Cheers to tea!

Bill Waddington and Sarah Jackson
Bill Waddington and Sarah Jackson

I love wine, beer and cocktails.

Don’t worry. I drink responsibly. But I enjoy the experience of discovering all the new — locally produced — flavors we can find right here in the Twin Cities. And that’s not to mention all the incredible foods we can pair with those Minnesota-born beverages.

So you might find it a bit odd that for our annual Food & Drink Issue, I’d choose a cover star associated with none of the above, but instead settle on a master of tea!

Bill Waddington is the founder of TeaSource, a beloved institution among tea drinkers with shops in St. Paul, St. Anthony and Eden Prairie.

The thing is, as much as I love wine, beer and spirits, as I get older, I can drink only so much.

Tea, on the other hand, contains no calories and won’t get you tipsy. And its caffeine levels are half that of coffee — zero if you drink herbal teas. Teas, especially green teas, may even be good for your health, according to numerous studies.

Best of all, tea is just as wildly diverse and fascinating as the world of alcoholic beverages. On a visit to Waddington’s Eden Prairie shop — featuring 200 teas for sale, plus tea flights and free samples, too — I learned so much.

Tea’s many forms — black, green, white, dark/puer, yellow, oolong — reminded me of the varietals, appellations and nuances of wine. Like wines, teas of the world can be studied, experienced and, in the end, deeply appreciated with a new world view.

Waddington, a playful spirit and a true delight as a tea guide, can hook you up with whatever flavors you like, thanks to his passion for tea.

Not sure what you like? Before going into a store, you can take a tea quiz on the TeaSource website to find the right blends for your palate. (There’s also a Tea of the Month Club!)

No matter what you try, you’ll be only scratching the surface of what’s out there: In Waddington’s shops alone, the array of flavors is truly astonishing.

My favorite part was getting to see and smell the loose-leaf teas in their canisters when deciding if a tea was right for me.

TeaSource’s Minnesota N’ice Tea — a blend of black tea, jasmine green tea, lemongrass, rose petals, cornflower — is a fruity and delicious top seller, and can be served hot or iced. (For a gal who grew up with Lipton as the only iced tea option, it is heaven.)

But it’s TeaSource’s beautiful, bright Red Berries herbal tea that will keep me coming back for more.

I think I’ll have a glass of it — iced, of course — right now!