Something’s Brewing On Ainslie Street at Kettl Tea

Zach Mangan preparing tea at Kettl’s shop. Photo by Aya Shogaki.

Kettl has been offering a wide variety of Japanese-sourced teas to customers around the globe since 2013. This leading purveyor of teas and ceramics has been offering North Brooklyn residents and visitors the experience of modern tea culture at its year-old outpost in Williamsburg. If you follow the narrow stairway above the Japanese restaurant Okonomi (150 Ainslie Street), you’ll find their small brick-and-mortar shop.

“Being above Okonomi is wonderful because they have such a strong pull of customers coming daily,” says Zach Mangan, the owner of Kettl. “People will often see the sign for Kettl and come upstairs. The brands are very alignedif you enjoy traditional Japanese breakfast and ramen, you are likely going to be interested in the ceramics and the tea at Kettl.

Kettl’s unique selection of Japanese-sourced teas, teaware, and tools for home brewing offer something for both tea novices and matcha making experts. The small shop is anchored by a table for tastings, and its walls are lined with shelves of curated pottery from both Japanese and American ceramicists.

In addition to a new selection of black teas this season, Kettl has the prize-winning Gyokuro tea in shop. “It is the number one Gyokuro from the whole nation, and there were only 3.7 kilos made for the entire year,” says Mangan.

A post shared by Kettl (@kettltea) on Oct 28, 2017 at 4:58am PDT

For a deeper dive into Kettl’s extensive tea catalogue, customers can book private tasting classes to try a selection of teas from different regions in Japan. Attendees also learn about the story of Kettl’s tea farmers and about where the products are sourced. “People enjoy it because there is a lot of information that is stimulating around the sourcing the the tea, the science of how it is grown, why it tastes the way it does, and the techniques for brewing,” he says.

Mangan wants customers to leave the shop with an understanding of how to brew tea at home, and the special shaped ceramics and utensils for sale provide customers with the necessary tools. “You can leave the shop with tools that are not only useful, but that are beautiful and unique,” he says. “Each season we release a collection of teaware, which are collaborations between artisans and Kettl. This season we are working with Lilith Rockett, who is an amazing  potter from Portland, Oregon.”

Rockett has created two different pieces that are part of a gift set; one is a matcha set which includes a spouted ceramic bowl, a scoop, a whisk, and matcha tea. Rockett has also crafted a porcelain teabag pitcher, which comes with the choice of 12 tea bags. “It is the perfect intro set if you are not into brewing loose tea,” says Mangan.

Kettl offers many options for giving the gift of warmth this holiday season. Tea pots from Japan can be paired with porcelain cups and loose tea, or customers can customize their own sets which can be gift wrapped. Another option is the experiential gift of a private tea tasting class.

And while the tea is sourced on the other side of the world, the shop has a neighborhood feel. Mangan and his wife Minami, whose pottery is sold in the store, tag-team processing orders and attending to customers. The couple lives in an apartment steps away from the outpost. Mangan notes that the best part of Kettl’s location in North Brooklyn is the community. “What we have going on in Ainslie Street is really unique,” he says. “There is Okonomi downstairs, and Ben’s Books (145 Ainslie St) across the street. We have this great, little cultural enclave of interested and dedicated shop owners.” 

And in this community, Mangan is a tastemaker of sorts—he equates Kettl to that of a wine shop. “I do my best to remember what people have had. You get to know your customers and they trust you to give adviceI like that.”

Kettl’s niche selection of Japanese teas makes the business unique to the country, not just to North Brooklyn. “Okonomi is doing something that you have to have to come to this block to get—and we’re kind of the same way,” he says.

For those unable to visit the block to experience Kettl firsthand, check out the instructional posts about brewing tea on the blog, shop online, follow them on Instagram, or go to one of the many restaurants that stock the tea. In North Brooklyn, you can find Kettl tea at Sauvage (905 Lorimer St), get a scoop of Kettl’s matcha green tea ice cream at Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream (620 Manhattan Ave, 204 Wythe Ave), or order matcha tea with brunch at Sunday in Brooklyn (348 Wythe Ave).

About Allison Considine

Allison is a staff writer at American Theatre magazine and a proud resident of Greenpoint.

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