Meet Alicia Gentili, Jersey Fine Tea's tea maker since spring 2020.
What's an American girl doing hanging out in Jersey?
Taking care of the tea! As ironic as it seems, there are not many tea specialists in the UK – at least with the drive to get their hands in and do the dirty agricultural part of tea growing. I had a bit of experience making tea in the US and have been in the industry for a while, so with tons of passion and determination (and great contacts) the doors opened for me here to continue my dream path of crafting teas!
I thought tea grew in the tropics?
I think we all start off assuming that. The easiest way I like to describe it is that Darjeeling (one of the most prestigious and well known tea-growing regions) is definitely NOT the tropics. When tea plants are stressed from inclement weather and varying temperatures, this often leads to character and a more complex flavour profile. Tea plants are quite resilient and as long as the roots don’t freeze can grow most everywhere, there just hasn’t been an interest in trying until recently.
What got you into tea?
Many things actually that all seemed to come together at some point. I was married to an English bloke so spending lots of time in England and I just loved that everywhere you would go people would offer tea and drink tea. It was so heartwarming and welcoming so I decided to start adopting that practice at home.
Simultaneously I was working at a café and met a man working there who owned a tea import in Boston. I started working for him on his herbal farm and while wrapping up my undergrad began packing tea in his warehouse. There I started exploring the world of tea and realised quickly how important the ritual of tea making became for me. The mindfulness of it was something that was so helpful and so necessary – that first sip of tea of the day when all you think about is the flavour and the warmth and how it feels in your mouth – pure bliss!
When I moved west to Oregon I decided I wanted to stay working in tea so worked and managed a few tea shops in Portland. Then, when I found out they were growing it an hour away, I HAD to get in on it. I convinced the owner to give me a job making tea and from the first time I made tea, I knew that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. It has been an amazing tea journey since, involving trips and beloved friendships and many tea festivals.
Biggest challenges in the day job?
Oh gosh, how much space do I have here? Haha. This year with COVID was quite challenging as it has been most everywhere. Getting staff was difficult this year so it was overwhelming at times. To be honest there is always some issue going on whether a problem with machinery, broken irrigation, rodents, red tape, difficult weather (you name it!), but that’s just what agriculture is like most of the time! Definitely have gained a patience I wasn’t sure I was capable of which is overall a silver lining at the least.
For me personally the best part of my job is making the tea. I feel like it is my medium. I feel really connected to the leaf and am always striving to make a better and better brew. It’s always so exciting the anticipation of trying a new tea for the first time. When it’s successful and when other people enjoy what I’ve made it’s such an amazing feeling.
This year I would say I was most proud when I found out that Jersey Fine Tea was going to be published in a tea book! As mentioned, this year was overwhelming at times so when I got the news of that and, to boot, the review of my tea was something I couldn’t have even hoped for – oof, I was just over the moon. I remember calling my mom crying I was so happy!
Best thing about working in tea?
Getting to drink the most fresh tea all the time haha. There’s a lot I like! Getting to see the plants grow, making a delicious beverage, connecting with people. One of favourite things is introducing people to tea and seeing their reaction. Tea is a big ol’ exciting world so it’s nice when I get to share that with people.
And the worst?
Most things front of house related. Basically if it’s not related directly to the plant or the leaves I’m usually not a fan haha. It’s still been a fun learning experience though, just not my favourite bits!
Depends on the day and the weather and my mood really. I’m partial to Yunnan black teas and senchas. I’ve definitely had some sheng puerh and first flush Darjeelings that have knocked my socks off though – religious experience type teas!
Any teas you don't like?
I’m not keen on flavoured teas. I like em’ tried and true! I always wish I liked oolong more but I don’t not like it and its always fun hunting for good ones!
Do tisanes pass your lips?
Not often but I do like them once in a while! I like experimenting with herbs medicinally and I used to work on an elderflower and chamomile farm so elderflower always has a special place in my heart and fresh chamomile is quite a treat. I’m hoping we can start our own little herbal farm here!
It's kind of amusing that your HO is called Southfork? Home from home, eh?
I’ve heard that reference a lot, but it’s before my time!
And life in Jersey? It rocks, right?
Well, to be honest, Jersey has its peaks and troughs just like everywhere! It’s so beautiful here and has such a rich history. I am slowly finding places I really enjoy and doing my best to carve out a little hole I can call home! I feel lucky I’ve met some amazing friends to savour it with.😉