Guest Post: Discovering Tea

Photo: Tea Setter

Today I am featuring a guest post contributed by +Matt Kitchen of Tea SetterYou might remember him from my podcast interview. His enthusiasm for tea is contagious. I love hearing about how others discover tea. Each story is different yet love of the leaf is always a common thread. 

I discovered loose leaf tea about 8-10 years ago when I was looking
for a coffee alternative. I always wanted to like coffee, but I found
myself liking the sugar, cream, and other additives I put into coffee,
not really the coffee. Thus, I went searching into the tea world. I
drank various green, white and black teas for the next 3-5 years. I
could never get into flavored or tea blends as I once again felt like
they were trying to mask or improve upon something – I didn’t want
additives, just pure tea leaves.

I liked what I was drinking, but was never blown away by it.
Everything was whole leaf and brewed in a brew basket inside the cup.
The white tea and green teas were good tasting, but I could never get
over the vegetal flavors that kept them from being great or amazing. I
love spinach, but drinking green vegetable flavor notes are not going
to keep me thinking about that tea after I finish it.

So I was content with drinking tea, far from an evangelist, but at
least I can enjoy a warm drink without adding anything to it and be
satisfied with the flavor.

Everything changed when I went on vacation with my wife and visited an
actual tea lounge. I was introduced to chinese-style, multiple
infusion steeping and the world of Oolong and Pu’erh tea. I did not
know tea could taste like this. Nothing added, just the exotic
locations that these tea plants grew along with the way they were
processed yielded flavors you swear were sprayed on.

I purchased my first gaiwan (lidded cup) and learned how easy it can
be to brew in the traditional Chinese-style. Using the gaiwan to brew
5-10 short infusions of tea and taste the changes in flavor and smell
the variances in aroma introduced me to tea for seemingly the first
time again. Then, with my Gaiwan in hand, I made it my mission to
explore this new range of teas.

First came Pu’erh. Pu’erh tea (the cooked style) can be thought of as
a fermented black tea that mellows with age. The robustness of aged
Pu’erh tea has so many dimensions in the deep earthy flavor and can
often come with a subtle, backend sweetness. As multiple infusions
mellow the tea these amazing notes of sugar cane come through and I
swear somebody added sugar to the amber liquid. But no, it really is
just that good. There are so many Pu’erhs and not all of them will
have this amazing backend, but after experiencing it I can only search
out teas that have different variances of it which all 3 that I
currently sell have. From the deep and dark to the light and subtle. A
good pu’erh can be bold enough to wake you up, but will soften up to
bring relaxation.

Next were the Oolongs. There are so many different Oolong teas, but
the notes of lilac and an aroma that seemingly can make all bad things
disappear is why I keep coming back to the Iron Goddess Oolong
(tieguanyin). Breathing in the aroma and tasting the floral nature of
the tea is beyond what I had ever experienced in tea before. I could
not believe it existed, I still have days I doubt it. These small
rolled up balls of tea leaves unfurl and become large and full and you
suddenly understand where that big flavor comes from. To brew a high
quality Iron Goddess in short Chinese-Style infusions is to truly
experience tea on another level. It changed the way I thought about
tea forever.

I also drink an Oriental Beauty Oolong that has hints of grilled
peaches. This tea makes me want to pick up a science book to fully
explore how growing conditions, combining different parts of the leaf,
and oxidation amounts (this stuff gets super technical) can impart
such flavor. No peaches were used in the making of this tea, but the
flavor is rich without being overwhelming. This is not a flavor
blended tea nor where there natural or artificial flavors sprayed on.
It is mind blowing to try to understand where that flavor comes from.
But that is why I buy Chinese tea, they have have been perfecting
these teas for thousands of years. Think about that for a while.

And so here I am, still befuddled that so many others do not know
about these kinds of tea, how amazing they are, and how enjoyable they
are to brew in a unique way. I have now made it my part-time job to
show other people the beauty of tea this way. To be clear, I do not
always have time to sit down and brew tea in this chinese-style. But
you better believe when I do, the day is better.

For example, on weekend mornings I love to start early with multiple
short infusions of Pu’erh to replace the traditional coffee. Robust
enough to wake me up, but not bitter enough that it needs anything
added. When I get home and the day was stressful I brew some Iron
Goddess, breathe in the aroma and drift away for a couple of minutes.
Or maybe after a heavy meal I will chinese-style brew some Pu-erh and
sip to usher in the relaxation of the evening. Either way, to taste
and smell the changes of a tea brewed over 5-10 short infusions is to
experience the tea.

You owe it to yourself to experience some tea like never before. If
you need some help, well that’s why I started TeaSetter.com. Take
Care.

+Matt Kitchen
Founder of Tea Setter, LLC

Matt Kitchen founded Tea Setter to make the Chinese-Style brewing of
Pu’erh and Oolong teas approachable for everyone. He knows that when
you enjoy tea like this you are no longer drinking tea – you are
experiencing tea. He resides in Northeast Ohio with is wife and two
kids (who love to play tea with daddy).