Timeless Ritual: Leaves and Flowers Tea
As we celebrate the launch of our new line, ShanFeng, we're privileged to speak with like-minded creators who seek elegance in the purity of Nature. Friends Anna Morton and Emily Erb founded Leaves and Flowers in Berkeley in 2014, inspired, as they share, by the mythology, potent leaves, and delicate flowers of the plants themselves. Morton and Erb's exquisite teas now grace tables and shops around the world. Ethically sourced and sustainably harvested with reverence for the land and farmer, Leaves and Flowers continues to bloom.
Cofounders Anna Morton and Emily Erb
It sounds like the evolution of Leaves and Flowers has mirrored your and Emily's personal evolutions. I would imagine that deepens your connection to the work?
It’s its own thing now, and we're trying to learn how our roles can develop so that we're able to be really creative, and see it from a wider angle. We're such a small team, and I'm actually moving to Los Angeles soon—I’ll go back and forth between LA and Berkeley—and my first baby is due in July. So it's been a unique time of reflection on how we want to engage with the business and how we want it to nurture our families and this different chapter of our lives.
Let's talk for a moment about tea as ceremony, as a spiritual practice, and how it opens up a kind of sacred space within us. I wondered if that it is something you're thinking about at this moment in time?
It definitely is. I really love the way that you said it the way that the sacred ceremony “opens up a sacred space within us.” I do feel like for me, there’s just a huge relationship with the natural world. And I think the biggest inspiration is trying, in some way, to bring that into a very small container. So this is a cup of tea, but it’s a portal to the living natural world and the possibility that we can have an interactive relationship with plants, or with beauty itself. I just feel so grateful that our work is with something that is this ancient tradition, that has so much history. And it does open up the space to receive, to read a book or to read poetry. It slows you down, it's something that can shift your day.
When you speak of “bringing the world into a container,” I can't help but think that in a cup of tea, the petals and herbs floating on the surface really do create a landscape, don't they?
Yes, it’s an elemental kind of alchemy—the water brings the plants back to life, and suddenly the aroma is stronger, and the colors change and brighten. I think that elemental weaving is really beautiful.
The poetry of tea
Would you open that up a bit—what you mean by elemental weaving?
Yes—the weaving of elements like fire and water and air and time. These very simple and elemental things that go into making a cup of tea.
Lately I've been revisiting Hildegard von Bingen, and her concept of viriditas, of the self-renewing power, the ever-greening power of nature. What a beautiful thing for a cup of tea to be a vehicle for that.
Yes. That's so beautiful. The plants coming back to life, bringing the drinker back to life. Enabling them to have all of the elements present in balance. You know, when you harvest a plant for tea, it's at a really specific time of year and you’re harvesting it when the flower is just opening. Then you're drying it and preserving that energy and that lifeforce and that flavor and color. You're also making sure that it's stored properly, so that when you do have that cup of tea, it's like you're infusing that moment, that peak moment of its blooming.
A 12th-century illustrated text by Hildegard of Bingen; Leaves and Flowers Aged White Peony tea.
In addition to loose-leaf blends, you also offer tea in other wonderful, poetic forms. One I’m intrigued by is the Mist Tea Cake, which you describe as “an opportunity for direct communion with the leaf.” Would you share why?
White Tea is minimally processed, and in essence, the truest representation of the Camellia sinensis plant. Other types of tea like green, oolong, black are altered by heat, steam, or rolling of the leaf. All these processes have a specific effect on the tea’s flavor. But White Tea is so pure. Other than the picking and natural withering (drying) of the leaf, it is hardly touched. In this way I see it as a special and intimate tea offering. Especially in this traditional pressed cake form.
A Leaves and Flowers Mist Tea Cake
And would you also share a bit about the Hojicha Latte Powder?
Our Hojicha Latte Powder is such a delicious treat. It’s made from the older leaves and stems of the tea plant that have been roasted and stone-ground into a fine powder. This powder can be prepared like matcha but it has a completely different flavor. Hojicha is nutty and slightly smokey, with rich caramel notes. I like it best whisked into warm oat milk with a touch of honey or maple and flecks of maldon sea salt.
The Hojicha Latte Powder brew
Will you be introducing any new teas this season?
We’re bringing back a tea that's been off our menu for a little while that people love, it's called Van Van, and it's a lemongrass-based tea; the lemongrass is from this beautiful organic farm in Sri Lanka. We have another tea that we're releasing that's a collaboration with Permanent Collection. It's very place-based. It’s composed of a lot of ingredients from the Inverness area, and they approached us wanting it to really capture the essence of that place. The tea is called Mt. Tamalpais, and it was such a beautiful project to work on.
How absolutely wonderful, to think about place-based tea. The landscapes both internal and external that are inherent to each geography.
We've wanted to do more place-based teas, and when we have more time to travel we want to go to different regions and really get into what plants are speaking to us, and what would capture the essence of these places.
I imagine one of the rewards of your work is hearing about the lovely experiences people have around your tea.
Yes, it's so nice to hear from our customers. We have had so many sweet messages, like when something goes out of stock and we get a message like, “Oh, this is I drink this tea every day,” or, “I sent this tea to my mother and she loves it.” Since we don’t have a brick and mortar shop, these messages are invaluable to us.
Van Van Granita Recipe
Iced tea granita using the Van Van Infusion
250 milliliters (roughly 1 cup) freshly brewed Van Van tea, cooled
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/2 ounces caster sugar
Dissolve the sugar in the lemon juice over low heat, then mix with the tea.
Strain into a plastic container with a lid.
Freeze for 3 hours and then mix well, breaking up the crystals around the edge of the container and mixing with the slushy center.
Freeze for an additional 2 hours and mix again.
When ready to serve, use a fork to scratch / break the granita and serve in small glasses or a shallow bowl. If you have made it ahead and it has frozen solid, put it in the fridge for 30 minutes to soften a bit before serving.
(Optional) Garnish with fresh or candied edible flower petals.