We’re in the thick of autumn, the forecast has dropped into the low 50s on the regular, and in a couple weeks, spooky szn will give way to cozy szn – the perfect time to savor a warm beverage. Thankfully Mt. Airy’s Mike O’Brien, affectionately known as “The Craft Tea Guy,” has put together a playlist to satisfy all your senses while sipping.
If he looks familiar, it’s probably because he was profiled here back in 2019.
Before digging into this BNDCMPR playlist, let’s rehash the history of how The Craft Tea Guy got his start.
In the beginning, O’Brien was traveling the world with his sales training job, and was constantly on the road. His coworkers suggested that he start collecting things, so he started collecting musical instruments.
“That was really cool, but I couldn’t really play them that well,” he said. In his travels, he went to an herb shop to see if there was anything to loosen him up and help him play better. At the shop he visited, the worker suggested he try Kava Kava.
The Polynesian herb helped him relax: “It killed the middleman between my brain and my fingers playing notes.”
Simply put, Kava was his gateway to tea, even if it wasn’t the best-tasting thing in the world. When he went to places like China, India, and Turkey — places known for their tea culture — he ended up collecting teas.
“That kind of blew my mind, because that tea tasted incredible. So I would bring the good-tasting tea back, host tea parties, and invite friends over for tea and vinyl instead of going to a bar,” he said.
He calls that combination “warm and enriching,” and he loved it. When his traveling days came to an end, he was inspired to start “something like a tea house, almost like an alternative bar.”
And that is how The Craft Tea Guy got his start, with his unique blends of tea leaves. A labor of love, lots of research, and trial and error by mixing up different blends.
“Now when I make a blend, the herbs really pop out at me.” All he has to do is go into his herb cabinet and things get highlighted in his mind, which also helped him to start connecting with musicians that he looks up to, including John Andrews, Speedy Ortiz’s beloved “frontdemon” Sadie Dupuis, and even Alanis Morissette to create their own special blends.
Parties gave way to online retail and vending at events — like Mount Moriah Cemetery’s Halloween Craft Fest, where he set up shop last weekend. And just about a year ago, O’Brien fulfilled a longtime dream and opened a brick and mortar Craft Tea store, nestled at 538 Carpenter Lane in Mt. Airy, just around the way from Weaver’s Way Co-Op.
“Having the Craft Tea shop feels like I’m living a rock ‘n roll fantasy!” O’Brien says. “The shop’s located in this peaceful nook in Mt Airy Village – a perfect place for tea. I wanted to visually tell the Craft Tea story, so there’s all sorts of wacky tea pots and musical instruments from my travels. The walls are decorated with artwork from throughout the years – a lot of which were made by friends, so it never feels lonely there.”
Having a physical space has led to some spectacular surprises, O’Brien tells us, like when Subsonic Eye, an indie band from Singapore, paid the Craft Tea shop after their Johnny Brenda’s gig in June. “As a lover of music, travel, and tea, that moment meant the world to me,” O’Brien says.
But on the day-to-day, there are less internationally touring bands hanging out at Craft Tea, and more customers from the neighborhood enjoying tea and tunes. For O’Brien, pairing a record with a tea is an art form, and it takes a lot of work to perfect. In fact, he accepted the challenge brought on when asked to craft a playlist and pair songs with tea.