Farm to Freezer Tea - An interview with Tracy Bell
Millennia Tea sells frozen fresh, pure tea. The leaves are washed and flash-frozen within hours of being picked.
I opened the white self-locking pouch and shook chopped green tea leaves into my hand. Some of the leaves were loose, others frozen together in small nuggets. I let the ice crystals melt in my hand until only the leaves remained. They were shades of bright green, like finely sliced cilantro or parsley. They were fresh. Real. Raw.
Click here to listen to the full interview.
Tea is not only a leaf to be steeped; tea is food.
That belief led a few dreamers in the small province of New Brunswick in Canada to create what is likely the world’s first raw, frozen tea.
Millennia Tea takes freshly picked tea leaves, and washes and flash-freezes them, taking them from farm to frozen in hours. Rich in antioxidants, the frozen leaves are ready-to-consume as steeped tea or added to smoothies, stews, and soups.
In June the Retail Council of Canada awarded Millennia Tea a Grand Prix for Best New Product in the Country, in the over-the-counter healthcare category.
A conversation with Millennia Tea’s Tracy Bell, Co-founder + CEO of the world’s first fresh frozen tea company
Jessica Natale Woollard: You can imagine my delight when, looking through the frozen fruit section in my grocery store, I saw Millennia green tea right there by the strawberries, blueberries, and cherries. Why is that placement among frozen fruits a good fit for Millennia Tea?
Tracy Bell: We believe the mighty plant should be considered food. Instead of picking the leaves and then withering and processing them, like your conventional dried teas, we work with farmers to pick those same organic tea leaves, and then we treat them just like your frozen blueberries and strawberries. We harvest them and then we wash and freeze them on the same day, giving consumers the opportunity to enjoy tea in its most real, raw, and naturally powerful format.
Jessica: How did you get that placement in a grocery store, in the frozen fruit section?
Tracy: Our challenge is we’re asking consumers to imagine the most-consumed beverage in the world after water in a way they’ve never considered before: raw, fresh.
To say, “go find us in grocery” is already confusing.
When we met with our retail partners, we explained that consumers will be putting these raw tea leaves in their smoothies. We asked: can you put us with the other ingredients people buy to make or boost a smoothie?
And that’s how we ended up in the frozen fruits and berries section.
Jessica: Can you tell us about the conception of the idea to sell raw, frozen tea leaves and how it’s evolved into Millennia Tea?
Tracy: A few years ago we had a health scare in our family. It got us looking into things we hadn’t previously considered, such as the impact of free radical damage on our bodies. Tea kept coming up in our research, how good tea and matcha are for neutralizing free radicals and protecting cells from damage and disease.
After doing our research, we learned that EGCG antioxidants are highest in the tea plant in the hours immediately after the leaves are picked. We tried to get our hands on fresh tea leaves, calling tea plantations all over the world to track them down. But we couldn’t get it anywhere.
So we set out to create a new category of tea to be able to enjoy tea leaves in their purest freshest form. The proprietary process we developed with our partners became wash and flash freeze just like other frozen superfoods.
Jessica: What happens to those health benefits when fresh tea is frozen?
Tracy: Our hypothesis was that if we kept the tea real and raw, then that EGCG antioxidant, which in the tea industry is known as the “darling of polyphenols,” would be safeguarded at its highest levels.
When we got our hands on freshly frozen tea leaves, we sent samples in unmarked baggies to a third-party lab that is experienced in testing catechins in tea plants.
Our hypothesis was proven correct: it was true that the antioxidant was preserved in its maximum format in the fresh, frozen leaves. We’ve gone on to patent that process, and our patent is called the “process for maximizing EGCG antioxidants in tea leaves.”
Because our leaves are really real and raw, they’re just getting going on that first infusion. In lab studies, the first infusion is great, but it’s the second infusion that we actually spike in the antioxidants. They stay high on the third infusion, and then start to come down from there.
Jessica: How important is taste in the selection of leaves and preparation and development of Millennia Tea?
Tracy: Priority number one for us is to find the regions that are known for producing the plants that have high levels of antioxidants and that the right terroir and growing regions for producing really quality tea leaves.
We’re like green tea, but we don’t have that astringency that you often get at the back of the mouth with green tea. We’re light.
Something we found is that a lot of folks know they should drink green tea because it’s good for them, but the barrier is the bitterness. We’ve been able to bridge the gap, if you will, for them to get into tea.
If you serve us in recipes or in smoothies we act more like spinach or kale in the sense that you don’t notice the taste of the product in the smoothie, but you get that hit of energy and antioxidants you’d expect.
if you want to really maximize the benefit, have a cup of tea today, and then take the leaves and throw them in omellets, bone broth, soups, sauces, stews, or smoothies the next day.
This interview has been edited and condensed.