Coffee Rules at Cafe Excellence in Lower Providence, But Tea Is Catching Up Fast
LOWER PROVIDENCE – A renowned micro coffee roaster has decided to turn over a new leaf.
Lots of leaves, in fact – oolong, black, green, white and even herbal.
Since debuting MajaTei Teas, its extensive line of high-end teas last summer, life is no longer just beans and brews for Café Excellence owner Anthony Valerio and his assistant, the self-designated “queen of leaf and bean,” Irene Satterwhite, who said the idea of launching a tea line had been steeping for some time.
“We were a distributor for a brand of tea out west, and it took almost three weeks to get the order in house, then they started discontinuing varieties with no warning,” she recalled. “Finally, we said we need to start our own tea lines.”
Valerio and Satterwhite came up with an exotic-sounding name for their new enterprise, engaged an expert tea blender and were soon sharing their decadent array of teas at events like Taste of Philly at Valley Forge Casino Resort.
“From the beginning, people loved our teas and were very engaged by them,” Satterwhite said.
Having a long established Café Excellence customer base of coffee shops and restaurants gave MajaTei Teas an edge over the budding competition, she admitted.
“It was the same thing with coffee. People were accustomed to commercial grades and then Starbucks opened the gateway for all of us to start thinking about a better cup. And then you were able to charge a little more because people were educated and wanted something better.”
Once potential clients come to the spic-and-span Café Excellence facility in Audubon for a high-tea style sampling – minus the watercress sandwiches – the quality overwhelms them every time, Satterwhite said.
“Once people see the presentation they understand why they’re paying slightly more for the tea. And because coffee is so competitive, when businesses are happy with their coffee and don’t want to change, it gives us an opportunity to show them something else they’re going to love.”
Whether it’s coffee or tea, the Café Excellence marketing strategy will never be akin to “here’s our product, please buy from us,” Valerio said.
“It’s been successful for us with the coffee, inviting people to a coffee roasting facility, because they never get that opportunity. It’s amazing because they know food, but when it comes to the last part of the dinner, the beverage, they don’t experience much.”
The roasting giants of the industry don’t usually have the time to host private tastings, he allowed.
“Because we’re small, we welcome guests to come here,” Valerio said. “It builds a relationship and gives us the opportunity to prove that we are unique and shows that we’re taking them through the whole process. Rolling out the MajaTei Teas we will offer them a sample, and then they can come in and taste them all and decide which products they’re going to carry.”
From the sophisticated Earl Grey black tea, with its mellowed essence of bergamot oil and distinctively creamy undercurrent, to the smoothly sublime Country Strawberry Green with its bright, clean finish, to the intense, naturally sweet Destiny Chai – which may well be the most gratifying Indian-inspired potable you’ve ever sipped – the tea blends were the result of some painstaking trial and error by Valerio.
“When I taste coffee I’m tasting a full gamut of flavors, but they’re not as easy to taste as with tea, yet the tea is just as complex,” he said. “I love the way you can blend with tea, taking a black tea or green tea and moving different spices and fruits in there and coming up with something special. Because I have a palate that’s looking for flavors and I’m using my sensory skills to get the flavors, the tea is just as interesting as the coffee to me. If tea just tasted like black tea and coffee all tasted the same, I’d be doing something else for a living.”
One of the latest teas soon hitting the shelves of the Café Excellence factory store is the first MajaTei white tea: Pineapple Jasmine White.
It will be joined by Chocolate Yerba Mate and Crisp Apple Green.
Heretofore a diehard coffee drinker, Valerio said he’s having just as much fun with tea, both in the creation and the consuming.
“I enjoy tea now as much as coffee … and I never thought I’d say that,” he said, grinning.
By Gary Puleo. Follow Gary on Twitter@Mustangman48.
2675 Eisenhower Ave.