Cozy Season is Coming: A Craft Tea playlist - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart
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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.

Widowspeak – “Plum”

An earworm if I’ve ever heard one. The opening lick hooks you in and many tasty sounds follow. I’ve been addicted since seeing them at Underground Arts earlier this year.

Liam Kazar – “Shoes Too Tight”

This song sounds like nothing I’ve heard before – it’s thick, chopped, and crunchy. It somehow sounds old school and futuristic at the same time.

Tex Crick – “Peaches & Cream”

Vibey, retro stuff. Smooth and melodic – perfect for a chill tea party.

Cosmic Guilt – “Greener Leaves”

I can relate to the band name. Musically speaking, they’re tight and wide with golden sounds, such as the lap steel solo that precedes the second verse.

Sam Evian – “Right Down the Line”

My personal soundtrack in the past year has been A LOT of Sam Evian. I love his production; always a great groove and juicy tone.

Kate Bollinger – “Lady in the Darkest Hour”

I love the drums and warbly instrumentation. The orchestration at the end reminds me of Figure 8 era Elliott Smith.

Built to Spill – “Ta Magia Sto Pegadi (Georgios Trakis cover)”

Built to Spill’s music really comes alive in October. Doug Martsch’s voice is a peaceful alien gently luring me into outer space.

Steve Gunn – “Reflection”

A unique and colorful sound. Cinematic and swirling like a circus out of a fairytale.

Rosali – “If Not For Now”

I like to listen to this with headphones on and float around the living room. The rhythm is super tight and it’s got that Crazy Horse crunch. I’m working on a Rosali dream tea if not for now, then for later.

Dry Cleaning – “Scratchyard Lanyard”

Amusing lyrics about Instagram filters without being cheesy. I’m not a smoker, but this post-punk rocker makes me want to light up cigs in a dirty alleyway.

The Mystery Lights – “Someone Else is in Control”

Funky and grimy. The opening lick sounds like a Wu-Tang sample and the bassline would sync well with Mad TV’s Spy vs Spy.

Alessi Brothers – “Seabird”

What a groovy tune. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve brushed my teeth to this song. Highly recommend it to brighten your day.

Gustaf – “Best Behavior”

Really fun band with a good bite. Sounds like ZZ Top and the Talking Heads on an all-night bender.

Woods – “Rain On”

Perfect song for an overcast day. It’s hard for me not to sing along in falsetto. It’s even harder on others around me.

Cassandra Jenkins – “Hard Drive”

A dreamy soundscape topped with spoken word à la Laurie Anderson. The line “Have you been seeing your therapist?” paired with the drifting saxophone is so beautiful.

Subsonic Eye – “Sun Kissed Skin”

This song sounds like flannel, new love, and a night ride through the city. It makes me feel younger listening to it, but your results may vary.

Tobacco City – “Tired Horses (Bob Dylan cover)”

It may not veer too far from Bobby D’s original, but the autoharp and angelic voices on this cover gives me goosebumps and teary eyes whenever I need ‘em.

Lael Neale – “Blue Vein”

I’ve started many depleted mornings to this one. I’ll put it on when my soul feels like it’s been scraped off the grill, then fly into the cosmos when Lael hits the high note.

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