NEW GLASGOW – Tea is like wine says Fred Baines. No two are alike. Each is unique based on where it’s grown and how it’s made.
He got his first eye-opener to the world of teas while on a business trip for MacKay Meters, to Hong Kong. He decided while on that trip he would try to drink what the locals drank and that was green tea.
When he came back home, he found it was a hard habit to break, however, and started searching for places to buy it. Finding none in Pictou County, he was forced to order from a company in the U.S. He would buy $50 to $100 orders at a time to feed his habit, but after a large order was lost in the mail, he decided to seek out a Canadian supplier. He found one in Toronto but they said that as a wholesaler they would only sell to businesses and not individuals.
“I’ll call you back tomorrow,” Baines told them. He hung up and promptly set about starting an online business to sell teas to people like himself who had nowhere else to find quality teas. The rest is history, as they say.
He started with four flavours of green tea and sold primarily on ebay. While he was off from his regular job at MacKay Meters for a period, he walked by 303 MacDonald St., which is right across from the Needs on East River Road. He saw it was for lease.
“I should write the number down,” he said.
He called and in short order was able to arrange to rent the space to operate his tea and antique business.
He now has about 90 varieties of tea there, which he gets from the same wholesaler that provides to major tea chains such as David’s tea. From the New Glasgow base, he ships to various people throughout North America as well as to people in Nova Scotia who travel to his small store for the taste they can’t find outside of large cities.
“I’m in a good spot here, because there’s no one between Halifax or Cape Breton,” he said.
He said he has one faithful customer who travels from the Pugwash area to pick up teas for his wife and students from St. Francis Xavier University who stop by.
What those customers want is high quality tea that he sells in loose leaves.
The difference between it and the teas sold in grocery stores is hardly comparable.
“The tea that the supermarket gets is called dust grade tea,” Baines said. “We call that floor sweepings.”
How to make a good cup of tea varies a lot by personal preference but the teas in Baines’ store come with instructions including the best temperature for that particular type. The Russian Earl Grey he carries for instance is best brewed at a temperature of 212 degrees.
His own preference is to bring it to a rolling boil and let it sit for a couple of minutes. His tea of choice is Moon Swirl White Tip, a green tea from China.
“It’s incredibly strong and it’s the highest antioxidant green tea,” he said.
He drinks between 20 and 30 cups of tea he estimates, though, so there are plenty of opportunities for him to sample his stock.
Over the years he’s been in the business, Baines has become a bit of an expert of teas. He said he’ll often be listening to a talk on CBC’s Maritime Noon and think to himself, “I know all that stuff. It’s just general knowledge.”
He knows facts, though, that clearly aren’t common, such as the fact that 20,000 cups of tea are consumed every 10 seconds in the U.K. and that tea bags were first invented by Americans.
He’ll be sharing a bit of that knowledge – and perhaps a taste of tea – at the New Glasgow Library on March 25 at 7 p.m.
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