A new tasting room opening by appointment in Whittier is immediately engaging for fans of Jane Austen. That’s because Julia Matson has developed a line of teas based on characters from Austen’s novels.
For the frenetic Mrs. Bennet in “Pride and Prejudice,” for example, she created “Compassion For Mrs. Bennet’s Nerves,” with a formula designed to aid the character. It includes a chamomile base to calm her down, passionflower to act as a sedative, peppermint for her stomach issues, and rose petals — because she’s constantly trying to marry off her daughters.
“I think about what I want the tea to say, and what emotion or personality it’s supposed to evoke,” said Matson.
Matson’s line of teas is available online and at coffee shops like Blue Ox at 38th & Chicago. She’s developing a new blend for A Midsummer Night’s Dream at The Guthrie Theater in February, featuring forest green teas, dwarf everlast blossoms and candied fruits.
Matson was an early promoter of loose-leaf tea — her tagline is “Jane Austen was a loose woman too!”
She first introduced the Jane Austen teas five years ago at a national convention full of Austen enthusiasts. It was a nerve-wracking experience. Her packaging didn’t arrive until the day of the conference, and she wasn’t sure how the teas would go over.
“I thought they are either going to really love this or they are going to hate it,” she said. “But they were so welcoming.”
Matson offers other tea blends as well, such as aged oolong from Taiwan and roasted cocoa mate’ out of South America. She’s visited Taiwan and Vietnam to meet mountainside farmers and learn about tea production.
She’s aiming to finish construction on her own traditional tea room in late February, which will focus on both British tea culture and the Gongfu practice of tea.
“Gongfu style done by an experienced person (and there are schools in Asia just for that) can look as if you are watching an artist paint a masterpiece,” she said.
Matson expects to offer space for classes and book readings as well.
A sofa in the studio was originally brought to Minnesota by a British expat and museum curator in the early 1900s — featuring a single stain from tea.
“I said, ‘That has to be mine,'” Matson said.