Despite its justified reputation for having the best coffee in the world, Israel is better known for its ubiquitous te nana — nothing more than hot water and spearmint leaves –guzzled down by everyone from toddlers to their great-grandparents.

And yet, more and more people in Israel are warming up to the idea of premium tea blends comprised of high-end leaves and unique herbs from around the world.

This local storm in a teacup can be largely attributed to a small company called Ceremonie Tea, whose gorgeous teabags grace the tables of the country’s best hotels and restaurants – and more recently, homes.

“People discovered that there’s a whole world and a fascinating array of flavors, similar to the world of wine, where there’s always new styles that you can try,” explains Elli Schorr, chairman of Ceremonie Tea.

Schorr and his wife, Efrat, emigrated from the United States to Israel in 2005 and had no background in tea prior to their work at Ceremonie – he is a lawyer and she a medical researcher.

“We were both looking for new opportunities and challenges,” he recounts. “We had a certain idea for a coffee business and as we met with people we realized that the coffee industry in Israel is very, very crowded. In the meantime, we came across this tea company that we really loved.”

Elli and Efrat Schorr came to the tea business in Israel quite by chance after first looking into coffee.Photo courtesy of Ceremonie Tea

This tea company was Ceremonie, located in Migdal HaEmek in northern Israel. At first the Schorrs partnered with them, but for the past eight years have been the sole owners of the small factory where their employees work alongside adults with disabilities from a nearby community.

Healthy and gourmet

“We knew it was a great product and that it was a really interesting opportunity to grow in Israel,” Schorr says.

“People had found that tea was healthy, that it was gourmet. And the way people upgraded their coffee habits – we thought they’d do the same with tea.”

And the same they did. Ceremonie boasts a wide array of green teas, herbal infusions and black teas (including lavender Earl Grey, my personal favorite) that now happily co-reside on the shelf with more classic Israeli versions.

Ceremonie Tea chairman Elli Schorr hard at work. Photo courtesy of Ceremonie Tea

“Green tea has become more and more popular. It’s a little bit of an acquired taste,” Schorr notes.“In Israel, we find that people are still not as interested in the smokier, sharper green tea flavors, so we do mostly mild green tea with a Japanese-style steamed finish.”

Israelis love lemongrass and spearmint, he notes.“In North America or Germany or England, peppermint is more popular with a sharper, less sweet flavor.”

When it comes to herbal tea, Israelis prefer lemongrass and spearmint. Photo courtesy of Ceremonie Tea

Peppermint is also a main flavor in Ceremonie’s business in the US and Canada, which centers around gift products for the Christmas season. Rooibos, meanwhile, was requested of the company by South African customers, and now appears alongside its other flavors.

“There really are so many localized preferences and we try to accommodate everybody,” says Schorr.

Disrupted by corona

Still, the majority of the company’s clients are in Israel, and prior to the coronavirus crisis comprised mainly larger institutions.

“The pandemic really disrupted everything we were doing,” Schorr says. “The majority of our business had been in businesses and hotels and offices and all sorts of customers that were shut down, so we had to redirect our sales. We had to re-engineer things to be more available on the retail market and gift shops.”

Ceremonie met with stores and distributors, finding out what products their customers will want in the fall because tea in Israel is a seasonal thing.

“It’s not like England,” Schorr jokes.“I would say that right now I’m really enjoying English Breakfast tea. “In winter it’s typically a hot cup of green tea, but now it’s an iced English Breakfast. I make a strong tea and add a lot of ice.”

The company is also piloting new flavors such as Darjeeling tea and organic green teas and is waiting to get feedback from customers.

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