The Talking Tea podcast explores the tea culture of North America. Hosted by Ken Cohen, the podcast touches on popular and less common aspects of the tea world and goes in-depth with the subject area to create an informational and entertaining podcast. You can listen to the podcast on many platforms or online at the Talking Tea website.
TChing: What led you to start the Talking Tea podcast?
Ken Cohen: In the spring and summer of 2014 I was becoming increasingly frustrated by the lack of awareness of tea and tea culture in North America (primarily in the US). That is, awareness beyond the low-quality teas found on most supermarket shelves. It seemed rather inexplicable, given the rising popularity of foodie culture, and especially craft coffees and craft beers. I was also seeing one independent tea seller after another struggle to stay in business, and as an avid consumer of tea, this was more than a little disturbing, At the time I was hosting an interview-format podcast covering theater in Philadelphia and New York, and it occurred to me that a similar format podcast exploring tea and tea culture, aimed mostly at consumers, might be the perfect medium for doing my part in spreading a more sophisticated awareness of tea. I have a background in journalism and also work in voiceover and audio production, so once the idea took hold, it didn’t take much time before Talking Tea was launched.
TC: Discuss the mission of the podcast.
KC: In every episode our goal is to educate listeners (and ourselves) about issues relating to tea varieties, production, history or culture.
Our mission has changed a bit since Talking Tea was launched. Initially our goal was to showcase how tea and tea culture are taking root and growing (no pun intended) in North America, with the thought that the more consumers and potential consumers know about the diversity of tea culture already present, the more that tea culture can be sustained and expanded. After we launched the podcast we very quickly discovered that our listeners include consumers who have a good deal of sophistication in tea, as well as people working in the tea industry. We also saw our listener base rapidly expand beyond North America. So now we try to structure each episode to include information that listeners of varying levels of sophistication can benefit from.
TC: How has Talking Tea’s mission been reached?
KC: I think this is best answered by the effects Talking Tea has had on the tea community.
TC: Discuss the effects Talking Tea has had on the tea community.
KC: The tea community is a large and diverse group, so I can only reflect on what we’ve been hearing from listeners. We have an ever-growing listener base, and we receive comments and emails from listeners telling us what they’re learning from our episodes and posing questions they’d like to hear more about. We’ve also been seeing interesting discussions on social media stemming from some of our episodes. Many of the comments we receive are from listeners with a good deal of sophistication, but we’re also hearing from listeners who are coming to the podcast with little prior knowledge of tea and who tell us that the podcast has prompted them to begin their own tea explorations. Lately we’ve been getting requests to do live events in connection with the podcast, which we’re considering. All of this tells us that we’re supporting the spread of knowledge, engagement and growth in the tea community, which is our goal.
TC: From doing different interviews with prominent tea business owners, writers and others, what have you learned about the tea community and tea culture?
KC: One of the joys of an interview-style podcast is that the host gets to learn along with the audience. I learn a tremendous amount from every guest on the show;. This can range from the technical geeky side of tea production, to practical information on buying, storing and brewing tea, to the incredibly varied tea journeys of our guests, and sometimes to the more profound, contemplative aspects of tea culture. To sum it up I’d say I’ve learned that the tea community, and tea culture worldwide, is even richer than I’d imagined before launching Talking Tea.
TC: When I was on the podcast, we discussed tea culture among today’s youth and the barriers that need to be broken to promote tea in the youth demographic. Do you think podcasts will play an important role in breaking down these barriers?
KC: I’m already seeing it happen.
TC: What do you enjoy most about tea culture in North America?
KC: The tea, of course, but also the people. In doing the podcast we continue to connect with wonderful people who graciously share their expertise with us.
TC: What do you dislike or enjoy the least about tea culture in North America?
KC: There’s really nothing I dislike. Of course we still have a way to go to develop and expand awareness of tea on this continent, but we’re getting there.
TC: Based on what you’ve learned doing the Talking Tea podcast, where do you see North America’s tea culture in the future?
KC: This is a question I sometimes pose to guests. So the best answer is to listen to the podcasts and see what people in the industry are saying. I discussed this very specifically in our episode with Kevin Gascoyne.
TC: Discuss what sets the Talking Tea podcast apart from other podcasts in the Tea community and what it brings to the table for the tea industry and community.
KC: We don’t do tea reviews – this was a very deliberate decision from the get-go. There are many great tea reviewers out there (yourself included), and that’s not something I felt we needed to add to. Instead we like to think that our format provides a nuanced, reflective look at tea, tea culture and the people behind both. I can’t say that there’s no one else who’s doing this, but if there are, we’re each doing it in our own way, reflecting our particular perspectives. And an audio podcast is easy and convenient to access – you can listen while you’re commuting, while you’re working out, or while you’re enjoying your daily tea.