C California Style

Gina Zupsich and Aaron Shinn in their Arts District loft. PHOTO: Jay Keitel.
Painted Desert black tea. PHOTO: Aaron Shinn.
The all-encompassing Completist Kit, $289. PHOTO: Aaron Shinn.

In the Water

by C California Style

Gina Zupsich and Aaron Shinn take a contemporary approach to the age-old art of drinking tea.

“We really wanted to create a beautiful experience with tea—like the one people are having with craft cocktails and coffee,” says Gina Zupsich, co-founder with husband Aaron Shinn of August Uncommon Tea. Spurred by their adventures to Japan and France, where drinking tea is akin to a fine art, the Downtown L.A.-based couple has channeled their passion for food and design—as well as their knack for seeking out the extraordinary—into a modern-day epicurean tea brand.

With the help of a German-based company with a 150-year history sourcing leaves and other gourmet ingredients from around the world, Shinn and Zupsich craft five unique whole-leaf teas each season that fall into categories like Rare and Pure (single-origin varieties influenced by their terroir), Designer Green (green tea blends that draw attention to their aromatic sweetness) and Raw Power (black teas with bold, stimulating properties).

“Tea has yet to have a wave [in America], so we realized we have this opportunity to bring in the culinary perspective,” says Zupsich, a former French professor who has documented her global exploration of scents and flavors in her blog, Olfactive, since 2009. “People haven’t been exposed to it before. In this country it’s lying fallow.”

Flavors are as unexpected as their names: Civil Disobedience, a black tea punctuated with notes of cardamom and tobacco, evokes the scents of pine needles and fire logs, while Staring at the Sea’s Japanese green tea and barley combo draws comparison to the comforting fragrances of warm bread and macadamia nuts. But just as important as the flavor profile is the way the leaves are brewed: In its sleek packaging (designed by Shinn), August Uncommon Tea outlines the best way to prepare blends, from water recommendations (bottled spring water) down to measurements and brewing methods (1-cup infusers are best). Currently served at L.A. locales such as chef Ari Taymor’s Alma and Downtown’s new The Springs complex, the blends (and brewing kits) are for sale both online and at local lifestyle boutique Hammer and Spear.

“There was a time where people used to identify cocktails with grandma and grandpa,” says Shinn, who, like his wife, believes their brand is at the forefront of a national tea renaissance. “We realized we are kind of early for reinventing tea. Undoubtedly in five or 10 years there will be a lot of young competitors of our generation who are trying to do something fresher.” august.la.