Paper & Tea is undoubtedly one of the very best specialist tea shops not just in Berlin but in the world, and being huge fans of both of their beautiful locations in Mitte & Charlottenburg we decided to ask founder Jens De Gruyter a few questions about the business..
How did the Paper & Tea concept come about and how many people were involved in setting it up?
I’ve been a tea drinker my whole life. When i was growing up, my uncle was a tea trader to German luxury hotels and restaurants. He first made me aware of the marvels of delicate Darjeelings and malty Assams. But later on I realised there was so much more to discover! Green teas, white teas, Oolongs, etc. And so what really inspired me to start P & T was simply my love for good, pure tea and because I couldn’t readily find in Europe some of the amazing teas I had tasted during my travels in Asia.
The name of our brand is P & T, which stands for ‘Paper & Tea’, is an allegorical marriage of two of mankind’s most important product inventions. Both originating in China thousands of year’s ago and both over time being adopted around the globe and sharing a similar legacy as agents for communication, creativity, and learning.
It can be tough to gain a loyal customer base quickly – what challenges did you face in setting up in the tea business?
“A combination of fine tea, enchanting objects and soothing surroundings exerts a therapeutic effect by washing away the corrosive strains and stress of modern life.”
John Blofeld, Chinese Art of Tea
Since our approach to tea and tea-related accessories is so purist and in some ways ahead of the general public’s awareness here in the West, we knew we would have to communicate differently than your traditional tea shop. From this premise we began to think away from the conventional over-the counter ‘apothecary’ tea shop model and more along the lines of how sophisticated fashion or cosmetics are presented.
P & T stores are intimate, subdued temples of tea that deliberately break from traditional tea retail models, in which customers are dependent on staff to decode the rows of tea canisters behind the counter. Instead, we put the tea experience into our customers’ hands.
Teas are laid out and displayed according to an intuitive system, allowing shop visitors to discover for themselves and begin creating their own tea story. Staff teaists are on hand to provide expertise and guidance and brew up teas of interest at tasting stations. Each store is a living embodiment of the authentic, uncompromising approach that is at the very foundation of P & T’s identity.
In addition to our innovative store design we also offer tea seminars in which we impart knowledge and appreciation for contemporary tea culture. Accessible yet thorough, our seminars are small gatherings of four to eight fellow tea enthusiasts, hosted in our own seminar space with P & T ceramics and utensils.
We are passionate about creating a greater awareness and appreciation for the beauty, pleasures and manifold personal benefits of enjoying quality artisanal tea – thereby creating a loyal customer base.
Most people know how to make a cup of tea… but not the way you do it. Tell us the process and science behind a proper Paper & Tea cupping experience?
There are many different tea traditions around the world and, thus, many different ways of preparing tea. At P & T we focus on pure whole-leaf teas and brew them according to the Chinese tradition of Gong-Fu – allowing for multiple, flavorful infusions while elevating tea’s preparation to a relaxing, decelerating ritual that brings some calm to our hectic modern lives.
Alongside these traditional preparation techniques, we also offer more convenient brewing formats, like our tea bags for that quick cuppa at the desk or on the go. The difference between our tea bags and conventional tea bags is their content – we only use the same high-quality whole-leaf teas for our tea bags we sell in loose-leaf. That way, our customers can enjoy the rich and complex flavors of our teas in a quick and easy, user-friendly format.
© Ludger Paffrath
You currently have locations in Charlottenburg and Mitte. Do you have plans to open another and if so which area would you like it to be in?
For now, there are no plans to open a third P & T shop in Berlin. However, we are expanding our network of hospitality partners not just across Berlin, but across Europe, to spread the word about quality, whole-leaf tea.
Working together with coffee experts, baristas, and innovative gastronomers has really expanded our reach and made so many people aware of good tea.
How do you go about sourcing your fine teas?
We are constantly tasting new crops as well as new varieties of tea in order to assess which ones we take up in our offering. The basic premise for any tea we consider is that it is orthodox – meaning hand-processed according to traditional practises. We source most of of our teas directly from the tea gardens where they are grown. It’s important for us to personally know the makers in order to create a sense of mutual awareness and gratitude from shrub to cup and back again.
And the majority of our tea accessories are sourced from non-industrial production, made by artisans and artists with a passion and deep knowledge of tea culture.
You’ve collaborated with hip local vodka heroes Our/ Berlin – tell us about the infusion you created?
Pairing up with Our/Berlin actually came pretty naturally. They were looking for a tea company to work with and we were looking for a local liquor company to venture into more unconventional ways of enjoying teas. Our/Berlin is really the perfect base to infuse your teas: smooth and crisp in flavor and just the right amount to experiment with different flavors.
It took us about a month of taste-testing different combinations until we hit just the right flavor profile for summer: our Chinese white tea Pu Er Bai Ya, and Japanese green tea Daikoku. Both infusions interact particularly well with the vodka and give it a completely different character. Daikoku imbues it with a rich grassiness and subtle notes of nori and tomato, perfect for Bloody Mary’s or Martinis, or just served on the rocks with tonic water and some lemon. Pu Er Bai Ya, on the other hand, underscores it with resinous woody notes of fennel, pine and citrusy zest. This pairs up really well in Moscow Mules, or Cosmopolitans, or also simply served on the rocks as a vodka tonic.
Who designed the Paper & Tea stores and what challenges presented themselves in creating them?
Both stores were designed by my friend Fabian von Ferrari. The main challenge was hitting a balance between showing our respect of Asian traditions and transporting our own modern brand identity. The design of our furniture fixtures, with the geometric hard edges takes its cue from our P & T logo but also alludes to Asian forms found for example in origami tessellation art.
In Charlottenburg, for instance, traditional Chinese lanterns are hung in three-dimensional wire grids which are formal naked abstractions of asian room design – light and airy counterpoints marking the heavy presentation islands below.
What’s next for Paper & Tea?
We are currently working on a new line of Master Blends that take a much more creative approach to tea blending, incorporating innovative ingredients such as frozen-dried vegetables, honey balm, and earthy Pu-erh tea. These will launch just in time for the holiday season, so make sure to sign up to our newsletter and be the first to know.
Furthermore, we will be present at this year’s art berlin contemporary, serving up our teas and tea cocktails from our mobile brewing station. It’s so nice to see us become an integral part of this wonderful showcase of what the Berlin art scene has to offer.
Also, look forward to a special winter edition of our Vodka Tea Infusion Kit in collaboration with Our/Berlin. These will offer bolder flavors especially suited for the holiday season. So, all in all, a lot to look forward to from P & T this year.
Finish the following line: “For me, Berlin is…”
… probably the major metropolis in the western world with the least sense of urgency in terms of space and time. And so one is somewhat freer here to be creative and to experiment, which is such a blessing.
Visit the Paper & Tea stores below next time you’re in the area!
P & T Mitte
Alte Schönhauser Straße 50
Mo – Sa
11 – 20 Uhr
P & T Concept Store
Mo – Sa
11 – 20 Uhr