One of the perceived advantages of holding World Tea Expo in Long Beach, California was its close proximity to importers and their businesses. The town of Cerritos is a half hour ride from Long Beach and home to QTrade Teas and Herbs, a major player in the tea industry. Taking advantage of the convenience of their location, QTrade had arranged an early morning tour of their facilities for several of their customers and a few tea media.
Located on a road called Distribution Way, I was expecting to arrive at an industrial park similar to those found in most large North American cities – industrial wastelands dominated by a parking lot and a large grey Soviet-style concrete block warehouse. As you can clearly see from the picture above, the setting for QTrade was quite the opposite – a green sylvan park with large trees and well-kept lawns. We were off to a great start!
Manjiv Jayakumar greeted us and presented some company history and thoughts for the future. Founded 20 years ago, QTrade’s growth has paralleled the specialty tea world’s upward development. They are the largest supplier of organic tea from over 20 countries and have won 90 North American Tea Championship Awards for their blended teas. They are now scaling up for unprecedented industry growth by situating themselves to service new brands, preparing for ice tea packaging capabilities and single serve tea packaging.
Garbed in unfashionable protective bonnets and gown, we relinquished our cameras (hence, no photos of that portion of the visit) for our insider’s tour, led by Pedro Rosas and Ron Eng. They guided us first to their experimental tasting and blending lab – a dreamscape of spices, flowers and fruits from every corner of the globe. Then it was on to the massive blending machines, the stock area which usually houses over 2 million pounds of tea leaf at any given time and the aromatics room which contains an overwhelming array of spices and aromatic herbs and is sealed from the rest of the facility to prevent cross-fragrancing.
The last room we visited was the newly renovated tea tasting room which also serves as a tea bar. This is where the versatile Pedro Rosas presides over the lab. A flight of teas were lined up for our tasting pleasure. The room was equipped with several spittoons so that we could taste tea in a professional style. Towards the end of our tour Pedro and his colleague Elias whipped up iced teas, green tea lattes and even cocktails. Quite the show!
The aromas, fragrances, sampling and slurping were great fun and the tour entirely eye-opening as to the vastness of their operation. I’ve visited factories in China and Korea but had never visited a blending facility. I’m grateful to all involved, that I can now add this to my repertoire of tea experiences. Thank you to the staff at QTrade for their hospitality, their generous time and delicious mixology! Thanks also to Aaron Kiel of AKPR for arranging this outing.