Editor's Pick

The Search Party


A tea master, a biologist, and the quest for Philippine Tea.

Photography by
Jilson Tiu
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Location TagS

For Renee Sebastian, the way of tea is her way of life. She’s been on the path of tea for decades, and her path has led her on a mission to cultivate tea culture in the Philippines. Even as the country’s first certified tea master, it’s a tough job in a place where having that title might not mean very much to people.

Our relationship with tea here is frail, to say the least. Our days are fueled by the obvious: coffee. Coffee for breakfast, after lunch, for merienda, for dessert, even coffee after work. And tea? In the Philippines, more often than not, tea is an afterthought, something brought out from the depths of dusty cupboards to cure an illness, relieve a sore throat, fight a cold.

It’s a drink to be swallowed quickly—before you can taste it—not something to be enjoyed or delightfully slurped. Traditional tea is not a favorite of modern life, though it has been brewing here for ages.

A mysterious and foggy view of Benguet

For most of modern history, our experience of tea has been peripheral. Picked off of grocery shelves, tea time meant dunking a bag of Lipton-brand tea in hot water, concealing most of the beauty and long process that goes into making tea. Perhaps an analogy to specialty coffee’s recent progress may clarify; consuming tea through tea bag fannings is like drinking instant coffee, while the careful preparation of tea using whole leaves—with the correct water temperature and steep time and brew method—is similar to the experience of the slower, manual pour-over method of brewing single-origin coffee. The latter results in a more complex and flavorful cup, brimming with various taste notes lost in the instant version.

Camellia Sinensis
Tere Domine looking at what could be Philippine tea leaves
For most of modern history, our tea time meant dunking a bag of Lipton-brand tea in hot water, concealing most of the beauty and long process that goes into making tea

Urban specialty coffee shops have crossed into near-mainstream status and that just might be the go signal for local tea. Our culture has made room for slowing down, for appreciating a more nuanced beverage—a progression observed in local beer (craft beer/microbreweries), chocolate (single origin cacao), and liquor (craft spirits/cocktails). Is it finally time for tea?


Read the full story in GRID Volume 08.

GRID Volume 08 is made possible by Toyota Philippines. Visit toyota.com.ph to learn more.

Rene Sebastian and Tere Domine walking down a path to discovery