“I am a perfumer specialized in tea harvests, specifically, high-quality high-altitude tea,” defines Inés Berton, Argentine and owner of Tealosophy, adviser, broker, and creator of the teas that have been drunk by personalities such as the Dalai Lama, the kings of Spain, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Chris Martin or Ed Sheeran, for series like Downtown Abbey, NBA teams, and firms such as Hermés, Chanel, Bulgari, as well as hotels. But he also made a tea for a boy who wanted to give a gift to his mother-in-law who couldn’t stand him, and in that tea was a wish and a message. And therein lies, according to Berton, a large part of the objective of his trade: to communicate with aromas.
“I came to the world of tea at the age of 20 thanks to a Japanese mentor who taught me tea as a language. One in life is looking for his heartbeat: when we flow, the heartbeat is abundant, neither too fast nor too slow. And I found my heartbeat in tea”. It was not an easy road. Terrible headaches had plagued Berton since childhood. “They were like strong migraines, in which he also had photosensitivity. They did tests on me to understand what it was, they thought it was an allergy, but in the end they discovered that I have a highly developed sense of smell”. The diagnosis was: absolute nose. The smells that gave him a headache: ammonia, bleach, very chemical products.
I came to the world of tea at the age of 20 thanks to a Japanese mentor who taught me tea as a language
However, the 50-year-old specialist affirms that this only served to know that her sense of smell had an above average capacity. “It sounds like something very exotic or romantic, but then one has to study a lot to know how to differentiate the different aromas of roses or orange blossoms, visit many plantations and, in my case, start the project of my own company with only 132 dollars ”. Tealosophy, who is turning 20 and had a store in Spain, in the Barcelona neighborhood of Gràcia, came to publish an album with Warner Music: each song was accompanied by a pairing of tea.
The tea is the second product with the highest consumption in the world after water – recalls Berton – and the camellia sinensisits plant, occurs in a very different way depending on the terroir, just as it happens with a wine. “In fact, my job is like that of an oenologist in the world of wine,” defines Berton. As in the sommelier, knowing how to communicate is part of the key to the trade and, for her, reading and writing has been essential in her career in the world of tea.
“It is necessary to know the precise vocabulary – which I learned in my perfumery studies – and to be able to formulate in words the story that my products want to tell, and adapt it to each audience: the language will be more technical if I speak with an agronomist and more evocative if I communicate with a client. As Jean-Claude Ellena, legendary perfumer for Hermès, says, ‘the smell is a word, the perfume is literature’”. To know how to count, nothing better than reading, “from Brillat-Savarin to Kerouac, passing through Pessoa. Likewise, this ability has allowed me to carry out speaking tasks to tell what my entrepreneurial career has been like”.
In addition, as an exercise, Berton meditates daily, walks a lot, and prepares for the tasting season, in which he selects what he will buy, breathing at an equal rate, as if to the beat of the music: “I inhale and exhale at an exact rhythm to that the same amount of aroma enters and leaves each sample”. In this phase of the process, the specialist and her team will maintain this maxim as criteria: “Honest tea is made with honest ingredients.” “In the tea I will support the aroma that I want to tell, with spices, herbs, fruits from my Patagonia, fruits from the Mediterranean, and for this I need both them and the base to be very good. And therein lies the key to everything: the search for the best ingredients”, develops Berton.
An honest tea is made with honest ingredients.
Although he began his olfactory journey in the world of perfumery, he soon realized that being in a laboratory was not what he was most passionate about. “What I liked was putting on my boots and walking through the plantations, having the opportunity to get to know the gastronomy of each place for which I would have to prepare a mixture. How to devise a tea for the restaurants of the Tragaluz group without first having walked and eaten in Barcelona? Undoubtedly, knowing the gastronomy and tradition of each place is essential: from his time in Spain he remembers the case of a tea for which he opted, called Frida’s almond, based on black tea from Sri Lanka, cocoa from Venezuela, almonds and toasted orange, which had been a success in many countries. “It was a complete failure in Spain because it reminded people of an old cough remedy that tasted so much like almonds.”
Asked about her vision of the world of tea today, she explains that “world consumption has a tendency towards well-being, to highlight the properties that something has for us. But, first of all, I think you have to drink the tea because it’s tasty. We are very used to using tea when something hurts, be it our belly or throat, but today we know that tea can be used both in cooking and in cocktails”. Because although tea has not experienced a third or fourth wave like coffee, Berton affirms that tea consumption has grown a lot in recent years, especially in the United States.
She herself experienced the increase in the consumption of this drink during the pandemic. “With great fear, we saw how our hotel and restaurant clients had to close due to the confinement. But the surprise was great when we saw sales of our digital store grow by 2,700%”. Ideas like this guided the tea specialist through this dark age: why not bring a garden to the homes of people who don’t have a garden and who are confined? Why not turn tea time into a time to share the same drink with your loved ones, even if it’s over a video call?
To this day, he sees in the new generations another awareness regarding food consumption and the acceptance of new products. “They know things that, in my day and at their age, I didn’t know and were not common knowledge. And that’s why I think they value tea more.” On the other hand, Breton finds it strange that while restaurants try to differentiate themselves by the ingredients they use, their creative preparations or the drinks with which they pair their offer, they are all willing to have exact copies of a generic tea on their menus. He is also of the opinion that tea has a place in the long after-meals of the Spanish tradition because, in his words, “the main objective of a cup of tea is to have time, to calm down.”
Main mistakes in tea making, according to Inés Berton
The amount. Many people serve their tea in a large bowl that is over 200 ml, but use a tea bag that only holds about 2 grams. In this way, the flavor is very diluted. The general advice is this: Use one level tablespoon per small cup.
Temperature. In Argentina, where we consume a lot of mate infusion, the kettles are graduated to stop at 90 °C in order not to burn the herb. However, in other countries the water boils and this burns the tea. We must let the water rest or stop it before it boils to use it in our infusion.
Time. A famous Argentine advertising read like this: “The break is 5 minutes”. Thanks to her, people still think that tea should be infused for 5 minutes and, in general, you shouldn’t wait that long because it will be bitter and astringent.
Mistreat the tea bag. Something very common when removing the tea bag or tea bag from our cup is to try to squeeze it and hang it against the spoon to squeeze it. This must be avoided, because with the pressure all the bitter tannins of the tea leaves will be coming out.
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Inés Berton, the Argentine with the absolute nose who created a tea for the Dalai Lama
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