interview with chris giddings: tea reviewer and the tea-guy

the travel + tea interviews series: bloggers, writers and photographers sharing about their experiences with tea, travel and writing.

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Tell me about your website, how did you get to the point you’re at now and what are you thinking of doing next?

I’ll tell you, I really just started the Tea-Guy blog to see if tea was a viable business pursuit, really whether or not I could draw a big enough audience. The blog itself is the culmination of some trial, error and hope.

My next step really is to re-design the way the site looks. I’d really like the site to offer a much better user experience. It should feel less like a blog, and more like a site people could go to in order to learn and explore. I’ve been working on this for a long time, and hope to have something soon.

When it comes to reviewing teas what’s your strategy, what have you learned about your own tea tastes that’s surprised you as you’ve gone along this tasting journey?

tea guyThanks for asking! I’ve made a point of trying to offer a more impartial review process by holding multiple tastings. To weed out as many external factors as possible, I separate each tasting by at least a week. You’d be surprised how things such as mood or health can impact the review process.

While the process I’ve devised can sometimes make drinking tea a little less fun, I think the benefits of the process outweigh any detriments. Besides, I always enjoy a good cup anytime of the day wherever I’m at!

I think what’s most surprising to me regarding all of this is how humble everyone in the industry is. From James Norwood Pratt to Michael Harney and Richard and Lily from PeLi teas and the folks at the bigger brands like Ilya from Adagio… everyone is very down to Earth. I never would have expected the owners and founders of these larger companies to be so amenable and open to everyone.

Tell me where in the world you are, what do you love about the place you live? (and/or where would you like to go next?)

I’m located in Cincinnati, OH, and you should come. Everyone should. This city is small enough to hold the charm of an “everyone knows you” feel while having the amenities you would expect from larger cities.

What I really love about Cincinnati though is its rich history and the amazing diversity of people, cultures and walks of life.

tea guy

What does tea mean to you?

Wow. That’s a deep question. Each tea has its own story and history. They all have their own taste of the culture they come from. That depth of character. That taste of the determination to create something new people love and can relax with is why I love tea.

While tea is certainly a great drink, I think I see tea as the only way to imbibe a culture.

What is your favorite tea related memory or location, and why is it special to you?

These just keep getting harder! My favorite tea related memory… or location. I don’t think I can narrow down to one specific memory. Especially with all the wonderful people I have been meeting the past couple years running my blog. But I can get a category of memories maybe.

I’ve been drinking tea since I was a kid. Until maybe five years ago it was mostly bagged stuff from Celestial Seasonings, Ujinotsuyu and Yama Moto Yama. A friend and coworker introduced me to loose tea, she showed me some Harney stuff at a local tea and gift shop and I fell in love from there.

But regardless of where I’ve been or what I’m drinking or who I’m with, when I think of the ultimate tea experiences, they’re almost always enjoying a cup something with a friend. Maybe on a porch having some laughs making jokes, or enjoying a thunderstorm and waxing philosophical or maybe warming up from a romp in the snow. Tea seems to make people relax and contemplate things and I love the conversations that come up.

So while I can’t say any one memory takes the cake, the category of I’m sitting one on one with a friend drinking some tea and we’re bearing our souls or discussing something with passion seem to stand out the most.

What do you drink/steep at home?

My semi-profession as a tea-blogger makes this a little difficult to answer. I really drink everything. From Japanese greens and Chinese blacks to Rooibos, Hawaiian Oolong and Kenyan blacks and herbals from every corner of the globe. But I think your question is more curious about what perhaps I tend to fall back on when I’m not trying to pay attention to every sip. Without a doubt my fallback is a nice roasty Genmaicha. There’s nothing like it and I find it instantly relaxing.

If there was one tea you could introduce to everyone in the world, what would it be?

Another tough one. This is the most difficult I think. I’ve always thought that people end up liking a tea for their own reasons. Some like the creamy feel of a milky oolong, others prefer the roasted taste of a calming Tie Guan Yin. We all have our reasons for liking what we do, so I’ve always tried to stress that to people. Just because I like something doesn’t mean you will.

But if there’s one tea in the world I think everyone should try at least once it has to be Matcha. It’s the most unique tea. There’s nothing else like it. I don’t consider it an everyday tea. I have maybe a couple cups a month of Matcha. But it’s something to revel in. How did the Chinese come up with the idea to grind the leaves up into a powder before drinking it? What made the Japanese decide not to move out of the ‘fad’ the Chinese taught them?  Matcha is one of the really intriguing anomalies in the tea world to me.

Can you tell me three of your favorite tea or travel blogs?

Other than yours and my own of course? 😉

I really try to pay attention to TeaEscapade.com Nikki doesn’t update as frequently as some of the rest of us, but she always has some beautiful poetry to share and tends to have some great insights when she does her tastings.

Also the Kopius Teas blog is a great resource. Ronald and Emilie are always happy to answer questions and they have a wonderful tea radio show they host I hope to be blessed enough to appear on someday.

Tea Reflections is also wonderful. Jenn runs a great site.

Can you tell me your favorite tea shop (and what made it totally wonderful)?

Being the way I am this is a tough question. Every place has its own aura and experiences associated with it. I really enjoyed dropping in to SubtleTea in NYC back in June, Tea Station in Las Vegas was a great late night experience, as was my stop into The Tea Garden in Minneapolis a couple weeks back.

subtle tea in new york city

Each and every place I go seems to have its own unique ambiance. ZenCha in Columbus had a life Jazz singer that Saturday morning back in July. Essencha here in Cincinnati has wonderful food and some of the more knowledgeable staff of any shops I’ve been to.

I tend to lean toward the more contemporary places and away from the more high tea formal British style places. Tea is something to be enjoyed by everyone, however they feel fit to enjoy it. For me, that tends to be with or around people without pressure or assumption. Some may prefer the more structured and ‘traditional’ formal settings.

I still have so many places to go and so many places to enjoy tea and so many experiences yet to have I don’t know how I could pick just one place and say it’s the MVP on my list. I hope to check out lots more places over the next few years. Maybe by then I’ll be more discerning, but as of now, everyplace I’ve been seems to have something special about it.

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Chris can be found at his site, The Tea Guy and on Twitter as @chrisagiddings. He also has a great gallery of tea photos on Flickr

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  1. […] a way to take a moment, and a way to learn about history, culture, taste. I interviewed Chris Giddings about tea and he said it was a way to “imbibe a culture” which I think is a fabulous […]



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