Teafluencer: Jee Choe

Teafluencer: Jee Choe

Our September Teafluencer is Jee Choe, an impressive tea sommelier and creator of the Oh, How Civilized tea blog.

Jee Choe

Blogger and Certified Tea Sommelier

We’re tickled pink to introduce you to our September teafluencer. Jee Choe knows as much about tea as pretty much anyone we know, and we love the fact that she shares her love of tea with the world through her blog, which helps make even more tea fans. Did Jee even learn a little about tea from me? You’ll have to read on to find out!

Harney: Tell us a little about you. Where are you from, educational/professional background, where you live, family, etc.

Jee: I grew up in Brooklyn and have a background in publishing. I worked for People magazine and Reader’s Digest Association as a designer and creative director before moving on to be a freelancer. It was during my freelance years that I started a blog about afternoon tea. 

Harney: When did you first become interested in tea? Do you remember your first cup? If so, what kind was it?

Jee: My family is from Korea, so I had herbal teas like barley tea and corn tea from a young age. Growing up in New York, I went to my first afternoon tea in high school with friends and absolutely loved everything about it -- the bite-sized assortment of food, the formality and the tea. Afternoon tea is what really got me into tea. 

Harney: You’re a tea sommelier. What does that mean, and what does it entail to get that status? Do you work as a tea sommelier somewhere, or do you use that skill primarily in creating tea recipes for your blog?

Jee: I wanted to learn more about tea, so I found a tea sommelier certification course offered by a tea school in Canada. The whole course was done through Skype, so it was all live. It took me about two years to finish (with some time taken off in the middle), and I learned so much about tea. The final exam was a taste test where I had to properly steep and identify 12 different unlabeled loose teas. I share what I learned from the tea sommelier course on my tea blog, Oh, How Civilized. 

Harney: When did you start your blog Oh, How Civilized? We love the name! Tell us how you landed on it.

Jee: Oh, How Civilized started as an afternoon tea blog back in 2012 where I shared my experiences and recommendations. With growing interest in tea, I expanded it beyond afternoon tea to tea in general, including recipes. After every afternoon tea, I would say “Oh, how civilized” in a terrible British accent. That’s how the name for the blog came to be.

Harney: In addition to loving all things tea and providing your readers with fantastic tea recipes, you also provide them with food recipes for afternoon teas. We love that you have everything from classic cucumber tea sandwiches to fun pb&j sandwiches to elegant prosciutto rose tea sandwiches. How would you encourage folks to enjoy more afternoon teas without stressing out about them?

Jee: There are some tea etiquette “rules” and once you know them, you can relax and enjoy. I think people stress about afternoon tea when they’re unaware of the “rules” and they wonder if everything they’re doing is wrong. 

Harney: You have been quoted or featured in several publications like HuffPost, BuzzFeed, SHAPE, Mashable and more, including The New York Times who quoted you on the topic of afternoon tea. How did this become something you’re known for, and have you had afternoon tea at every possible place in New York and around the world?

Jee: As I wrote more and more afternoon tea reviews on my blog, publications and writers found me online and I would get requests for quotes or interviews.

I’ve been to almost every single afternoon tea in NYC, and a few in Paris, Florence and Seoul. I’m planning on going to London next year to tackle the afternoon teas there. I’m trying to work out how many afternoon teas I can realistically have in two weeks.

Harney: You’re also a “self-proclaimed bubble tea and iced tea master.” We can tell you love both types of tea from your site – why those two specifically? Do you also enjoy hot tea?

Jee: I drink and make iced tea and bubble tea more than any other kind of tea. I also love hot tea, but make it less, especially on warmer days.

Harney: You say that tea shouldn’t be intimidating – why do you think tea intimidates some people? How do you go about helping people get over their tea phobia, if you will?

Jee: Tea was intimidating to me beyond tea bags. To make tea properly, there are a lot of little steps in the process from warming up the teapot and cups to how long each type of tea should be steeped. 

The first step in making tea easy is to practice making and drinking tea. I think a great way to start with tea is making cold brewed tea. It sounds like it’s a lot of work, but it’s so easy.

Harney: Do you have a favorite tea recipe or three that you’d encourage tea newbies to try?

Jee: I highly recommend making cold brew tea with your favorite tea. I’ve been addicted to cold brew Taiwanese oolong tea like Harney’s Formosa Oolong. I also love iced chai lattes, which are delicious either made from scratch or with Harney’s chai tea sachets.

Harney: What’s next for you? Any big plans in the works?

Jee: I’m hoping to get to either Taiwan or Japan to visit tea farms. It’s amazing to get to see and taste the tea directly made by the tea farmers, directly from the source. 

Harney: We know for certain that you’re a tea fan! What kind of teas do you enjoy? Any tea rituals or “I must have tea now” moments in your day?

Jee: Lately, I’ve been drinking a ton of Arnold Palmers made with my cold brew tea and lemonade. It’s so refreshing on a hot day.

Harney: Do you have any favorite flavors or types of Harney & Sons tea or anything on your list you’ve been wanting to try?

Jee: I think I’ve tried almost every Harney & Sons tea over the years. I’ve been a customer for many years and even took a tea class with Emeric Harney at the Harney location in SoHo more than a decade ago!

My all-time favorite tea from Harney’s is the Earl Grey Supreme. The silver tips added to the black tea really elevates it and makes it so refined. I always make sure I have a tin of it at home.

Are you making plans for your next afternoon tea right now? If so, we hope you’ll visit Jee’s website and check out her Oh, How Civilized blog where you’ll find many recipes for teas and treats sure to make your next afternoon so civilized! You can find Jee’s work on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest too. It’s always delightful to introduce the world to another tea lover like Jee, and we thank her for her time. All photography was provided by Jee.

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