There was a time I might have answered “Where’s this tea from?” with “Kroger.” For my new favorite black tea blend, the answer is India, Malawi, and Pittsburgh.
Breakfast in the Strip (the meal) is a Pittsburgh tradition. When I was in grad school, sometimes on Saturdays a few of us would head for the Strip District, a gritty mix of warehouses, markets, restaurants, and tourist shops. We’d wait in line at Pamela’s or DeLuca’s, order coffee as soon as we were seated, and peruse the menu over that first glorious cup, which was as vibrant as the sounds and sights of open-air shopping up and down Penn Avenue. Then we’d join the festive throng, hunting and gathering fresh produce from various vendors, cheese and bread and olives from the Pennsylvania Macaroni Company, fresh fish from Wholey’s, candies of our childhoods from the late Fort Pitt Candy Company.
Breakfast in the Strip (the tea) is a signature blend from De Fer Coffee and Tea, a new Pittsburgh vendor. It’s a mixture of three black teas from Satemwa Tea Estate in Malawi and Heritage Tea in Assam, India. Its tasting notes say “Malt, Bold, Creamy Body, Citrus.” I say it tastes layered, three-dimensional—analogous to the way mirepoix smells, greater than its sum of onions, carrots and celery.
I didn’t have to go around the world for this tea (which has some of the longest and most crisply dried tea leaves I have ever seen). I didn’t even have to get in my car and drive to a local coffee shop or the nearest Giant Eagle grocery. All I had to do was walk to my neighborhood farmers market, and there was the De Fer tent (in between the kettle corn guy and the olive oil gals). On the left side of the table was an array of coffees in beautiful packaging featuring painted coffee plants on an aqua background. On the right side, steel tins of teas, with a small canister of each open for sniffing. Behind the table stood Matt Marietti, one of the five young Pittsburghers who formed the company.
He’s happy to answer questions. De Fer is French for “of iron,” literally and figuratively what Pittsburgh is made of. Marietti said Breakfast in the Strip came from fond memories of when he and his not-yet-wife were dating and just beginning a serious interest in coffees and teas.
Until a few weeks ago, farmers markets were the only place to find De Fer wares—green, oolong, and herbal teas, coffees like Eliza Furnace (named for one of the area’s most well preserved blast furnaces). Now some of their responsibly sourced coffees, teas, and select accessories can be ordered from their website.
Some of their teas, though, are made in such small batches that they’re still only available by coming across the De Fer tent in Lawrenceville or Bellevue or any of the distinctly flavored neighborhoods where they rent weekly market space.
I went to the market last week, thinking I might try one of their white teas. But they were gone, a hummus vendor in their usual place.
The market only has a week to go. Soon, and through the cold winter months, long after the market has closed up, I’ll open a silver steel tin of Breakfast in the Strip or Lavender Earl Grey or Jade Needle, place some of those crisp long leaves into an infuser, and drink to the memory of the happy shopping and ambling crowds of summer.
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