Serengeti – Specialty Tea with Massive Cultural Flavor

In England they say “Tea makes everything better.” Have a broken leg? “Have a cup of tea, love.”
Your brand new monthly metro card just fell onto the third rail? “No worries. Do you want honey or lemon?”

Tea is the great soother. A bountiful healer. The tremendous refresher. The quintessential icebreaker.

Hey, how about it is a gastronomical delight, a trip across the continent, a flavor explosion of culture, history and heritage?

Situated close to the Harlem neighborhood known to some as Little Africa, Caranda Martin opened Serengeti Teas and Spices (2292 Frederick Douglass Blvd, Harlem, New York), at the end of summer 2013, hoping that the African Tea Gastronomy “introduces the history, magic, sumptuous and exotic flavors of Africa.”

As he greets his customers warmly – answering whatever questions they may bring, he tells the Harlem Times, that perhaps the most common response he gets is that, “most people are surprised that Africa is a tea producer.”

A native of Liberia, Caranda has lived in Harlem for 20 years, and setting up shop in that community was very much by design. Interested in supporting the vibrant neighborhood in which he lives, Caranda says, “I wouldn’t have opened my first shop anywhere else.”

The reception from the indigenous community has been “fantastic,” says Caranda. The folk who walk through the door, make a purchase, or sit and sip consist of a “really balanced mix of the residential Black and non-Blacks. We get people coming in from other boroughs who just want to have fun in Harlem, and tourists.”

Here is his glorious tag line: “Serengeti Teas and Spices introduces the history, magic, sumptuous and exotic flavors of Africa. The tastes, the aromas, and the history kept in boxes, journals, and the African kitchen come to life in our signature coffees, teas, cocoas, and spices.”

Martin says that what with signature specialty blends and related products, his desire is to engage the experienced epicureans, gourmands, and the everyday tea lovers.

“A lot of the people who come in are already educated about teas, but they are interested in knowing that Africa is a tea producer, people are often surprised. Africa is the one of the largest producers of tea. Kenya is one of the largest tea producers in the world.”

Caranda offers more than a cup of char though.

He says, “We are all about promoting well-being and health. We are a holistic company. We bring the healing component, so we have teas that are anti-inflammatory, and other teas that are anti-oxidants, and other [properties].”

Tea enthusiasts who visit Serengeti Teas and Spices have Martin’s herbalist grandmother to thank for the healing, refreshing essence.

Caranda tells of his personal history on his website. His was a holistic upbringing engrained in working on the family farms, and developing an almost intuitive knowledge of plants and their healing powers (as well the flavor factor, the goodness and benefits derived from a good cup of tea).
“Muma,” his dear grandmother taught him all he knows, he shares. “I was very much a Grand-Mama’s boy. When I was seven it all started, on a walk in the farm garden. I was brought into a world of flowers and herbs and plants that could heal and awaken the body. Muma always requested I take notes, and she questioned what I had learned from our time in the farm gardens, on trips to tea estates, our farms, or walks picking herbs and spices. It was always fun to go to the farms. My Grand Papa had a very large farm and I would be in heaven for days, searching the bushes for botanicals to bring them to Muma, and when we both walked the bushes — well it simply was bliss. The wild little berries were amazing to see and taste and they made such amazing fruity teas, pies, preserves and jams. The flowers and herbs were so aromatic and full in flavors. At times I was told by Muma to simply close my eyes and taste the herbal blends we had created.”

When he got older he created tea blends and read his Grandmother’s master recipe books. “I surely was loved and educated by this fantastic nurturer of a Grandmother. We spoke of the healing properties and the importance of many different herbs, plants and spices. Today you can enjoy this magic as a gift from Muma and Africa. I am excited that you are able to enjoy the love and passion put into creating all the products at Serengeti Teas and Spices.”

He parlayed his knowledge and skills into working in the hospitality business, with many chefs, including celebrity chef Marcus Samuelson (now at Harlem’s Red Rooster).

Now, Caranda is realizing his own dream with his own fabulous business — Serengeti Teas and Spices. He is feeding two birds with one seed; giving back to his beloved Harlem, and doing business with farmers in Africa and South America.

So you will go an epicurian journey, to the villages, the farms, the precious plots of land where skillful hands call on ancient knowledge to cultivate the leaves (that once steeped will produce the most aromatic, perhaps healing, and relaxing beverage known to man or woman). Serengeti Teas and Spices is a specialty African “branded company that creates a variety of proprietary tea blends, coffees, hot chocolate and spice blends based on African recipes using the highest quality, organic and naturally harvested ingredients from the African continent.”

Continental cultural knowledge and pride is seeped into every leaf. On his website Caranda notes, “Africa has long been a tea-growing region, but no significant companies have marketed the teas from Africa as a unique product. Seventy percent of the world’s cocoa beans come from Africa, yet there are no dominant companies branding their cocoas as African. While Brazil produces more coffee beans, East African countries have long been known to have a much-steeper tradition and a higher quality product. Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee, which offers additional credibility to African coffees.

Proudly, Caranda displays his teas, coffees and hot chocolate blends.

The vast variety of teas are reasonably priced – but this is not your corner store/bodega affair – a cup might stretch you to $3.50 – iced or hot; chai tea latte-herbal/caffeinated $3.75; a “cup of rare teas” is $4.25; and the “special /custom cups” are priced at $5.50. A small pot of tea starts at $4.50. Or perhaps you want to have some loose-leaf, you connoisseur you, from as far reaching as Ghana, Cameroon, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, India, and Sri Lanka.

Coffees begin at $1.75, but the French press pot, hand spun coffee, café au lait or latte, cappuccino, espresso macchiato, and espresso with Serengeti dark chocolate and froth milk are in the $3- 3.50 range.

Peckish too? The scrumptious pasties are from Balthasar bakeries. You can chow down on croissants, chocolate, canneles, and scones with some blood orange, blueberry, basil, wild flower honey, hibiscus and orange blossom honey preserves. Maybe though, you want to treat your taste buds to some made-to-order Serengeti slow-cooked preserves? Vegetarians and vegans are catered to also (but carnivores can choose to wrap their chops around the smoked lentils and braised meats).

You can come by yourself, with friends, or have Caranda host you and yours for sit-down breakfast, brunch, lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner specialties.

Forget wine tasting, how’s about tea tasting?

Booked in advance, Serengeti will give you a choice of six to ten teas from their collection of up to 400 flavors and types.  They cater to office meetings and private tea events too (Caranda is determined to cover all angles).

But Caranda says that his will not be a mega, mutli-floor establishment spreading three or four stores across Frederick Douglass Boulevard. “I am about boutiques,” he assured. “So I am interested in opening boutiques, not big stores, because we are a company that wants to always have a close connection to the people. We want to keep things intimate and compassionate. So I may open other stores in Harlem. We are about health and wellness, and we will go where we are needed.”

For more information call (212) 866 – 7100.