Tea Nation: Why Everyone’s Talking About Tea

photo via kettltea.com

Based in Brooklyn and Fukuoka, Japan, Kettl Tea tea can be found in some of the best restaurants in New York; from Per Se to Jean-George to Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare, the tea company is renowned for sourcing award-winning teas from farmers and producers in Japan. Co-founder of Kettle Tea—and Brooklyn resident—Zach Mangan’s serious passion for tea took him from hobbyist to tea-importer over the last five years, and he has spent extensive time in Japan, even coming in third place this year at the 9th Annual “All Japan Contest for Brewing Delicious Gyokuro.” For Zach, his passion for tea is far more than just a hobby—it’s a lifestyle. I spoke with Zach about the growing rise of tea enthusiasts, his recent trip to Japan, and how to best enjoy tea.

With its many health benefits, caffeine-driven New Yorkers have been jumping on the matcha tea bandwagon. What nutritional benefits does tea really have?
We shy away from touting specific health benefits, but there is mountains of literature outlining the specific effects of tea on the body. The most promising is a catechin called Indole-3-Carbinol which has shown a high likelihood of lowering inflammation in the body. The literature is out there and worth checking out. But for us, the simple act of preparing and drinking a cup or bowl of tea has a wonderful effect on the mind and body.

How has the market for tea changed over the past few years in Brooklyn?
Tea, like wine, spirits and coffee has a story —the origins, the farmers, the styles; it’s a road you can travel forever. The variety of teas available and depth of the unique cultures surrounding each one is piquing the interest of people who may have ignored tea just a year ago. I think as more information about good tea surfaces, the same people who love amaros and single origin coffees are finding the journey into tea exciting, worthwhile and inspiring.

What makes Kettl Tea special?
We are specialists. From the start I wanted to focus on what I love the most—Japanese tea, tea culture, and design. We only work with Japanese tea. Kettl is based in both NYC and Japan (my partners are Japanese citizens) so we are uniquely positioned in that we have direct access to not only our producers and farmers, but to the true culture of Japan. I didn’t want this to be a “tourist” version of a tea company—taking a trip once a year to meet farmers, ordering from a wholesaler, and then just selling the tea in the US. My life, my friends, and my business is based in Japan so I feel we can bring an authentic picture of Japan’s unique and fascinating tea culture and aesthetic to the West. We’ve also built a network which allows us to source teas of the highest qualities. This year we secured Japan’s gold prize winning sencha and gyokuro of which only four kilograms total were made. We wouldn’t be able to do that if we weren’t specialists.

Tea is usually associated with a way to warm up during formidably cold winters. What teas are good served cold?
We love cold brewing our teas. Sencha, a green tea that is harvested in the spring, is wonderful iced. We put about 10-15 grams and a 1.5 liters of cold water in a pitcher in the fridge and let it cold brew over night. Cold brewing mellows the experience but still has a depth and sweetness that is perfect in the heat. Kouridashi, or ice brewing, is also wonderful. Brewing tea with melting ice for a long period of time concentrates the flavors of teas like gyokuro—it is amazing. Lastly, cold brewing matcha is really refreshing in the summer. Three grams of matcha, ice, water: combine in a thermos, shake vigorously and strain into a glass over a large ice cube.

What tea will you be drinking this spring?
Right now we are focused on shincha, the first spring picked green teas which are being harvested from mid-April to mid-May throughout Japan. These teas are the Beaujolais Nouveau of green tea—light, fresh, and completely seasonal. Shincha is only available until mid June—perfectly capturing the fleeting nature of spring. It is also a glimpse into what this years later teas will taste like. 2015 is a great year.

You’ve spent a considerable amount of time in Japan this spring- can you talk a bit about what you have been working on in Fukuoka?
I’ve been in Japan for the past three months working with my partners on various projects. We’ve been sourcing new teas, meeting with tea producers and artisans and designing a new line of teaware. It is important for me to be here and spend real time with my partners and network of farmers. Business is important but so is eating together, talking face to face, and meeting with their families. It’s hard to build real relationships if you only visit for one or two weeks a year.

You received 3rd place in the 9th annual Gyokuro brewing contest. What are some tips for brewing for those of us less versed in tea culture ?
The key to brewing, and the irony of the contest is that great tasting tea is highly personal. It takes time to learn and can be tricky at first but the insights you gain are fascinating and ultimately you may find you enjoy your tea made one specific way versus another. Day to day, the same tea can express itself completely differently. There is a beautiful mystery in that and it is one of the things I cherish most about tea. That being said, you can learn parameters for teas that will produce consistent results. Good water is most important—more important than the leaf. Low quality tea with great water tastes superior to great tea with poor water. Of course, great tea and great water is sublime. In short, learning to brew tea is a lifelong pursuit. You can get started by checking out more info on brewing on our site.

What are looking forward to doing when you return home to Brooklyn?
A slice from Joe’s! I am eager to get back to NYC and enjoy the spring, see friends, and enjoy the city. We are working on some really interesting projects around tea and design and I am excited to share them with the world very soon. I also miss my cats.

Where can Kettl Tea be purchased?
Right now the best place is our website, but we have a select offering available in Manhattan at Steven Alan Chelsea, Steven Alan Home Store, Tokyo Bike New York, and Burrow Bakery in Brooklyn. We are on the menu of many restaurants throughout the city which you can also find on our site.

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