“You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy tea, and that’s kind of the same thing.”
So goes an anonymous, inspirational homage to the leafy drink served warm or cold.
Now, local enthusiasts have their own source of inspiration nearby as Seasonal Grounds Tea Bar opened recently in the brick building of the Broad Street Market.
Owner Thomas Brown, a former personal trainer, got into the tea-making business as a challenge about seven years ago. He originally started making his own coffee blends as a hobby. Friends and customers from his original, brick–and-mortar store in Hummelstown, where he sold his coffee blends, suggested that he start doing the same with tea. He accepted the challenge and now has a full-time business selling custom and locally blended teas at a pour-over bar in the market.
Seemingly similar, coffee and tea are actually polar opposites, Brown said.
“Coffee is more science, math, precision and knowing your bean very well and manipulating it,” he said. “Tea is a little bit of this and a little bit of that—very much like cooking.”
The teas are Brown’s own blends, without any artificial ingredients, syrups or sugars—just plain, loose-leaf tea, some of which even have fruit or nuts added into the recipes. He gets most of his teas from a company based in Germany that ships to Chicago, where Seasonal Grounds acquires product for shipment to Pennsylvania.
There are 27 different teas to choose from, each one carefully blended with unique names like “Lush It Up,” a coconut- and pineapple-based tea, and “Mad Squirrel,” a walnut, almond, brittle-based tea. Brown not only blends each recipe himself, he creates small, whimsical stories about each of the teas to both educate and entertain customers.
Seasonal Grounds has been busy since opening in late winter, warming over customers.
“This is my first time trying their teas,” said Natalie Burston of Harrisburg. “I bought the green tea, and it’s really clean. The teas are so unique. I may purchase a tea in bulk the next time I stop so I can make some at home.”
Customers can purchase a tea starting at $2.50 per cup or buy tea blends to take home to make for themselves. Understanding how to prepare it is key.
Brown makes it clear there is a right way and wrong way to steeping teas.
Seasonal Grounds uses hot water, not boiling water, and each tea is steeped for the appropriate time based on the blend. Brown also uses a filter when he steeps it, so customers aren’t left carrying around a tea bag in their cup for carryout.
“People complain tea is bitter,” Brown said. “In other countries like England and even Africa, some teas even taste like wine. Tea has been done wrong (here).”
For instance, putting boiling water on tea brings out the wrong acids, he said.
“We were brought up on the belief that you let the kettle boil and poured piping hot water over the tea bag, letting it steep too long,” he said. “This makes it bitter, and the oils and acid come out in the wrong way.”
Brown said that he has notebooks of hundreds of recipes as he continues to get a feel for what his customers like to drink. But he is excited that people don’t want to just buy a cup. They want to talk about it, too, something that gets him excited and powers his creative process.
Tea-drinker Erica Bryce definitely wanted to talk about the tea she purchased at Seasonal Grounds.
“The Bordeaux tea tastes a little sweet so you don’t have to add sweetener,” said Bryce, of Harrisburg. “I love fresh-brewed tea. I am excited they opened here.”
During the year, Brown plans to offer teas that align with particular holidays. He plans a springtime recipe that includes freeze-dried cotton candy. He is also planning to redo his website so he can list recipes for customers to try their teas with different spirits and liquors and to offer ideas for food pairings.
“I want people to come and get an education,” Brown said. “I want to change the culture of tea drinking.”
Seasonal Grounds is located in the brick building of the Broad Street Market in Harrisburg. For more information, visit www.seasonalgroundsteabar.com.