I visit with David Edwards over a pot of Lady Londonderry tea and fresh-baked empanadas as the New Mexico Tea Company nears its fourth anniversary. Edwards and business partner Dianne Edenfield first opened their doors on Nov. 1, 2006, in a smallish shop that is reminiscent of cozy tea purveyors of earlier days, though the decor is decidedly contemporary.
The pair has weathered the opening and closing of its sister Tea Bar sandwich shop, nearly folding earlier this year when times got tough. But some agile marketing and a supportive customer base put the Tea Company back on its feet, and now, its shelves full, Edwards and company forge into their fifth year.
I ask Edwards about the many varieties he sells and how he chooses them. He carries more than 150 teas, tisanes and herbal blends from the world over, as well as dozens of basic tea accessories such as pots, filters and tea ware. Black teas and South African rooibos are his most popular products, though within those two categories there are many flavors. White, green, oolong and black teas come from the same tea plant (Camellia sinensis). They vary in the time at which the leaves are harvested, the amount of oxidation, the processing, geography and other factors. Further varieties are created by blending, and by the addition of florals, dried herbs and essential oils. Rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) is a different plant entirely, and its spiny needles or leaves have been used to make “bush tea” in South Africa for many generations.
Edwards’ goal is to be a local resource providing loose tea to individuals and wholesale customers such as restaurants. On a recent trip to China, he visited several cities including Shanghai, Hangxhou (famous for its lung ching tea), Xiamen and Hong Kong. Though he purchased some tea, he was more focused on learning how tea was sold, used and lived with in its country of origin. He tells me that when he started in the tea business he knew next to nothing about his product. But he saw that Albuquerque needed a shop that provided a good selection of high-quality loose tea in bulk. In the last four years he has become an expert on the subject. To share that knowledge, each Sunday at 6 p.m. Edwards holds a tea tasting and class that lasts about an hour and a half. Visitors can try eight different teas, and ask questions about anything on the subject.
This convivial atmosphere is home to Edwards' newest project—a collaborative workspace. All you have to provide is a reason for being there. If you have a project, or need an hour or two to work with a friend or small group, you can plug into the WiFi and sip a cup of your favorite tea with all the fixings, on the house, during shop hours. Somehow, this arrangement confirms my feeling that tea has a civilizing effect on its advocates. Caffeinated teas notwithstanding, I’ll have tea any day to soothe my soul.