In a remote section of the Internet, seemingly lying in wait to explode onto the scene, is a blended-tea company that has given members of dozens of fandoms a physical and delicious outlet for their creative juices to flow.
The interwebs have long been a place for people of like-minds and interests to come together and celebrate their similarities, talk shop, speculate, analyze, and be inspired, and arguably no subset has been able to flourish across the tubes as greatly as fandoms. Whether your poison is ‘Star Trek,’ ‘Lord of the Rings,’ or the immeasurable tons of others, there are plenty of nooks online for you to crawl into and geek out. The biggest platforms of the fandom scene are breaking fan news sites like this one, ubiquitous Tumblr, Twitter, and stunning deviantART accounts, and the most hard-core fans often work their way into the inner sanctum of fan-run bulletin boards, livejournals, FanFiction.net, and beyond.
Some of the luckier (read: financially well-to-do) fans also attend conventions, with the hopes of taking home a piece of fanart of their favorite character, licensed apparel, or handcrafted themed wares based on their top fandom.
I say all that to introduce something I hope is a harbinger for the future of commerce on the Internet — an unassuming tea company called Adagio which has allowed fans to create custom tea blends and provide artwork for the container. There’s something so participatory and inclusive about sitting down to an afternoon tea that also calls to mind the essence of your favorite character from a video game.
I was able to speak with one of the more popular artists and tea masters out there to hear firsthand how the process has consumed her life. Aun-Juli R makes tea blends inspired by ‘Doctor Who,’ ‘Game of Thrones,’ ‘Legend of Zelda,’ and tons of others. The flavors range from everything from tasty character depictions — such as her “Lion Lord” blend, based on Tywin Lannister, with smoky Gunpowder tea leaves and Earl Grey — to franchise inside jokes, such as “Red Potion” from the ‘Legend of Zelda’ series, which is my personal favorite blend of wild strawberries, ginger, and cream flavor.
Here is what she had to say!
SF: Hi, Aun-Juli! Thank you for talking with me!
Aun-Juli: Thank you for having me — I’m really excited!
SF: Let’s dive right into tea talk. How did you first hear about blended teas?
Aun-Juli: One of my coworkers introduced me to fandom blended tea. She was incredibly enthusiastic about this tea company, Adagio Teas, and brought in her favorite characters to taste. It blew my mind.
SF: Did you drink tea much before? I was a coffee girl myself, but I’ve definitely been transformed.
Aun-Juli: I did like a good chai or green tea, but definitely not in the capacity that I do now. My mom used to buy me this great brown rice and green tea, and it’s still one of my favorites.
SF: Yeah, chai it up! Such a perfect fall drink. Brown-rice tea just sounds like cooked brown rice…which is delicious, so I will not judge. Now, I knew your art before I knew your teas. How else were you involved in fandom before teas took over your life?
Aun-Juli: Fandom is a crazy and amazing thing… I pretty much discovered what fandom was from deviantART. I spent a few years cultivating a beautiful community of ‘Harry Potter’ fans. It made me realize how fandom really brings people together. I eventually moved to volunteer for deviantART by supporting the Fan Art community through articles, events, contests, fun — everything. It really cemented my love for fandom.
SF: The community is really a strong draw for me, too. It’s nice to have instant friends who share your esoteric obsessions. Sometimes my real-life friends just don’t understand my obsession with ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’ (Fools.)
What draws you to contributing to a fandom in this way — through your teas and tea-bag artwork?
Aun-Juli: Haha! Some of my friends like similar things, but nothing really beats the strange and unique things that come from the fandom community that brings everyone together. Like ‘Hannibal.’ Look, the tea isn’t people, okay? :P
It’s new medium to explore for me. I feel like I’ve expressed my love in fandom with every kind of media — clay, fabrics, jewelry — but this combines so many things. Translating thoughts and ideas of characters and places into flavors is exciting. And then the process of making the art to go with the tea. There’s multiple layers, and it’s brilliant. It’s as easy or complex as you want to make it.
SF: I’m sure it’s hard to choose between your children, but if you’re having a stressful afternoon, what is your go-to tea?
Aun-Juli: Oh gosh. OH MAN. That’s hard. One of my first blends, Wizard’s Grey, is a favorite. It’s very comforting. More recently would be my Will Graham blend… It is reminiscent of coffee and sort of warm like wrapping yourself in a blanket.
SF: Do you blend a new creation first and then choose a character it would fit best, or do you try to capture the flavors that encapsulate a specific character or situation and hope it tastes good?
Aun-Juli: Usually, I have a direction I want to go in terms of fandom, and once I narrow down the character I’d like to capture, I work from there. I write down personality traits, quirks from the show/movie/book, funny jokes, moods, anything really. Then I try to create a list of ingredients that match and work from there.
SF: You sound like an awesome scientist! And your art on the front of your teas gives it a great personality. Do you think there’s a connection between tea and art?
Aun-Juli: Oh definitely! There’s a creativity with blending tea that’s similar to creating art, and I find myself going through similar motions of trial and error with both. I think creating a label is nearly as important as the tea itself — it’s what the audience will identify with first. If you can make a tea and label “feel” the same… then you’ve done a good job. I mean, if it tastes good too.
SF: How much tea do you have in your house?
Aun-Juli: I can’t answer that. I don’t even know. It’s overflowing to my workplace now. A gigantic pool of tea.
SF: A tea-dal wave. Very good. What avenues of fandom would you want a company to tap into next? Personally, I could crush a fandom chocolate bar based off my favorite characters. Spike would be refrigerated bittersweet chocolate with sharp almonds for fangs. And molded into perfect abs. What? What are we talking about?
Aun-Juli: That sounds awesome. I don’t. I’m distracted too. Where am I? Why don’t we have this already?
The possibilities are endless. Could you imagine a fandom bakery?
SF: I would probably need a fandom gym to keep myself in check. Not a bad idea…
Aun-Juli: Training sessions with your favorite character? Ha ha… I see where this is going…
SF: Are there any fandoms you haven’t touched on yet, but you hope to create for soon?
Aun-Juli: I’m hoping to do something inspired by ‘The Neverending Story’ soon. It’s not really relevant, unless we’re talking about people reminiscing, but it was my favorite movie growing up. I have a few more I’d like to do, more I’d like to expand on, but I have to really love the subject or else the tea blending isn’t fun and the art looks like crap.
SF: Nothing wrong with nostalgia. I could imagine some great teas coming from that! How about favorite teas from people who are not you?
Aun-Juli: Yeah! Blending my own teas has been great, but I have a bunch of favorites from other awesome tea artisans like DAMMIT tea from Meg Daunting, Hello Sweetea from Lycoris M, and Wolverine from Cara McGee. There’s so many blenders though, and so many new teas to try. It’s really fun to see a new artist pop up and make something great. Little drinkable fan arts!
SF: What would an Aun-Juli tea blend taste like? We may be circling back to ‘Hannibal’ territory…
Aun-Juli: Oh man, not like people. I never thought about it. It would be so sweet and gross and girly with a kick to the stomach. Something with sprinkles and cinnamon at the same time.
SF: I like it. Very empowering. Is there anything else you would like to say to people who enjoy your teas?
Aun-Juli: Thank you so much for letting me be a part of this awesome tea blending/drinking community. It’s amazing when people can connect with you on a level through a CUP OF TEA, and I wish I had started sooner. Contributing something to a fandom you love and sharing it with people is one of the best feelings ever. I’ve made a lot of awesome friends and gotten to know really cool tea artisans.
And there you have it! Do you express yourself in a unique way in your fandom? I would love to hear about it! Leave your information in the comments below!