Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Alex Kapelman

When I meet Alex Kapelman at B&H Dairy on 2nd Avenue, he kindly offers me a potato latke. Today is his day off. Mostly. As much as any freelancer has a day off, we joke later.

Alex is the co-host and co-producer of Pitch, a podcast featuring audio documentaries casting light on underexplored parts of the music world. Forthcoming, for example, are stories about Senator Orrin Hatch’s musical compositions for Hanukkah and the 1973 song “Santa Claus is a Black Man” by producer Teddy Vann. Pitch has received praise from the likes of NPR, New York Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, The Atlantic, and countless others. It’s also led Alex to NYU, where he now teaches the Audio Reportage class in the master’s program at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute; and to founding Podcast Love, a consultancy that specializes in audio storytelling, audio training, podcast launching, and more.

You would think such a career would entail a great deal of coffee, but Alex isn’t actually a coffee drinker. In fact, after we leave B&H, we head to Tea Drunk on E. 7th Street--the goal is to get a very, very lightly caffeinated green tea (he tried black tea recently and bounced off the walls) for the days when he needs an extra boost.

When we enter the serene, white space accented with wood and white ceramics, it’s so quiet I’m especially conscious of my camera clicking. Opening the menu to Green Tea, Alex reads through their flavor profiles--the “Sharp and toasty with a fuzzy mouth feel” of a Bi Luo Chun, the “Raw nuts, flowery, sharp tannins” of a Mao Jian, the “Elegant, floral, vegetal with a tender mouth feel” of a Hou Kui--and ultimately settles on the latter. Behind the counter, a very knowledgeable gal named Alyssa walks us through the infusing process, pouring hot water into tiny pitchers, later adding the long leafy bits that make up the Hou Kui. We sip the clear, faintly green liquid from tiny, white, bowl-shaped cups.

A gentleman at the end of the bar asks Alex what he’s drinking and soon they embark on a wildly interesting discussion about the nature of drinking tea, how you know a tea menu is legit (the best tea shops will know and share when and where their tea was made, he says), and how to expand your knowledge. He turns out to be actor Eric Berryman, and we discover we all have mutual friends. I’ve often thought that if you sit anywhere for a long enough time, you’ll meet someone interesting, but apparently--according to both Eric and Alyssa--Tea Drunk draws folks that are even more varied and unusual than the average bear.

We sit there sipping and talking for what ends up being a couple of hours. Soon, Alex has to take a phone call. We wrap ourselves up and step back into the cold. He places a giant pair of headphones around his ears and gets to work, disappearing down 7th Street.

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