An Interview with MDTea
If you’ve ever wanted to escape to a different world while sitting back with a cup of tea, then Metrodeco might just be the place for you. Metrodeco, a 1930s tearoom in the heart of Brighton’s ultra-cool Kemptown, gave life to the tea company on everyone’s lips for their botanical brews, Art Deco aesthetic and fantastic evocation of glamour-gone-by: MDTea.
The award-winning MDTea, or Metrodeco Tea, has taken Sussex cafe culture by storm with their boutique and ethically sourced teas. We spoke to MDTea’s front woman and founder, Helen, to discover more about the charm of drinking tea in a coffee addicted world…
SHC: So, Helen, how did MDTea start?
Helen: We started it because of our 1930s inspired tearoom, Metrodeco. Rather than using a brand that already existed, we really wanted to create our own. But not only did we want something that fitted with the aesthetic and values of Metrodeco, but it was also in response to what was already out there.
So what drew you to tea in the first place?
Well, I’m a lover of tea – always have been! When we set up Metrodeco we wanted to focus on tea – primarily because of our enthusiasm for it, but also because there’s a lot of coffee shops already in existence in Brighton. We wanted to do something different, so that’s why Metrodeco became a tearoom. The tea company itself evolved because we realised that there just wasn’t a lot of choice out there – the big tea companies weren’t very good in terms of quality and really just weren’t offering particularly interesting teas. We thought we could do something about that in our local area…
You certainly did! So, just how are your teas different?
Quality! Combined with interesting ingredients and ethical sourcing. And the taste: we stick with natural flavours only, no additional added flavours, so the ingredients of the teas themselves truly shine through. We don’t go for really big bold flavours – a lot of the big brands out there will add flavourings in – even if they’re labelled natural – for that punch, but we prefer that the natural aspects of the ingredients are what you taste.
That’s perfect! Nobody wants added flavourings in their teas. Do you have any other philosophies when it comes to tea?
Yes! We think that there is a tea for everyone, and we want as many people as possible to enjoy tea. We think that tea can be fun, we think that tea can be relaxing, it can be soothing, it can be calming, it can be exciting… really, we feel that we want to introduce tea to everyone, and that there’s a tea for everyone. That’s our stance.
So, just how do you fuse the old world glamour of the 1930s with a nod to the future?
We like to keep traditional ways of brewing in teapots. There are a lot of new ways of brewing – which are great – but we do like to keep the traditional styles of brewing. In terms of looking to the future, we think that our blends often use ingredients that are current at the moment. We fuse traditional ingredients with new styles, like with our new tea, The Shanghai Beets [a blend of oolong tea, beetroot, hawthorn and raspberry]. Beetroot is an unusual ingredient and has amazing health benefits. Same with turmeric – some of the colours are just amazing. We really like to think about the health benefits of tea, so it’s nice to keep the traditional methods of brewing with new blends.
That sounds perfect. And you’ve got some fabulously named teas that really evoke glamour and a different era. In our hampers, we use The Chrysler and Shades of Grey – just how do you come up with them?
The essence of it is to try and elaborate on our 1930s theme. Because Metrodeco started off as a tea and antiques shop that specialised in Art Deco furniture, when were were coming up with the names for our teas we wanted to keep the theme. We’ve kept it kind of loosely – but it’s definitely there. A name could be something like a film, song, icon or idol, so we had names like The Devil is A Woman, which is actually a film, and, The Chrysler, for our Chrysler breakfast tea. When you order a Salome Kick or a Shades of Grey, you may not know what it is initially – but they definitely give a talking point! I’ve even walked into another shop and instead of asking for a breakfast tea, have asked for a Chrysler – the names and the teas become interchangeable for us!
You must have a favourite name!
The Devil is A Women is quite provocative – that’s one of my favourite names! Another one we had – as there was also a bit of a Parisian theme when we first opened – is called Parisian Floral Calm, which just is a lovely sounding name.
Agreed! It’s very evocative. So why do you think people have a love affair with tea?
There’s a tea for every person, every mood, every occasion. I think that there’s so much to explore in the tea world – it’s a little like wine! Once you get into wine and think about different grapes, wine drinking takes on a whole new meaning, and it’s a bit like that with tea. It all comes from the same plant, but where it originates, where that tea plant’s grown, the terroir, the climate, all really affect the flavour of the tea. And then there’s the way it’s processed, so you’ve got green tea, black tea, pu’er, white tea, you’ve got oolongs – it’s all a bit of an adventure. Really, once you start to learn a little bit more about tea, it can create a love affair because there’s so much to know, whether in terms of understanding or in appreciation of the taste of different tea.
I think this conversation is turning me into a bit of a tea aficionado! But, you’ve got one big rival: coffee. Do you think there is a charm of tea over coffee?
I do. People love coffee, but when you drink coffee you get this very intense caffeine hit. People, I think, get addicted to that rather than the coffee itself, whereas with tea it’s about the actual flavours. Also, the fact that with tea, you can sit down, relax, allow it to brew… and then there’s the etiquette and tradition and where it’s come from. Coffee has it’s own place, of course, but I just think charm and charming are words associated with tea. You wouldn’t say charming coffee, but you would say that about tea.
We’re the Sussex Hamper Company, so obviously we adore this part of the world. But what makes Brighton and Sussex so special for you?
I love that fact that Brighton is vibrant. There’a lot going on – there’s a lot of culture, diversity, and a lot to offer in terms of food. I love to go out to experience different food and drinks places. But what I think is really special is that Brighton is sat between the sea and the beautiful countryside – there’s just so much to do and see.
Finally, as an expert on all things tea, tell us the best way to enjoy a brew…
You should find time for a cup of tea, as in sit down! Always use loose leaf in a tea pot, giving the time to let the tea brew. And for you to sit back… and enjoy! It’s really just about the enjoyment and relaxation. Enjoy the flavours and the moment. Basically – take time for tea.
Absolutely! Thank you Helen.