Tea Writer and Educator
What happens when one total #teageek sits down to interview another total #teageek? Let’s just say that the enthusiasm is steep! We were thrilled to have Nicole Wilson agree to be our May teafluencer. Nicole speaks our language, from throwing around phrases like “For Japanese green teas, I’ll use a Tokoname kyusu, while Chinese oolongs and puerh might go in a Yixing clay teapot” to loving puerh teas to thinking John Harney’s jokes are funny! Meet Nicole, and see why she also believes that tea makes the rockin’ world go ‘round!
Harney: Tell us a little about you. Where are you from, educational background, where you live, family, etc?
Nicole: I was born and raised in Bayonne, NJ and still live there with my husband. It’s a small and quiet city, but I love how accessible New York City is from here. Before discovering my passion for tea, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do for a career. That led me to major in everything from equine studies to business. It definitely would have saved a lot of tuition if I had figured that out sooner!
Harney: Given what you do for a living -- award-winning tea blogger -- we could obviously sit around and talk tea all day! But since our readers don’t have all day to read this blog, we’ll try to keep it on the reasonable side, no matter how hard. We’ll start with where did your love of tea come from?
Nicole: My love of tea started from an early age. I enjoyed milky sweet cups of black tea with my mom almost every night. That ritual has stayed with me to this day, though the type of teas I enjoy has broadened quite a bit since then.
Harney: We know you started writing about tea when you got to college. How did that start?
Nicole: I started exploring the different teas at the grocery store to help get me through early morning classes. Around that time, I stumbled upon a website called Teaviews that was looking for staff tea reviewers. I signed up and received samples of teas from all over the world. It was an early education that helped me to learn a lot about tea very quickly.
Harney: When did you decide to start blogging about tea? And why?
Nicole: I initially started my blog to back up the reviews that I was writing for Teaviews. It also became a bit of a diary as I logged tea purchases that I made and things that I was learning. I was shocked to learn that people were reading it initially.
Harney: You’re a member of the Tea Bloggers Roundtable, and you talk about how much you love your tea blogging community. How many bloggers like you are out there who just write about tea? How do you learn from and support each other?
Nicole: My fellow tea bloggers are some of my best friends. It’s hard to say exactly how many tea bloggers there are. The Tea Bloggers Roundtable has almost 50 registered members, but I personally read and follow hundreds of blogs worldwide. We stay in touch primarily through social media, but we try to get together in person whenever we can. It’s a huge help to have a support system of people to ask for advice or bounce ideas off of. I also have a feature on my blog called the Friday Roundup. Every week I spotlight some of my favorite posts from other tea bloggers.
Harney: In 2018, the World Tea Award named your blog, Tea for Me Please, the Best Tea Blog. First, congratulations! Second, did you ever think you’d be doing this for these many years? What has kept you going, and what do you love most about what you do?
Nicole: Thank you! I definitely would never have thought I would still be doing this for so many years. Tea is a neverending rabbit hole for me. There’s always something new to learn or a unique tea that I haven’t tried before. That is a major source of motivation for me. My favorite thing about what I do is helping other people learn about tea in a fun and approachable way.
Harney: In addition to being a tea writer, you are also an educator. You shared that you taught a workshop at the 2019 Chicago Tea Festival. You’ve also shared online that you’ve been taking a tea teacher training course. How does this education focus extend past your blogs?
Nicole: I love being able to share my passion for tea with others in any way that I can. It’s one thing to read a blog post, but some things have to be experienced in person. Once in-person events are back, I would like to teach more classes at tea festivals and other events. I’m also hoping to offer online tea classes in the future.
Quick side note: back when in-person events did take place, it was my privilege to meet John Harney at the New York Coffee and Tea Festival in 2013. I always looked forward to visiting the Harney & Sons booth every year, because you could always count on John for a joke or funny story!
Harney: Let’s move on to teaware. We’ve gotten just a glimpse of your teacups and saucers, your different types of ceremonial tea ware, teapots, etc. Tell us about sets that are special to you, and if you have favorites for certain types of teas.
Nicole: I’m a bit of a teaware obsessive. It’s always good to have options! For Japanese green teas, I’ll use a Tokoname kyusu, while Chinese oolongs and puerh might go in a Yixing clay teapot. Most of my brewing vessels are on the smaller side since I’m usually the only one drinking. I do have a few larger teapots for when friends and family are visiting. For general brewing, a porcelain gaiwan is my go-to since they’re neutral and versatile.
Harney: You’re also a big fan and collector of tea pets, which we love (we did our first TikTok featuring our team of Pee Pee Boys!). Introduce us to some of your tea pets (Ribbit is adorable!) and why you love them.
Nicole: I have a whole menagerie of tea pets. They’re such a fun addition to tea time, and I love seeing the color of the clay change over time. Ribbit has a special place in my heart because he was my first one. The newest addition was named Bubble Butt by my Instagram followers. It’s very fitting since he blows bubbles from his bottom when you pour tea on him. [Harney side note: sounds like the Pee Pee Boys and Bubble Butt simply MUST meet, or at least form a band!]
Harney: If you don’t answer any other questions, you must answer this: where did the idea for Husband Tea Torture come from? Share with our readers what it is, and then why in the world your husband agrees to it?
Nicole: It was my husband’s idea! He isn’t a tea drinker, but he is super supportive and encouraging of my work. I was throwing around ideas to start my YouTube channel back up, and he suggested making videos together. It took us a few years to make it happen, but being stuck at home last year gave us all of the time that we needed. We always do one tea that I think he’ll like so that it isn’t all torture. We’ve also tasted fun things like tea-infused beer and green tea Kit Kats.
Harney: So, lightning round answers on how you feel about these teas, some of which folks who steadfastly stick with their Earl Grey or English Breakfast or even our Hot Cinnamon Spice blend would never think about trying. Tell us if you are a fan of each of these teas, why or why not and what you would say to encourage someone to try them:
Nicole: Matcha can be intense, but I love the umami it has. It’s an excellent option for folks looking to switch over from coffee since it packs quite a bit of caffeine.
Nicole: Campfire in a cup! Lapsang Souchong is my comfort tea. A good quality one will be more subtle smoke and less burnt rubber tire. This tea is also great for cooking or for mixing into cocktails.
Nicole: Jasmine teas can be a bit perfumy for me. I have to be in the mood for it. Green tea can get a bit bitter, so I recommend trying a white jasmine tea instead.
Nicole: Puerh is one of the tea categories that I drink the most. They can be super earthy but in a really good way. A lot of folks don’t enjoy that when they first get started with loose-leaf tea. I recommend giving them another try once your palate has a chance to adjust a bit.
Nicole: It’s my healthy soda alternative! Kombucha can be an acquired taste at first, but trying different flavors can help find one that you enjoy.
Harney: Do you use milk in your tea? If so, do you pour the milk in before the tea, or after?
Nicole: I enjoy the occasional latte, but that’s about it. Milk in tea is a comforting taste for me since I grew up doing that. It’s just a bit too heavy for most of my favorites. On the rare occasion that I do use milk, I always add it after.
Harney: What are your top five favorite teas?
Harney: What’s the best reason you could give someone who’s not a tea drinker to consider becoming one?
Nicole: There is so much more variety in the world of tea than many people realize. Once you experience the depth of flavor and aromas that are possible from good quality loose leaf, you’ll never look at tea the same way again.
Harney: We normally ask, “What role does tea play in your life?” but we’re pretty sure we know it’s a big role. What are your daily tea rituals or favorite ways to share tea with others?
Nicole: I try to have a bowl of matcha in the morning whenever possible. I am usually tasting teas to review on my blog during the day, but then I always make sure to have an evening session just for myself. That might be casual gongfu brewing or a big mug of an old favorite. It’s just me drinking for the most part, but I try to share with others whenever possible. It’s fun to help introduce someone to a type of tea that they’ve never experienced before.
Harney: We already know you’re a Harney fan, and thank you for that! Do you have any favorite flavors or types of Harney & Sons tea, or anything on your list you’ve been dying to try?
Nicole: I love Harney & Sons! I have so many favorites. Matcha Unjonotomo is so velvety, and Temi Sikkim is my go-to for brewing up iced tea in the summer months. Nothing beats a solid classic like Kenilworth Ceylon either. One of the few teas that my husband asks for is the Ambessa Choco Nut Blend. I pick a tin up for him whenever I visit the SoHo store. I’m dying to try African Antlers and 1,000 Miles Aroma Oolong.
If you’d like to learn more about Nicole’s great work and her passion for sharing tea with the world, as well as watch Nicole torture her husband with tea tastings, visit her website or find her on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. We appreciate Nicole taking time to get all tea geeky with us. All photography was provided by Nicole.