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Taste the Tea

By Heneage Mitchell
Possibly some of the most exotic teas in the world originate from a small town in Germany, where a unique supplier of specialty teas develops intriguing, amazing and outrageous fruit, herb and natural teas exclusively for tea shops.

Herbal tea I like to go out into nature, look at, taste and smell plants,” says pharmacist Georg Kroll, c.e.o. of specialist tea company Florapharm. For many years, Kroll worked as a production leader for Martin Bauer, a German company. He had a solid job, a good pension at the end of it and was comfortably off. But in 1993, with no prior knowledge of the tea industry, Kroll decided to quit his job and set up a small tea company, Florapharm. “My love of nature led me to want to share the benefits of my knowledge and opinion of plants and tea with others,” recalls Kroll. “I wanted to focus on producing quality tea. Quantity is not important to me.”

Being from a technical background, Kroll admits he is not a salesman, but when he noticed a tea shop with lots of different high quality teas on display, he decided that this would be his market. He would provide the tea shop market with teas with a distinctive taste, smell and look.

“It was very hard at the start,” recalls Kroll, “I didn’t have the right blends; they were too simple. It took me three months to develop my first tea, something I can do overnight now. I thought to myself one day, ‘what do I have to change to make this work?’”

He decided there were four things that he had to focus on to get his company off the ground: visual appearance, aroma, taste and health benefits.

“People want to see what they are drinking, so I put pictures of the plants on the labels,” says Kroll. “I tried to find exact natural flavors: for example, for raspberry tea, I bought some raspberries put them on a plate and I smelled them, then I mixed different flavors to try to get as close as possible. The same with orange: even after infusion in hot water, it should still smell like an orange.”

Kroll has strong views on tastes. “You have to capture the actual taste of the of the flavor. If you close your eyes, you should be able to identify the fruit by its taste. That is very hard,” Kroll concedes.

“As a pharmacist, I tried to give some healthful characteristics of benefit to the consumers health,” recounts Kroll. “Ten years ago, this subtle difference wasn’t there. We started using special herbs, careful not to make medicine but healthful teas, in other words, it’s a food product but with healthful products.”

However, Kroll recognizes that “there is a fine line between medicinal teas and teas with healthful benefits. I like to create a tea with a physical effect,” Kroll said.

In the succeeding ten years, Kroll saw his fledgling specialty tea business flourish and grow, supplying tea houses throughout Germany with his unique, pungent and tasty concoctions of fruits, herbs and spices blended with selected teas from around the world.

“In the last six years, we have exploded, there’s been unbelievable development,” enthuses Kroll.

Some of Kroll’s teas might be described as outrageous flavor and sensory bombs, designed to amaze the eyes, nose and palate while at the same time stimulating a pleasurable and identifiable physical response.

Some of his more opulent blends infuse chunks of coconut, orange peel, apples, carrots, beetroots, red pepper, ginger and raspberries, proof of natural origins.

Holy Plant
Herbs are used widely in Florapharm’s teas, and it carries a wide range of herbal infusions, both common and uncommon. Along with St. john’s wort, valerian and chamomile varieties, Kroll has introduced other herbs from places such as China and India that are less well known in Europe into his teas.

“Tulsi is the holy plant of India,” Kroll says. “It is not widely known in Europe. But Indians grow it in their gardens and drink it every day. Its very calming, reviving and relaxing.” You can find it in Florapharm’s Ayurevedic Herbal Infusion tea among others.

Or perhaps the 8 Treasures of Shaolin is more to your taste, a package that includes balls of compressed tea that can be infused separately. If its a stress reliever that helps to keep you fit and slender that you’re looking for, then perhaps you should try the Chinese Lover’s Dream tea instead.

Noting that all teas are understood to have some health benefits, Kroll admits the herbal and spice teas are more interesting for him personally. “Every herb can have a unique, subtle effect on the body, with no side effects,” he points out. “Everything in moderation, of course. It’s the dosage that makes the medicine. Kroll thinks changing the type of tea you drink every day between fruit, herbal, black and green, also has benefits to the consumer.

It seems the market agrees with Kroll, because flavored teas account for 60% of Florapharm’s production. Classical green and black teas account equally for the remaining 40%.

Quality is the key to Florapharm’s success in the markets they serve. Kroll has deliberately kept Florapharm focused on tea shops as opposed to retail outlets in order to sustain the quality of its teas. Kroll’s pharmacological background has played a key role in establishing the processing and production lines at his plant in Schesslitz, Germany.

“We use only stainless steel mixers, we train our staff thoroughly and we keep complete documentation of standards and quality of all the teas that pass through our production lines, says Kroll. Florapharm has its own in-house quality control lab, and Kroll’s associate, pharmacist Otto Ratka, a specialist in laboratory analysis of pesticides and residues, complements the state of the art factory.

Flavored and natural teas are kept completely apart at all stages of the process. “We cannot allow cross-contamination of the classic and flavored teas,” says Kroll, “so we have separate storage, mixing and packaging sections, and of course we have two complete sets of machinery.”

Kroll and his associate Harald Kluge, who is a 40-year veteran of the tea industry and one of Germany’s top tea tasters, travel frequently around the world, sampling and buying teas and investigating new tastes. Together, they visit farms and buy from auctions in Sri Lanka from January to March and sometimes from July to the beginning of September (“you have to taste every day to see how the flavor develops,” says Kroll); from farm and gate sales in Darjeeling, gardens and auctions in Assam in June and from special dealers in South Africa.

Green tea is sourced from farms in China, where Kroll advises visiting in March for the spring crop. “You will see the best quality, smoother flavor teas. The autumn crop is not so good,” he says.

“My products are my marketing,” enthuses Kroll. “In the beginning when I would visit customers for the first time, they’d say ‘we have enough.’ I would say ‘take a sample,’ and they would say ‘ok, we’ll try it.’ And then they would buy three teas, then 20, then 60. Everyone agreed that the quality was extraordinary. This was enough for us. We figured if we had advertised in those days, we would quickly have run out of product.”

But Florapharm has the volume now to penetrate new markets and is starting to promote its teas to a wider audience. “We have to tell people who we are,” concedes Kroll. “We send tea samples to tea shops directly, and deal directly with them. We advise customers to select three or four styles of tea, to keep the stocks fresh and to develop their own market.”

Florapharm has concentrated exclusively on the German market with astonishing results until recently. But with success comes expansion, and Kroll recognizes that “Export is the key,” noting: “The world is getting smaller, we all are getting closer together, and enjoying similar things. We want to serve the world,” says Kroll. But he is not about to embark on an expansion program that will see quality sacrificed for quantity.

“I have to be careful to control quality. There is a limit, you only have one life, and you can do things the right way or the wrong way. You only have one chance. I want to do things right and honest,” he concludes, adding: “I can say ‘no!’”

On developing new tastes and infusions for different markets, Kroll keeps his eyes open on his travels and notes the trends he sees, then develops a tea to fit. “Tastes change, different fruits might come into vogue at any time,” he says. “Visit the country, discover a popular taste, examine the lifestyle and preferences and develop a product to suit the people,” advises Kroll. “Tea is a philosophy for me. It’s not a fixed point. If you drink tea, you should be free, high spirited,” he believes.

Florapharm’s teas have been well received at shows around the world, particularly the U.S., which Kroll sees as the most promising market for exporting his teas, alongside Russia, the Czech Republic, Poland and Saudi Arabia, while noting that “Asians are astonished at the European fruit tea trend as well as at the demand for quality.”

Not everyone will get the opportunity to savor Florapharm’s teas, as there is still an inadequate supply of quality teas to meet the potential demand, according to Kroll. But the future looks bright for the company, and with Kroll’s commitment to an expanding but select market, more tea-lovers around the world will be discovering what Kroll means when he says, “try something, see the result. It’s an adventure!” 7

For more information on Florapharm, contact Georg Kroll at Tel: +49 9542/9412-0, telefax +49 95 42/9412-22. E-mail: georg.kroll@florapharm.de, Website: www.florapharm.de.

Tea & Coffee - February/March, 2004

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