National Post (National Edition)
Selling a product’s origin applies to more than wine
Teas can also have unique taste of place
Traditionally speaking, terroir can be described as a combination of environmental factors, including soil and climate, that give wine grapes their distinctive character and contribute to unique flavours and aromas imparted to a wine. Increasingly, though, this notion of terroir can be an effective tool to describe particular characteristics in other agricultural crops, including tea.
“The provenance and practices for raising agricultural products is the most commonplace we see terroir being used as a market differentiator,” said Dana Mccauley, SIAL Canada innovation ambassador, chief executive of Blue Unicorn Innovation and the New Venture Creation lead at the University of Guelph.
SIAL Canada is a member of SIAL Network, the world’s biggest network of trade fairs dedicated to presenting the latest agri-food market trends and innovations.
“We had a number of items at the (SIAL) show this year that reflected terroir, including one of our Top Ten Innovation Award winners, the excellent Quebec Les Bergeries du Margot lamb that was raised on the banks of the Saint Lawrence River and fed a diet that included seaweed from the local waters,” Mccauley said.
Jared and Miyuki Nyberg know this concept of terroir well, as co-owners of Jagasilk in Victoria, B.C. The pair began the company in 2005 as a specialty importer and wholesaler of fresh-milled Japanese matcha. Specially grown green tea leaves are essential to producing premium-quality matcha (which Jagasilk spell maccha for various reasons).
Further, in particular matcha-growing regions in Japan, including Kyoto, Shizuoka and Kyushu, tea cultivars (the specific tea plants chosen by farmers) and farming methods blend to create and describe the specific terroir of each tea.
“Sunlight, shade, soil and technique play such unsung yet critical roles in the end flavours that we enjoy,” Jared Nyberg said.
Originally a home-operated business, the Nybergs expanded to open cosy Jagasilk Teabar in 2009.
With a growing fan base, Jagasilk is a popular stop on the Tea-riffic Trail, one of the curated trails that its neighbour, The Magnolia Hotel & Spa, created to highlight Victoria’s best and most authentic local gems, hidden or otherwise.
With a focus on procuring the best and most “traditional” product possible, educating customers about the nutritional benefits, proper tools and terroir of their tea has been an essential element to the ongoing success of Jagasilk.
“Our goal is to share a perspective on tea where the relationship with the farmers comes front and centre,” Nyberg said. “We are inspired by wine and specialty cheese, coffee and the slow food movement. We chose to parallel these industries and began a tea company with a focus on education and careful preparation to highlight the terroir, technique and character of each farmer we buy from.”
The idea of foods and drinks other than wine having terroir has become mainstream enough that there’s even an annual conference in Toronto, Terroir Symposium, now in its 13th year.
“To me, terroir is the product’s unique ‘taste of place,’ ” said Rebecca Mackenzie, chief executive of Culinary Tourism Alliance, which manages Terroir Symposium.
“It is what differentiates an ingredient from one place to another. It goes well beyond grapes to include other fruits, vegetables, and even influences the taste of animal protein based on what they are grazing on.”
Terroir can be used as a unique selling point, she adds, “including dairies when they speak to their cheese products and breweries when they speak to the ingredients (beyond water) they are using to brew. Even distillers are now referring to terroir.”
Of course, not all food companies need to be concerned about terroir, McCauley said, “but for specialty foods that are single ingredient or where a single ingredient is prominent, such as olive oil or honey, the climate and location of their origin has a big influence on taste and will correlate to the price people are willing to pay for the ‘real’ thing.”
Given that customers are becoming more inquisitive about the products they buy, including how and where they are produced, food manufacturers and retailers would do well to have such information on hand.
“We are finding that our focus on relationships, terroir and story help to develop our aspirations to help people connect with what they are consuming, slow down, and perhaps internalize a sense of appreciation for the soil, origins and farmers,” Nyberg said. “Focusing on relationships, transparency and freshness is a path that resonates with us in a much more real way.”