The proper preparation of tea is an art form, and Jen, the one-woman show at Verduras, is a supreme artist. She steeps a vast array of teas from around the world. Her hard work has not gone unnoticed.
Verduras has a much tread upon entry-way, and Jen Nowicki usually is able to greet customers by name. From one Tea Specialist to another, I had the opportunity to stir up some conversation with Jen.
Kristen Mirsky: When did you know tea was your calling?
Jen Nowicki: I knew tea was my calling about a year before I co-owned a vegetarian coffeehouse in Green Bay, around 2000. We sold a large variety of teas there. This is also why I decided to get certified as a tea specialist and have started classes to become a master tea specialist. I want to know everything there is to know about tea.
KM: What is the driving force behind opening Verudras (the food, tea or both)?
JN: Both. I have been a vegetarian for over 20 years and have worked in the gourmet and natural food industry for about 20 years too, so the cooking is also important to me.
KM: Describe your passion for high quality tea.
JN: It makes no sense opening a tea house if the tea you are serving is poor quality. This is part of the reason I have hot water dispensers and give people timers for the tea. I want the water for the tea to be at the optimal temperature and give people the ability to not over or under steep their tea. I also use Rishi tea, which has won numerous awards throughout the years at the World Tea Expo.
KM: What is your favorite genre of tea (mate, chai, roobis, oolang, etc)?
JN: My favorite tea is jade oolong. I really like the greener oolongs and Japanese green teas, especially genmai matcha. I like jade oolong because of the smoothness and the floral notes. For genmai matcha I like the toastiness from the puffed rice and the umami flavor of the matcha tea.
KM: How many cups of tea do you drink a day?
JN: I drink about 3-4 cups a day at work and 1 cup of herbal tea before bedtime.
KM: Coffee vs. tea. What is your opinion? What do you think Americans preoccupation with coffee is?
JN: I prefer tea because I personally do not like the taste of coffee, but I don’t see that it has to be coffee vs. tea. I have some customers who drink both. I think some Americans still think that tea is an old English lady drink, though if you go to the coasts and some larger Midwest cities you will see hipper, more modern tea houses with a young crowds too.
KM: What types of customers come to your establishment?
JN: A wide range – anything from college age to older ladies. From hippies to fashionable [patrons]. I guess people who like tea and vegetarian food.
KM: What do you hope each customer receives when they get a cup of your tea?
JN: I hope everyone receives a tea that they desire, with the tea brewed in such a way that optimizes the flavor of the tea (time, temperature, strength, etc) and the satisfaction that comes with a well brewed tea. I guess I want people to sip the tea and say yes that is exactly what I needed.
And just in case you were wondering, Verduras means ‘vegetables’.
Visit Jen in person and ask her to brew you an aromatic cup of Milwaukee’s finest at: 181 N. Broadway, Milwaukee 53202.