up with and it was a really balanced mix. The delicate nature of white tea mixed with aromatic Isparta rose, some jasmine and vanilla makes it an ideal afternoon tea.
If I had a second choice, I would choose Golden Milk. Whenever I travel, I buy turmeric blends from different brands and I personally am amazed at how we created the right blend of Hybrid Golden Milk. Frankly, I've never tasted a mix that's as good as ours. Whenever I am tired or feel a sore throat, I drink a cup of Golden Milk and feel instantly healed. I also love its versatility; I use it as a smoothie in my pumpkin soup with milk, in my oatmeal, or in my porridge.
Liliana Lopez – Founder and Creative Director of Hybrid Tea
Liliana Lopez, a tea sommelier, completed her bachelor's degree in Business Administration at Boston University. Lopez, who then got a master's degree in Marketing from Esade University in Barcelona, founded Melez Tea, known for its delicious and healthy teas, in 2015.