interview with courtney wagner of 99kettles [tea blog and review]

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

99kettles is my documentation of my self-education of tea. Tea is a great passion of mine, but a relatively new one, so I am learning all the time. I like to share my experiences with my readers.

When I try a new tea, I get excited and writing about it and starting conversations with fellow tea lovers via social media is fun. I started the blog last winter when I was living in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and my obsession with tea really took off.

My goal is just to continue writing, and pursue a writing career specializing in food and beverage topics and recipe development. I am currently working on a cookbook, and my day job is in the restaurant industry as a manager of a fine dining restaurant, so I am pretty busy and don’t get to blog as much as I want to these days. I am planning a big comeback though!

Tell me where in the world you are, how did you get there (what’s the story behind the journey) and where are you thinking of going next?

I live in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, about an hour south of Toronto. I recently moved here from Edmonton, Alberta where I lived for several years. But I was born and raised in Prince Edward Island, a beautifully scenic, quiet island on the east coast of Canada. I enjoy moving around, and also have great ambitions to travel extensively throughout Europe and Asia.

What does traveling mean to you?

It means adventure, getting outside of one’s comfort zone, learning about other cultures and, for me, eating amazing local food and drinking fabulous wine, tea and other beverages one wouldn’t commonly find at home.

What does tea mean to you?

I have a difficult time relaxing, and drinking tea allows me to sit back and be thoughtful, lose myself in the ritual, savor the unique and amazing flavors and aromas of every cup. It’s not a beverage that one should rush, tea takes time. It sort of forces me to just be for a moment. That is, unless I am reviewing and writing about a certain tea, then it requires a little more work.

What’s your philosophy when it comes to blogging on the road?

Focus. Which is something I tend to have a difficult time doing. I am very distract-able.

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

My sister had been really into tea for a while before I got into it and when I was back home on vacation, she pulled out her tea stash and we steeped about six or seven teas. All different styles and varieties. Black, green, oolong, chai… It was enlightening. Before that, specialty tea to me was drinking Celestial Seasonings instead of Lipton. I had never tried loose leaf. It really was a revelation.

I am a huge wine fan and am studying to become a sommelier, and I just saw all sorts of comparisons between tea and wine. My experiences with tea and wine so much complement each other now. It was one night that changed my palate forever and gave me a new passion.

What do you drink/steep at home?

I really, really love Oolongs. I am really getting into Darjeelings. I love the brothy, chicken-soup essence of Genmaicha. I love green teas, black teas, Earl Grey, you name it. I have over 100 different teas right now, so I steep quite a variety on a regular basis.

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

ti guan yin tea

Instead of a certain type of tea, I would like to introduce everyone who drinks tea in a bag to good quality loose leaf tea. The taste and the experience is so much better.

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

  • Gongfu Girl is a great site with tons of information about tea, tea culture and news related to tea. I love it.
  • The Half Dipper is incredibly detailed with beautiful pictures and insanely detailed. Amazing.
  • Mellow Monk’s Green Tea Blog Mellow Monk is one of my favorite tea companies, there is info about the harvests and new Mellow Monk teas, but there is also a plethora of other tea-related posts.

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

I really like the Canadian chain DAVIDsTEA for basic tea shopping and cute accessories, but they don’t offer a full-service tea house experience and there’s not a huge selection of pure teas (lots of flavored and herbal).

Where I live now there is a chain called Teaopia which has great tea-to-go and a good loose leaf selection. They have a lot of good teaware too, like yixing teapots which are a little harder to find in mainstream stores. But random shops in Chinatown often have incredible (and cheap) finds! I once found a great gaiwan for 99 cents! And a gigantic bag of decent quality genmaicha for about $5.

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You can find Courtney at 99kettles, on Twitter as @99kettles and on Flickr.

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