Fairbanks, AK - Long distance mushers who drive sled dogs in the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race don’t get a whole lot of sleep. But Race Director Marti Steury says the race has found a few sponsors who are willing to help keep them awake.
“Rumor has it that we are the best coffee and tea race in all of the mushing circuit which I wasn’t really aware that that was something to strive for,” laughed Steury.
Two Fairbanks-based businesses provide caffeinated drinks along the trail. KUAC’s Emily Schwing stopped into what could potentially be the farthest north teahouse to have a taste of what’s been deemed the “Thousand-Mile Tea.”
Inside Sipping Streams Tea Company the walls are painted minty green. Shelves are lined with tall canisters and large glass jars all filled with green, black and yellow leaves. Fish swim around in a large tank as owner Jenny Tse serves up a hot pot of tea.
“Well, how about you taste it and tell me what you think,” she said. “There’s no right or wrong way to describe it.”
This isn’t just any kind of tea. It’s the Thousand-Mile tea, created specifically for the Yukon Quest.
Tse is a certified tea specialist. She developed this blend from four black and white teas. Three come from China and one is from India. She showed me a small bag filled with the dried mixture.
“These little things that look like spruce tips, but fuzzy, if it’s fuzzy, it‘s really smooth,” she described. “It’s called downiness and so it makes it taste sweet and smooth feeling and then the black teas have these golden tips in it.”
She said that golden color means the black tea still has a little sweetness. There’s also a round, bright green leaf. That’s a white tea and Tse said it gives this blend its strength and body. “So, you don’t want to move too much into light tasting because psychologically, people think stronger, the more caffeine the more robust it is.”
She said that’s exactly what the Yukon Quest race organizations was looking for when they asked her to develop a blend for long-distance mushers and their handlers. She tried 12 different versions of the blend before she finally settled on the one in front of us.
“My assistant manager at the time, her only got two hours of sleep that night. He was my guinea pig,” she laughed.
Tse also has a background in sports medicine. An athlete herself, she knew she needed to develop something that could give sleep-deprived mushers a jolt, without scaring their taste buds or shocking their systems.
“So this is like the natural alternative to five hour energy or red bull or something like that? Yeah and there’s no sugar in it,” she said.
We take another sip of our caramel-colored tea.
“So some people don’t realize that good quality tea has more caffeine in it than coffee, dry form to dry form,” explained Tse. “But in tea, you infuse it multiple times, so it’s slowly coming out.”
Tse hasn’t always been a tea drinker. “My last year of college I drank a quad venti soy inverted caramel macchiato every day at 140 degrees, it cost me $5.28 with the sales tax, so I was thinking, ‘what’s the cheapest thing on the menu?’ Tea!” she exclaimed.
Once she started drinking tea, she also started reading about it and that got her talking with her Chinese parents. “I got more into tea because of the scientific part and the more I shared about that with my family, the more I got into the cultural history connection came into my life because my parents could tell more about their childhood and how tea was all around them when they grew up,” she said. “So, it affected my life and my family’s life in a way that it was transforming and I wanted that for other people too.”
This little shop is filled with various blends. So whether it’s a tea that will keep you awake for a two week long sled dog race, or one that will calm your nerves once the race is over, it’s likely Jenny Tse has something to help.