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Nicole Dean of KOLLO

The tea sommelier on the KOLLO farming and brewing processes, how she likes her tea and how to determine the right temperature and time to brewing different types of tea.

“Rainy days should be spent at home with a cup of tea and a good book”, it once read in a 10th anniversary Calvin and Hobbes book. That’s exactly how we feel about tea (and rainy days and books). As tea-drinkers since we were allowed to introduce caffeine into our bodies, it’s a relationship that has blossomed over the years and brought us much comfort and joy. We’ve even chosen it over coffee time and time again. Our only grievance is that taking our tea to-go has never been an enticing proposition, with quality often compromised for convenience. But this is where KOLLO makes its grand entrance.

Founded by Nicole Dean, Kollo is marketed as “the world’s first luxury bottled tea”. By the look of it, it has what it takes to truly take up that title, with its custom French glass bottles and minimalist black lettering. Inside, the teas are brewed for 24-hours in small batches using farm-fresh, whole-leaf, single-source leaves before being bottled up. The longer process is so that flavours can be gently extracted as opposed to a quicker time that risks burning the leaves, resulting in an astringent taste. Nicole is also always present when a batch is being brewed. And it goes without saying that the brews contain no preservatives, sweeteners or flavourings.

Given her undertaking of the herculean task of creating a product that not only tastes as pure and close to its natural taste as possible but also meets Nicole’s high-quality standards, the results have been affirming. Today, Kollo is stocked at some of the chicest shops in the US and Europe since its launch in 2015, and will be available online soon. With only three offerings now — green, black and oolong teas — we’re all for having what she’s drinking.

“Our growers work very hard to craft our tea leaves, oftentimes by hand, and I feel like it’s my responsibility to present the resulting brew in a thoughtful way that honours their craft.”

What does “Kollo” mean?

I have my older brother to thank for the KOLLO moniker, as he is the one who originally suggested the name. Prior to launching the brand, I considered several names — all of which were highly influenced by Los Angeles and beach culture — but none of which I felt fundamentally “connected” to.

One day I was speaking to my brother on the phone, tossing around brand names, and he reminded me that an old family friend used to call me KOLLO, short for Nicole, when I was very young. I loved that the name was not immediately recognisable as a familiar place, name, or thing in most countries, particularly the US.

Now that KOLLO is fully-formed and out there in the universe, I love that the name is meaningful to me personally, and more practically that it is quite easy to spell, pronounce and it was not trademarked! A few people have started calling me Kollo as a result, which is very cool and nostalgic for me.

KOLLO Apres Avant

Tell us more about your consciously farmed, single-source seasonal tea leaves.

The purpose of creating KOLLO was to combine the beauty of high-quality iced tea with an elevated and convenient RTD (ready-to-drink) form. Typically, RTD iced teas are brewed from lower-quality, commodity tea leaves, and thus do not always taste as nuanced as those found in its hot-tea counterpart.

As such, I aimed to create a product that was healthy, beautiful and most importantly showcased the brews in their most simplistic form. For KOLLO, this meant removing all sweeteners, flavourings, or preservatives and using only the highest quality, organic, single-origin, loose tea leaves. We source all of our leaves from three separate farms rather than use a larger tea conglomerate as a supplier. This has allowed us to have more transparency in the farming process and obtain high-quality, fresh, seasonal leaves.

We select our growers and farms based on the quality of the leaves themselves rather than purely financial considerations. We also believe that sustainability is an important piece of this puzzle. For example, when possible, we like to support small farms that offer healthy biodiversity to their local habitats, as well as provide economically stability to the growers and employees. Our growers work very hard to craft our tea leaves, oftentimes by hand, and I feel like it’s my responsibility to present the resulting brew in a thoughtful way that honours their craft.

How do you like to have your teas, and what are their health benefits?

Being in Los Angeles, it is refreshing to drink iced tea all year round, so I tend to drink at least one KOLLO tea each day. If I am really craving hot tea, I brew organic, loose leaf tea using filtered hot water, a glass mug and a strainer. I try to stay away from tea bags, as some have been dyed or bleached prior to bagging. I am very “minimalist” in my tea-drinking ritual — simply leaves and filtered water, no sugar or cream.

In terms of the health benefits, we have chosen to cold-brew our teas for 24-hours, which offers a very smooth yet complex flavour profile without the astringency or bitterness sometimes found in tea. This gentle extraction method is labour-intensive but helps retain many of the beneficial components of tea such as polyphenols, which contain antioxidants and theanine. Similarly, our teas contain about half the caffeine content of equal parts coffee — a great attribute for those sensitive to caffeine. I personally find tea to be less dehydrating than coffee, which in turn has benefited my skin tremendously.

How long should bottled tea be kept for?

Our teas have a refrigerated shelf-life of one year, although we recommend enjoying them as close to purchase as possible. We love providing as fresh as a product as we can, and in many cases our customers are consuming tea that was brewed days or hours before they hit the shelves.

Some say that it’s best to drink tea around three to five minutes after brewing it. What would you say to that with your bottled teas?

When preparing hot tea, there are many schools of thought around the correct temperature and time as related to the particular type of tea. There are great resources online that outline suggested times and temperatures for various categories of teas, so I always recommend starting there. I’d also recommend purchasing an electric kettle with a temperature monitor to help avoid over-brewing due to too high a water temperature or too long of a brewing time.

With bottled teas such as KOLLO, we take great care to make our teas consistent and smooth, and the 24-hour brew helps achieve this. At-home cold-brewing is also an easy option for those looking to bring out the beautiful flavours of their teas, without the risk of over-brewing. With both hot and cold teas, much of the outcome is dictated by personal preference, which makes tea-drinking a very fun and personal experience.

KOLLO black tea Apres Avant

What are the key differences between drinking matcha tea powder and green tea?

Simply put, all teas are made from the Camellia sinesis plant, but can vary widely in finished product depending on the grower, processing and environment.

True matcha is made from high-quality Tencha tea leaves that are shade-grown prior to harvest, creating deep green, flavourful leaves. Once the leaves are picked, withered, fixed and dried, they are stone-ground into a very fine powder that can then be used to prepare the tea to the consumers’ preference. There is a beautiful ceremony around the traditional preparation of matcha and I highly encourage anyone visiting Japan to experience it.

Whereas matcha is ground as a last step of processing, green tea leaves not destined to become matcha are also withered, fixed and dried, but instead rolled or styled, depending on the preference of the grower. Green tea production is based around preserving the natural colour of the leaves, but the end results can vary widely in terms of quality, freshness and sensory components (smell, colour, taste).

“I always suggest venturing into “loose leaf” tea, as the brewing process can be beautiful to watch and might lead to discovering new types of teas beyond the well-known black and green.”

What are your tips for choosing tea?

We are lucky to live in a time where there is an abundance of information about tea available online and many resources that sell lovely tea from the farm direct-to-consumer. There are many grades of tea to fit all price points and preferences, but education is key.

The majority of tea produced is intended for mass market, and thus is relatively inexpensive and used for tea bags as well as many RTD packaged tea drinks. Alternatively, more “specialty” teas are produced for those tea drinkers looking for a more complex or nuanced flavours, though are highly variable in terms of taste and quality. I always suggest venturing into “loose leaf” tea, as the brewing process can be beautiful to watch and might lead to discovering new types of teas beyond the well-known black and green.

If you have the good fortune of living near a tea shop or tea room, I encourage you to have a visit and speak to the specialist; or better yet, when travelling, sample local teas in their country of origin. Learning about and discovering tea is half of the fun, so anywhere you begin will hopefully be a lovely experience.

Kollo’s Instagram feed is more art gallery than tea company. What is the brand’s beautiful aesthetic and what made you gravitate towards this style?

Nicole Dean KOLLO-Apres Avant

I wanted our brand imagery to reflect the overall aesthetic and feeling of KOLLO, rather than showcase the product exclusively. KOLLO was inspired by art, culture, food and travel so I hope that our followers find the photos beautiful and unexpected. In our industry, it is commonplace to focus solely on the physical product rather than a “feeling” a brand evokes, so it is our small way of offering something a bit different.

What does conscious living mean to you?

Conscious living to me means being thoughtful and deliberate in my treatment of myself, others and the earth, as much as possible. There are so many aspects of life that we cannot control, so I aim to be mindful of how each action affects the world around me. It is easy for all of us to start living on auto-pilot, so I find tapping into the “why” of my choices helps me be more intentional and considerate of the result without regret.

Balance is also key for me. I try not to beat myself up over the occasional misstep or unhealthy decision, but make mental notes of how it made me feel. I think people are sometimes too hard on themselves and self-love is such an important piece of my own conscious living.

Images courtesy of KOLLO