Thursday, February 25, 2021

Interview: Alex Ahearn

Alex Ahearn (Photo courtesy of Alex Ahearn)

I'm so excited to bring back tea industry interviews! Today I have an interview with an amazing tea friend Alex Ahearn, who has been studying tea from an early age. His knowledge and passion for tea is infectious, as is his convivial personality.

Alex recently published his beautiful book Flowers + Tea, an amazing combination of poetry, flower photography, and tea evaluations. It's an eloquent expression of his love for tea, and I highly recommend it. He has also published two baking books that incorporate tea as well as gluten free ingredients, Please Bake It and  Please Bake It (Again). Learn all about Alex and read his tips and ideas on tea drinking, below.

One of the beautiful photos from Flowers + Tea (photo courtesy of Alex Ahearn)

Your tea journey started at a very young age. What sparked your interest to learn more about tea, and what advice can you give to young tea lovers looking to learn more about the leaf?
I feel very lucky to have discovered tea when I was very young. I had a memorable tea experience at a local Japanese restaurant with a simple cup of sencha when I was about eight years old. There was something so special about that moment. It was one of the many ‘a-ha’ moments that I've had over the years. Tea is a fascinating, multidimensional product with many areas and traditions to explore.

It's important to understand that your personal learning experience and tea journey will evolve over time. Never stop learning and keep drinking and enjoying tea, alone and with others. You can learn a lot by drinking tea by yourself as you discover your favorite teas and how you like to prepare them. Drinking and sharing tea with friends is a great way to learn and experience teas in new ways. The tea community is incredibly welcoming and there is always space for everyone.

What tea and baking projects are you dreaming about right now?
I'm always trying to incorporate tea into savory and sweet things. It's a dream of mine to create an extensive cookbook incorporating tea. Tea is a versatile ingredient that has been incorporated into dishes and sweets for centuries. The connection between tea and food has always amazed me, and I'd love to find a way to share that with others.

What inspired you to create Flowers + Tea?
Creating Flowers + Tea was an eye-opening experience. It made me sit and think about the impact that tea has on my life so far. Over the years, I've had many memorable tea experiences and read countless books about scientific tea research and preparation practices. I realized that there was not really a book that explored one’s solitary tea drinking experience. The book took over three years to passively create. At first, I took photos of flowers and tea separately, then started to pair them together. The poems were written during those three years while I tried to articulate my thoughts and experiences. The final combinations in the book incorporate the beauty of the flowers and plants, the tasting experience of each tea, and a poem to represent the overall feeling of the pairings.

You are passionate about promoting the enjoyment of tea. Tell us a little bit about the importance of enjoying tea in daily life, and how to spread the word.
Finding the tea or teas that you enjoy is one of most exciting things about drinking tea. I'm a firm believer that anyone can enjoy tea, it just takes some time to find the right one. It does not matter if the tea is expensive or rare, all that matters is that you like how it tastes, find happiness in preparing it, and want to share your excitement with others. Sharing your excitement and experiences will make others want to seek out a similar tea and try it. The repetition of enjoying tea is equally as important. Tea is a crop which changes with each year, harvest, and producer, so make sure to enjoy a tea while you can. The inherent variability of tea makes it so your enjoyment of a particular tea is always evolving alongside your tea journey.

Has the pandemic changed anything about the way you enjoy tea? 
Having the time to sit down and truly enjoy and experience the teas that I have, has been wonderful. It changed the way that I drink tea, especially since I do not have the ability to share tea with others in person. Instead of creating that enjoyment between myself and another person, I wanted to derive more enjoyment from the tea itself. When I get a new tea or drink a tea that I haven’t had in a while, I like to drink only that tea for three to five days. On the first day, I follow the provided steeping parameters. On the second day, I change the water temperature. On the third day, I adjust the steeping time. The last two days, I like to combine what I’ve learned and experiment with the tea. After those three to five days, I feel as though I have a better understanding of how I like to enjoy a particular tea and how to steep it no matter the situation.

What is one positive thing you’ve learned from staying home during this pandemic? 
I’ve realized how important it is to share the things that you love, are passionate about, and that excite you. Sharing your excitement and passion is a great distraction from everything else that is going on and can make you even more interested in a particular subject.

Once it’s safe to travel again, where do you want to go? 
I'd love to go to any tea-producing country or to visit tea producers around the United States and Europe. My list of teas to drink and places to explore has only grown over the last year. Sharing tea with others in a tea field sounds perfect right now.

Any words of advice for everyone looking to expand their love for tea during the pandemic? 
Whenever I’m looking to learn more about a particular tea or tea in general, I find that incorporating video and sensory experiences into my tea drinking habits is very helpful. For example if I want to learn more about Chinese green tea, I’ll look at photos of tea fields in China, watch videos of tea producers making tea, and explore cultural practices of the particular tea-producing areas. I think that allows you to appreciate and enjoy what you’re drinking even more. Also, continue to ask questions about the tea that you’re drinking and about the tear elated things that you’re interested in. Reach out to other tea drinkers, start conversations, and share tea together.

What is the last tea that truly inspired you, and why? 
Over the last couple of months, I’ve been inspired by white tea. I think of it like the dried flowers of the tea world; delicate, complex, and fascinating. The amount of craftsmanship needed to produce any tea, especially white tea, is astounding. I feel like you can really taste the connection between the tea field, tea leaves, and the tea producer while drinking a white tea.
Thank you so much Alex for taking the time out to answer our questions! To learn more about Alex and his approach to tea, be sure to visit his website Flowers + Tea and pick up his books!

1 comment:

  1. Alex's photos are so beautiful and often poignant. Thanks for all the interesting questions you asked him, Sara, so we could hear more about his thoughts.