Meet Brandon McClain, the Man Behind Mariano’s Tea Counter
We caught up with Brandon at his tea counter in the Bucktown Mariano’s—one of the newest of a growing chain of upscale grocery stores throughout the Chicagoland area. The tea counter is unique to the Bucktown location, and it represented a huge opportunity for Brandon. He first got involved with selling tea in Louisville in 2011. It was something he’d always been interested in, and a much needed source of income during grad school.
Brandon explains, “Tea was always something that I liked, but never knew much about. I didn’t drink until I turned 21 and coffee used to make me feel sick. I turned to tea because I had heard it was better for you—the caffeine wasn’t as harsh, and I found some flavors that I enjoyed. Since then and my time working at Teavana and TeaGschwendner in Chicago, I’ve learned a lot more about the category—switching to loose tea (which is far superior), and finding blends that are truly amazing. Chinese black teas are my favorite because they’re generally smoother and don’t have the bitterness or astringency that can be found in other varieties. What keeps me interested is finding new teas to love, which happens on a fairly regular basis. But I want to try the really good stuff that doesn’t get exported to the U.S.”
We recently hosted a SomruS tea tasting with Brandon—he picked the teas and our team and lucky shoppers did the tasting. Some of the results were unexpected. While Black tea with rose and chamomile were the clear winners, the lychee blend was also very popular. We hope to do more in the future, and we’ll let you know when we do. Connecting people with the right flavors is one of the things that Brandon enjoys most about his work.
“My favorite part of the day is whenever I get a customer interested and excited about a tea that they walk away with. I know, that it sounds very corporate or PR-friendly, but it’s true. Whenever I get a customer who wants to know more about tea or why they don’t like green tea but they like black tea (usually because it was a poorly made cup), their eyes light up and they are determined to try again. For many reasons, I’ll never claim to be an expert, but I will do my best to share what I know with people in the hopes that they’ll give it another go or try something new.”