Tea sommelier Fallon Keplinger takes high tea to the next level with her expert herbal wisdom and infused-red chai tea latte that you can now sip at home.
Lead photo by Anita Austvika, courtesy of Unsplash
Can you remember the last time you drank a chai latte? I certainly can’t. There’s no real excuse for it either, considering it’s among the few drinks you’ll find on nearly every coffeehouse menu in America. Compared to trendier seasonal teas like matcha, chai has become something like a sleeper hit hiding in plain sight, if you will. It’s not exactly the type of beverage that first comes to mind during the summer. When it comes to infusing cannabis, however, there’s strength in the power of warming spices, says Fallon Keplinger, a tea sommelier and founder of Rose Glow Tea Room, a CBD-infused tea company based in Washington, D.C.
Long before Starbucks started pushing it in vente-sized cups, masala chai (a sweetened milky tea spiced with flavors like cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and pepper) was used in ancient India as part of traditional Ayurvedic medicine to treat pain and inflammation — not unlike the medicinal benefits of cannabis. Adding them together just seems like a no-brainer for the perfect dose of chill. For this recipe, Keplinger leans on her Breathe tea blend, a mixture of rooibos and vanilla, plus fresh spices steeped into cashew milk that can be served hot or over ice.
MERRY JANE caught up with Keplinger for a little tea time to discuss the ins and outs of being a tea sommelier, what she loves about cannabis-infused teas, and why her red chai latte is worth making at home.
Rose Glow Tea Room’s CBD-Infused Red Chai Tea
Time: 8 to 10 minutes steeping time
Makes: Three 1-cup servings
– 3 Rose Glow Tea Room Breathe tea bags
– 3 cups infused cashew milk, recipe to follow
– 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
– 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg
– 6 cardamom pods
– 7 rainbow peppercorns
– 1 whole clove
– 2- to 3-gram pieces of candied ginger
– 1 tablespoon of maple syrup
Heat cashew milk to 190-200 degrees. Add 3 Rose Glow Tea Room Breathe tea bags (9 grams). Steep tea bags in milk for 8 to 10 minutes.
While steeping, add cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, peppercorns, clove, ginger and maple syrup. Use sieve and pour into a mug. Stir and enjoy.
To make iced chai: Follow recipe as above, using 4 tea bags instead of 3. Chill immediately after the cashew milk is steeped. Serve over ice.
MERRY JANE: How did you get into tea?
Fallon Keplinger: My mother has always been a tea drinker, so I grew up always having different varieties of tea in the house. My twin sister and I got a tea set when we were young, and we would have friends come over for tea. Those are just the first memories that come to mind when I think about why I am so interested in tea. I have always been a fan of folklore and urban legends. Many varietals of tea come with their own legends, as well, and I find it fascinating. Tea also reminds me of being relaxed, even when I drink a highly caffeinated tea, I still feel calm. I became a tea sommelier last year, and this summer, I’m spending three weeks in Kyoto, Japan, to intern with a tea master.
Wait, a tea sommelier? What is that?
I became a tea sommelier with the International Tea Masters Association. Tea sommelier means that I have studied tea, and can make recommendations for a beverage program at a restaurant or cafe. I know different tea, tisanes, and processing methods. I have studied what food pair best with different teas. It is not as difficult as becoming a wine sommelier, but I did learn about regions, terroir, etc.
What attracted you to cannabis that led you to start your own CBD-infused tea business?
I started Rose Glow Tea Room with some friends in 2015. I had been dabbling in edibles for awhile since one of my mother’s friends was diagnosed with cancer. My mother’s friend had completely lost her appetite and was withering away. I knew that cannabis had helped other people going through chemo, so I wanted to try some recipes for myself. Initiative 71 legalized the recreational use of cannabis in Washington, D.C., which has led to business opportunities for companies with cannabidiol-infused products. We started doing pop-ups in D.C. and built a loyal clientele and kept it up for about a year. Life happened, and my friends were going in different directions in their life, and then it was just me.
My mother had an injury last year. I gave her edibles to have when she got home from work, but she didn’t have anything for pain during the day. The doctors prescribed her so many opiates, I couldn’t believe it. I decided to do some research into CBD so my mom could get some pain relief throughout the day. Putting CBD into tea allowed her to get the pain relief she needed discreetly. Also, to be perfectly honest, I love smoking a jay with a cup of tea.
There are plenty of ways to consume cannabis, but what do you like specifically about cannabis in tea?
My friend Bre is the one that got me to like cannabis in tea. I would call her “The Alchemist.” She would make these light lovely blends that tasted great and went down smooth. One of my favorites was her lavender tea and lemonade. It motivated me to learn more about tea and flavor blends. Drinking cannabis doesn’t make my clothes smell and I can drink it discreet.
Photo by Klara Avsenik, courtesy of Unsplash
When you developed your tea line, did you match cannabis terpene flavor profiles to the natural flavors of each tea blend?
Absolutely! Every time I try a new tea, I fill out a tea evaluation form so I can remember the aroma, taste, viscosity, etc. I use an aroma wheel to help me if I can’t put my finger on what I’m tasting and/or smelling. Then I call my florist to see what he has available and I go from there. I have my favorites that I like to work with.
Tell us about the chai recipe. How did you develop it, and why does it work?
When I was studying to become a tea sommelier, I had to make a chai recipe from scratch, which was going to be sent to a tea master in India. I was beyond nervous and spent months trying my chai recipe with different milks, peppers, and spices. I was given a mortar and pestle so I could taste the difference between freshly ground spices and store-bought spices. If I go for something, I want to make sure I do it right, so I end up putting a lot of pressure on myself. I sent in the recipe and it was well received.
Cashew milk has the highest fat content out of the non-dairy milks I use, so I thought it would be easier to infuse with cannabis. I like the flavor of cashew milk and I thought it would compliment my favorite go-to tea which is rooibos. There was a lot of trial and error — all of which tasted delicious.
Photo by Loli Clement, courtesy of Unsplash
What’s next for you?
Rose Glow Tea Room was a name of a popular tea room in Washington, D.C. in the 1920’s and ‘30s. I thought it would be nice to use a name that has some history. My hope is to one day have a brick and mortar tea room for safe consumption of cannabis and of course CBD tea. I’m currently working on a book of tea cocktails with a friend. I think it’s awesome to have an opportunity to combine and collaborate our passions into a recipe book. Our first book of 25 recipes should be done by the end of summer, I’m super excited.
For more on Rose Glow Tea Room, visit their website here