Seven Questions with David DeCandia, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf's Master Tea Blender
Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf's Master Tea Blender David DeCandia picking tea | Photo courtesy of Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf
LA has a diverse cast of characters. Whether it's the characters with stirring stories or interesting occupations or the people who are just simply characters, this town has them all. In an effort to get to know some of those characters a little better, we've created "Seven Questions with..."
Today's subject is David DeCandia.
As Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf's Master Tea Blender, Dave is responsible for sourcing, development and internal education on tea. He travels the world to find the finest ingredients from some of the world's premiere tea estates in Sri Lanka, India, China, Taiwan, among other countries.
Today from 2pm to 6pm you can enjoy one of Dave's creations, an Over Iced Tea Latte for FREE.
1) How much tea do you drink in a day? What do you think are the benefits of drinking tea?
I drink probably like 10 to 15 16 ounce cups a day. That doesn't count iced tea. That's just hot tea. I drink a few at home before I get into work. I guess you can say I drink a lot of tea. As far as the benefits go, drinking tea allows you to multitask better than coffee or any other beverage. It doesn't bring you up or drop you down. It let's you focus so you can do more than one thing and do it well. I'm really busy but the tea that I consume throughout the day just allows me to focus in on all the things I have to do. I've been doing this job for 12 years so I must be doing it right.
2) You're a graduate of Cal State Northridge. When you were in school at CSUN, did you ever think that you'd end up working in tea? What was your path to this position?
No, I did not expect to work in tea. When I was at CSUN, I actually was working for Haliburton. While I was working for them, they paid for me to go to college. I worked with them for a long time doing a multitude of things, traveling quite a bit but only domestically. I had no idea when I approached this company that it would blossom into tea. I took the job thinking it was going to be warehouse supervision and production management type of work. I was excited about the job because it was a growing company and the work was different from what I had been doing. Low and behold, I took to tea almost immediately. Purely on my own. Mostly because at that point there really wasn't anyone here who was doing tea. So what I did was essentially grabbed the tea and started tasting it on my own. I asked the company if I could start learning more about tea; traveling and experiencing tea for the benefit of the company. They said, 'if you love tea that much, go for it.' That's sort of how it happened. I had no idea that this was how it was going to go.
3) You travel the world in search of ingredients for tea, of all the places you’ve traveled to what is your favorite? How much time do you spend on the road? Is there any danger involved with your job?
Sri Lanka is my home away from home. I've been there probably six times. I try to go every year. I love that place. If I was to move, but I doubt that they will ever happen, that's where I'd move. Recently, there's been a lot of problems over there in terms of military fighting and whatnot. There is that side of this when you travel, but that's how it is anytime you leave the U.S. I've been to China, Thailand, Japan, India. Anywhere you go, you run the risk of walking into what's going on currently in that country. Last year was a busy year for travel. I try to make about two to four trips a year. They are long trips, sometimes I'm gone for two weeks at a time. It takes a lot of to readjust once you're back. I was just in Korea, between the 17 hour time difference and the 13 hour flight, it takes me a good week or so to get back into things.
4) Do you have any favorite anecdotes from your travels that you'd like to share?
One thing I say a lot, it's something I've learned in my travels, is 'there's always time for tea.' No matter where I go, no matter who I'm with there's always time for tea. When you're in a tea country, it's the ultimate. We could be driving up in the rain forest area in Sri Lanka, because you've got a six hour drive from the main city in Sri Lanka to these tea estates, and all someone has to say is 'anybody want to stop and get some tea?' The answer to that question is never 'no.' One time we brought a videographer with us on one of these trips a few years back. He wasn't much of a tea drinker, but he was great at what he did and he was making this video for us. Long story short, we're stopping just like we normally do on these trips, drinking tea at a bunch of places along the way. Then we come to this one place where we stop quite a bit, it's actually where they filmed the movie The Bridge of River Kwai and the guy turns to me and says, 'No way. We're not going to drink more tea, are we?' I said to him, 'You're in Sri Lanka, man. We came all this way, you've got to get used to this. We're going to be stopping for tea quite a bit.' And that was just the beginning of the trip. We hadn't even reached the tea estate. Once we get there to the estates, it's time for tea in the morning, time for tea in the afternoon, time for tea in the evening and so on. That just irked him. He couldn't take the constant barrage of tea throughout the week. Everyone else was accepting of it, like bring it on. He wasn't as accepting. But that's just how it is over there. There's always time for tea. That's how it is everywhere I've been. There's always time for tea.
5) Have you ever encountered any of your competitors while out on the other side of the world?
No, not while traveling internationally. Domestically, yes, at different expos and those sort of things. It's funny in some tea estates, they'll leave signs on the door that will say 'This room is reserved for Dave DeCandia,' when a competitor comes out there to rib those guys. Those guys at the estate do that sort of thing for fun because I'm what they call their 'Golden Boy' so they put up those signs to egg on the competition - 'No, you can't have this room. This room is reserved.' It's an ongoing thing that they've been doing for years. It's kind of funny, actually. I just wish I could be there when it happens to see the look on their faces. We never see each other at the actual estate because the estates are pretty far removed. We do travel in the same circles, but the timing is never at the same time. Plus, the estates are pretty far removed. It's pretty unlikely that I'd run into someone from Starbucks or Peet's. We all get along. We all respect each other. There aren't a whole lot of tea tasters at this level in the world. I think it would be uncomfortable to run into one of my competitors over there. Once you're there it's the ultimate experience, at least for me, it is. To go all that way and to have one of my competitors in the next field over would ruin my day.
6) Many consumers refer to your brand as "Coffee Bean" and leave out the "Tea Leaf." As the man responsible for the tea, do you personally feel slighted?
Let's put it this way, when I was at a recent conference for all of our stores in the U.S. and the first thing I said was, 'I've been working at the Tea Leaf & Coffee Bean for the last 12 years.' I did this in Thailand at the international conference. If that tells you anything. The owners and everyone know, yeah it irritates me. I correct everyone in the organization from the owner on down. I believe it's a self-fulfilling prophecy that if you continue to say 'Coffee Bean' then that's what you'll be. If you say 'Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf' then it's what you say and it's what people hear. Those two things together will only enhance the brand plus increase the awareness of tea. So yeah, it bothers me.
7) Lastly, in your time at Haliburton, did you ever come across Dick Cheney?
No. You know and I never worked for Bush Sr. either. I never ran into either of them. It was a huge company and they took great care of their employees. They paid for my college education so I have no regrets. It's ironic, my time at Haliburton I traveled like crazy domestically and now I travel almost exclusively internationally.
Throughout March and April, Dave will be hosting a "Tea Sessions" tour: where the Master Tea Blender will be visiting various markets to educate consumers on the benefits and heritage of whole-leaf tea. Local stops on the tour include:
5300 Lankershim Blvd., #115
North Hollywood, CA 91601
noon - 2pm
4105 S. Atlantic Ave.., Suite A
Long Beach, CA 90807
3pm - 5pm
8793 Beverly Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90048
3:30pm - 5:30 pm
233 S. Beverly Dr.
Beverly Hills, CA 90212
1617 Pacific Coast Hwy. #103
Redondo Beach, CA 90277