Nancy and Eric Schneider opened Headrush Roasters in 2013, ensuring customers in the Northland had access to high-quality tea and coffee. Headrush is a featured stop on Northland routes for the Fall 2016 Kansas City Caffeine Crawl, taking place Nov. 3 through 6. During the Caffeine Crawl tour stop, Headrush will offer demonstrations on tea and coffee preparation and tastings.
Before opening Headrush, Nancy learned by mistake how Kansas City, and the U.S. in general, once lacked widely-available premium Chinese tea. She thought she would find such tea in the States, so she neglected to bring any with her in 1999 when she moved here from Yunnan, China, where she was born and raised. Yunnan, a mountainous province in southwest China, is widely considered to be the birthplace of tea.
“I grew up with tea as part of daily life and culture,” says Nancy. “First thing in the morning, my father would ask, ‘Where is the water?’ Even more than food, tea is a way to start the day and bring people together.”
By working with importers and using a knowledge of tea honed over a lifetime, Nancy and her husband, Eric, have worked to make premium tea more accessible. Headrush carries 40 varieties of loose-leaf tea, including white, green, black and puerh varieties. Employees take care to heat water to the proper temperature and steep tea for designated times. These steps vary for different types of tea, and affect how flavor and aroma is released from the leaves.
“We have no tea bags in the shop,” says Nancy. “With poor quality tea, you can steep it longer or multiple times, but it doesn’t get better. It gets cloudy and soupy.”
Nancy shares samples of Golden Tip black tea from Yunnan. Its dried, lightly roasted leaves have a gold edge. The tea produces a light golden caramel color and delicate taste. Puerh, a fermented black tea made into raw or “cooked” cakes, is typically savored by connoisseurs. The tea generates a strong earthy taste with light brown to chestnut color, depending on steeping time. Top-quality puerh may be steeped in small portions for a dozen times.
“Puerh is like Champagne in France,” says Nancy. “It is expensive for high quality and sometimes counterfeited. The best puerh comes from the spring crop. It makes a smooth tea with no astringency on the finish and it is good for digestion.”
Nancy is able to spot identification marks by crop, year, season and producer on tea packaging, plus innate qualities that guarantee legitimacy as a premium tea. In addition to tea from China, Headrush carries tea sourced from Taiwan, Japan, India and Sri Lanka.
“In the U.S., I was exposed to different tea cultures,” says Nancy. “I discovered Japanese green tea.”
Headrush specializes in preparing and serving matcha, a fine-powdered green tea traditionally prepared with a whisk in elaborate Japanese ceremonies. The tea in the cup is vivid green, the color of tender spring pea shoots. Headrush uses premium matcha from a 100-year-old Japanese company.
“Matcha has an intense taste that is pure,” says Nancy. “I feel more alive when I drink matcha. It’s something I wanted to share with others. The quality is so good it speaks for itself.”
Eric and Nancy have noticed growing interest about tea from customers in recent years. “People want to know about the tea’s quality and where it is from,” Eric says.
Since access to fresh tea from the mountains of China isn’t convenient, Nancy leads the effort to obtain quality teas imported through distributors to sell. Once in house, proper handling is vital.
“We keep our matcha refrigerated in an airtight container,” says Eric. “Tea storage is important.”
“It is sensitive to light, air, moisture and even other scents,” adds Nancy. “Tea needs to be stored properly in a sealed container.”
Nancy, Eric and employees share their enthusiasm about tea with customers.
“With loose-leaf tea, you can enjoy several stages with different steepings. It gives you a more complete picture of the tea and an experience,” says Nancy. ‘“Taking time to have tea together is an old way of life that makes the day better.”
The shop is also known for its premium coffee and baked goods.
“Headrush is the only roaster in the Kansas City area that roasts on demand,” says Eric. “It takes six minutes to roast a pound of coffee. You can enjoy a latte here and the roast is done when you’re finished drinking.”
The shop carries green coffee beans on site, ready to roast, as well as made-from-scratch pastries that use a 50-percent stone-ground wheat blend that results in baked goods with less sweetness and more earthy taste.
Headrush Roasters Coffee & Tea, 7108 N. Oak Trafficway, Northland, Kansas City, Missouri, 816.888.4675, headrushroasters.com
Visit caffeinecrawl.com for Caffeine Crawl tickets and details.