Interview With David Lyons of 18Thirtyfour

  • Tell us a little about yourself.

My name is David Lyons, today I’m the owner of 18ThirtyFour, a business created to offer education in tea. This education isn’t always the usual classroom format but can be delivered in so many different ways. I believe education can be offered to us in so many forms, through communication, taste and visual stimulation, it’s what we do with that education. I like to look back at our history because this is where the future will come from. I’m talking about tea, and man’s fascination with the humble Camellia sinensis plant. I enjoy planting the seed, stepping back and watch individual tea journeys germinate, some on a short journey others blossoming into a life long passion. This is how 18ThirtyFour helps promote the drinking of quality leaf tea.

Growing up in a busy, business focused family with both my mother and father operating their own businesses, it was inevitable that business, through ownership and consultancy would become a major part of my working life. 18ThirtyFour is my 6th business, which have included restaurants, cafes, food service distribution and function catering. The last twenty years have been involved in wholesaling, retailing and now educating in the world’s favourite beverage, Tea!  The history of tea, from its origins through to our modern millennial consumer boom is my fascination and the area of tea I’m most at home. But a good knowledge of tea in a global perspective is where I try to place myself. Originally trained as a classical French chef, learning my trade and eventually owning and operating my own fine dining restaurant. Later a function catering business and fashionable café in the vibrant city of Manchester. Migrating to Australia in the mid 90’s created new possibilities and life style for my young family.

I’m a father of two sons – James 33 years old and Jonathan 30. My wife, I met at college, when we were both aged 16, back in the late 70’s. Today we all call Australia home and have done for the past twenty years. Canberra, Australia’s national capital is where I’m based and I’m happy to say I enjoy living in this much ridiculed and mis-understood city.

  • How long have you been drinking tea?

I think this question would be better written, “did you ever not drink tea?”. I can’t remember ever not drinking tea, it’s just always been there. But I suppose tea cooled down on nana’s saucer would have to be possibly my earliest memory of drinking tea. Being an Englishman, full-bodied, intense flavoured black teas with a splash of milk and a touch of sugar from India and Sri Lanka would certainly have created those early childhood drinks.

I suppose learning to taste tea as opposed to drinking tea, and appreciating the differences of tea. Came after some very embarrassing moments trying to sell tea wholesale in the late 1990’s. To be honest the restauranteurs, chefs and owners could have been swearing at me when they asked about teas! A crash course in tea appreciation opened my eyes to a whole new world of taste, aroma, history and the importance of serving good quality tea in a hospitality environment.

But if you want an answer to the question, I suppose somewhere just over a half a century!

  • What is your favourite Japanese tea?

Which is my favourite? I never feel this question is fair, how can you choose a favourite because each tea no matter where it’s from offers us so many different things.

You need to understand that the greatest pleasure I get from tea, is from the aroma’s it gives off – as leaf, then as brewed leaf and as an infusion, then I finally get to drink it as well, wow! What a plant.

I love the sweet fresh smells of spring gyokuro, the nutty aromas of genmaicha and the evocative roast sensation of a fresh houjicha. Being of European stock a warm matcha latte offers me a warming feel good sensation, when being sipped from a hugged mug of this delicious adaptation. But I must say until I tasted DoMatcha’s Macha I can’t say I particularly enjoyed this most ancient of Japanese teas.  

  • What are green tea components and how do they influence taste of green tea

To be honest, I thought about this question and decided to answer it in a different way.

When teaching people about tea and introducing them to what may become their own individual tea journey. I always tell them “do not be bullied by the tea snobs, you enjoy your tea the way you like it”. I believe we have to find what suits us as an individual, because if tea becomes completely homogenised then it becomes boring and there’s nowhere to go for adaptation and conversation.

I understand that it’s how we control the components of green tea which best create the beverage we enjoy. Brewing the tea at just the right temperature and for just the right amount of time. We crave the stimulation of the gentle caffeine that tea offers us, compared to the harshness of a coffee induced caffeine hit. Extracting the balance of sweetness and bitterness to once again suit our individual taste preferences.

Yes, getting the best out of our green teas catechins and amino acids can be a tricky business!

  • What is the best way to brew tea?

There seems to be so many, so called specialists preaching to us and looking down on us from the pulpit of the kettle, on how we should be brewing our tea. I feel inadequate to answer this question; he says with a whiff of sarcasm!

When introducing people to quality leaf tea I always offer them the following guidelines, which as I explain they can adjust to suit their individual circumstances and taste preferences.

  1. Always use freshly drawn water. Pre-boiled or water that has been stood in a kettle lacks the oxygen necessary to create a vibrant cup of tea.
  2. Depending on your water supply, take into consideration whether the water is soft or hard, is it filled with chemicals, does it have a strong significant taste eg metallic, earthy or mineralised. You may need to consider using bottled water or having your water filtered before use. Remember tea will never taste the same when it’s being brewed with water from different water supplied regions.
  3. Preferably, don’t use boiling water on white, green or oolong teas. Do use boiling water on black or dark teas.
  4. Always warm the pot or container you are brewing the tea in. There’s no point in correctly judging the temperature of your water, to then pour it over the leaves in a cold pot. The brewing temperature of your infusion will drop considerably when a pot hasn’t been warmed. Warming the pot does not raise the temperature of your brewing infusion but will offer an opportunity to correctly maintain the required temperature, while infusion is occurring.
  5. If pouring straight from a teapot, pour small amounts in each cup, followed by a top up from lower in the pot. The heavier constituents of brewed tea will drop to the bottom of a pot. This means if you pour each cup to full then you will end up with various strengths of the brew. Consider decanting the brew from a teapot into a warmed jug, where the different constituents of the brewing process can be equalled out in the serving jug.
  6. Choose good quality utensils to brew your tea in and keep them clean. Ensure they are free from other flavours e.g. detergents, strong flavoured foods etc. There’s no need to wash a teapot in a dishwasher, just warm water or warm water with a little gentle detergent will suffice ( please ensure to rinse thoroughly).
  7. Practise your brewing times. Find out what lengths of time of infusion suit your taste. Some of us will brew our Japanese green teas for just a minute others may enjoy a little longer, it’s an individual thing. But please remember when brewing tea for others consider their taste preferences not just your own.
  • Tell us something people may not know about matcha and Japanese tea.

Macha the Japanese powdered version of green tea, was originally introduced by Buddhist monks returning from China after their studies there.

Powdered tea is one of the oldest forms of tea. In China powdered tea has been produced for thousands of years becoming particularly popular during the Tang and Song Dynasties. Originally created by compressing freshly picked leaves, which in some cases were dipped in rice paste or animals blood to make them sticky. The leaves were then compressed into a brick. Once the brick had dried, it could be easily stored or transported.

When the tea maker wanted tea leaf, they would place the brick near to a fire. The heat would turn the brick slightly reddish in the areas affected by the heat. The brick was then chipped at, with the chipping being placed into an elongated type of mortar & pestle. The chippings were rubbed and eventually created a powder, at which stage it would be sieved to create a fine powder. The powder was then whisked into boiling water to which sweet onions, ginger or citrus peels were added.

This is the style of tea that Saicho and Kukai (the two Buddhist monks revered to have introduced tea to Japan in 804AD) were introduced to. Powdered tea was originally consumed in Japan only by the upper classes, due to the high prices it could demand. It was only later during the self-isolation period of Sakoku 1633 to 1866 that Japanese Macha and its service style are individualised to Japan. This period allows the development of many Japanese cultural styles we take for granted today. Prior to this time the Chinese influence played a major role in Japanese tea drinking, service and culture. It was also during this period that large leaf teas  - Sencha was introduced to the people by Baisoa a colourful Buddhist monk who would sell boiled leaf tea in the streets. Sencha became known as peoples tea or rebellion tea, relating to a rebellion against Macha and its codified ceremonies and exquisite utensils, all out of the reach of average people.

I wonder if the imaginative Macha makers in New York, Montreal, London and of course Tokyo, know that about their new found food phenomena!

 To know more about David Lyons and 18ThirtyFour visit: 1834tea.com