“Simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.” — Lao Tzu
This is my first ever blog post and what I hope to be the first of many for Ardea Teas, focusing on tea, business, and all sorts of everything. This one is about me.
In 2007 I was chasing unrequited love through a youthful murky ignorance. In time, somewhat earnestly, I would realise that although it lacked the feathers to fly, this encounter would take me to the runway – and so our story begins.
Twelve years ago my tastes for food and drink were relatively simple but burgeoning. I’d tasted great espresso, enjoyed fine tequila on the rocks, and appreciated red wine for the first time, but at home I drank breakfast tea from a teabag with milk and sugar, instant coffee occasionally, and only the cheapest of alcoholic beverages could beguile the palate. A few years earlier I’d finally started learning to cook for myself and was discovering new flavours. All of this was leading to the day when I was pulled into my local coffee roasters by said featherless mate. The Bean Shop had been here all along but I was still too fledgling to have noticed it. Noses aloft with the smell of freshly ground coffee, we were still unequipped for making the black gold at home. Tea was the next logical step, as purportedly there is a teapot juxtaposed with every human being on earth. I was prompted to buy a bag of Jasmine Green Tea – green tea infused with jasmine flowers – and I can assure you I had no idea what any of that meant. But not only had I discovered the place I would work for the next six and a half years, I had been offered the handle to the door that would lead me to the whole universe of tea beyond the dust-filled bags of my beginnings.
Through coffee roasting I began to develop my sense of taste and through tea I refined it. I tried every tea on the shelf with gusto, with a heavy reliance on the best quality First Flush Darjeeling brought on by my boss’s own addiction. John had been raised on a tea plantation in India and there was always a special reserve of the finest champagne of teas to fuel the day. At the same time my interest in history was gaining momentum and I read relentlessly about the countries whose culture was so intertwined with the story of tea: China, Japan, India… no corner of the world is left untouched by its influence. I was fascinated by China and how its culture seemed so deeply symbiotic with tea that it was hard to pull them apart. Everyone from peasants to emperors had enjoyed its benefits, for thousands of years. Poets, artists, philosophers and monks had all found inspiration through appreciation for it. I felt engulfed by it too and I still do.
As my new passion steamrolled ahead I found myself preparing for a last chance journey to India; the final lap on a futile chase for affection. Despite the inevitable failings, I had unforgettable moments individually and finally made it to the mountains of the Himalayas to visit Darjeeling and its tea plantations. I shed a tear as I travelled up its renowned mountain railway and as I drank the region’s tea and saw Kanchenjunga floating like a palace in the sky in the distance, I knew I was somewhere incredibly special. Hopefully I can return there in more favourable circumstances some day.
My dream was almost fully formed. I wanted to share my love of tea with everyone. I wanted people to discover just how vast and inspiring the world of tea was, like I had. I wanted my own teahouse and the chance to talk with people every day about tea, serving it to them at its absolute best and helping them find new taste sensations that they never thought were possible. But it wasn’t yet to be. Opportunity took me in the direction of craft beer and I became a brewer for the next five years. I expanded my knowledge of flavours and tastes in a different beverage but one thing always remained constant; my love for tea. My “weirdy teas” were a common sight in the kitchen and kept the teapot I carried around with me perpetually filled with the fuel the carried me through the day. I loved the word of beer but it was always tea that gave me the most satisfaction. Although beer is one of the greatest European centres of social engagement, tea is the drink that keeps our minds clear and often disperses the haze leftover from the previous night’s encounter with its frothy ally.
This career path freed me up to make the pilgrimage I had been so desperate to make since I first started learning about tea. I was granted one month off work, using up my holidays and unpaid leave, so I could fly over to China and explore the ancient cities and landscapes I had only experienced through he page. Two out of the four weeks were set aside for a tea tour organised by the magnificent Seven Cups tea company based in Tuscon, Arizona. It was the most money I’d ever spent on anything but I was to fulfil a lifelong yearning. At times I would have never thought it possible. I’d learned so much about China but it still felt so exotic, so alien to me. But the tea plantations were out there waiting for me. The mountains of Wuyi and Huangshan, the village of Yixing with its unique clays and teapots, the people and families creating white, green, yellow, wulong and black teas that had been famous since the times of emperors. I was finally going, and it would be the greatest traveling experience of my life. Around the tea tour I managed to visit Beijing, Xi’an and Shanghai, saying into Yunnan province for my final two weeks and making my way toward Tiger Leaping Gorge. I long to be back there.
With a skip and a jump, I find myself in the current moment. A lot has changed in a short time. My hair is no longer shoulder length and I’m now lucky enough to have my own young family, who support me and give me unimaginable joy every day. Family life is demanding though, and almost detrimental to launching a start-up business and alongside a full time job. My partner, Clare, is launching her own business too and our time is stretched, but our ambitions drive with great impetus and we’re working harder than we ever have to realise our ultimate goals. Ardea Teas is here. I want it to grow and be an important part in the tea revolution that’s on its way. But I want it to remain personal and human, not seem like a faceless brand. At its inception I want to bring a carefully curated selection of the best teas I can find. I’ve spent years ordering tea from new and familiar sources and have often been met by mixed results, wasting money and losing time anxiously tracking parcels across the globe. For anyone using our services I want to be a guarantor of quality and a gateway to the unexplored for new tea enthusiasts. In time, our range of teas will expand and I’ll offer teawares made by local artists here in Scotland to forge bond with these fantastic people who value aesthetics, textures, and provenance as much as any tea lover. Maybe in the future I’ll finally open that teahouse and we can share a cup or two over a story.
The symbol of Ardea Teas is the Grey Heron – Ardea cinerea. I chose this bird because I feel it represents the virtues I aspire to and the spirit of tea culture as a whole. For as long as I can remember I’ve watched this grey sentinel standing motionless by the rivers I’ve cycled by and the seas I’ve looked over. In times of hardship it reminded me to strive for patience, strength and wisdom. I can remember countless times when I found satisfaction from the sight of the heron by the river, just when I was at my lowest. It’s this type of grounding force that I also find in tea. The preparation, appreciation, and taking of tea act as a ritual that centres the body and mind. It cleanses, purifies, invigorates and stimulates your very being. As a practical tool it fits well into the practise of mindfulness and as a drink it quenches the thirst and contains a multitude of compounds that benefit the body.
With its sage-like stillness the heron is indicative of ancient wisdom and longevity but with its gawky movements beyond the hunt i reminds me that we’re always shy of perfection, and when it takes to the air on those prehistoric looking wings I remember that sometimes in life you just gotta fly.
Mo Gan Mountain, Zhejiang, China – 16/04/2015