It started in New York City.
I was working as a Textile Colorist for a cheeky couple from England who employed designers from the U.K. who were also homesick for British comfort food. One of them was a girl named Caroline, who invited me to have dinner with her at this little cafe in the West Village, which oddly enough was not far from my duplex apartment on 15th and 8th in Chelsea. I met Caroline at the designated time and designated place which turned out to be Tea & Sympathy
It was an oddly cold and windy fall night in October when I walked in to that cozy, warm, postage-stamped sized tea room. I knew within a few minutes of passing through the fogged-up glass door that some how, some way I needed to be connected to the tea world. I had no idea what that meant, I just knew how I felt.
From that day forward during the time I lived in the City, I walked over to Tea & Sympathy to have tea and scones, often. During those visits, I met Nicky Perry, the owner, who when I mentioned that I wanted to be in tea for business said with out skipping a beat, “Are you mad??!!” (Probably.) She continued to say that to me for years.
I continued my daily life, working as an Art Director in Advertising and drinking tea all over New York and other cities. Anytime I had tea somewhere, anywhere, the feeling returned and I walked away with a menu tucked in my bag. I collected tea menus from all over the world. Once while on a yearly fall trip to Paris, I stopped into a typical Salon de Te in St. Germain and spotted a poster on their wall. A Tea Expo was happening at that very moment and it was the last day. I left the salon (with their menu in my bag), walked to the Expo and literally just wandered in. Most of it was in French, a language I do not speak, but that didn’t matter.
It was my first expo. I had no badge, no tea business, or any tea experience aside from drinking tea most of my life as a civilian. Making my way around the floor, I heard myself telling wholesalers that I was opening a tea business sometime in the future. (Really?) I didn’t even know what that meant or would look like, but I continued to collect business cards.
A few years breezed by, my tea menu pick-pocketing continued and my folder for storing stolen menu’s grew fatter. I continued to work in Advertising as a Freelance Art/Creative Director working with different agencies and collecting my own clients to grow my small design company.
It wasn’t until May 2007 when I found myself one night (well after midnight) typing in the word “tea” in Google. An hour later, I was booking a flight to Atlanta, and two weeks after that I was at a Tea Expo that offered classes at the tail end of the show: Foundations of Tea: Part 1 and 2.
Two days after leaving the Expo and passing both classes, I was back on Google typing in “Tea Businesses for Sale” – and two months after that I owned a small online Canadian tea company that sold wholesale to hotels and restaurants and had the tiniest retail customer base in Canada. It had only been in operation for 11 months when the owner Ryan decided to sell. It had no financials or any of those things you look at when deciding to buy a company. It just had a really great name, a beautiful logo, a seriously well curated menu of teas – and a great url.
After an inquiry, a few emails and a quick phone call, I purchased my first “International Tea Business” on July 17, 2007 – on a credit card – roughly two months from that late night Google search. When I informed my then accountant, his was response was: “No one buys a company based on a cute logo. Very unwise decision.”
In December of that same year, I made my first $600 selling online thanks to family and friends and in 2008 I had a new accountant.
My hope in 2007 was to grow this little “Pearl” into something that would make people as happy as it makes me, while being a great resource for teas produced in the best tea growing regions.
2018 marks 11 years in the tea industry with devoted customers who follow Pearl Fine Teas around the DC-MD-VA area selling at local farmers markets, specialty markets, wholesale and online. Pearl Fine Teas has even held the title 4x as Runner-Up for “Best Tea Shop” in the Washington City Paper’s Best Of issue – without having a brick and mortar, restaurant or cafe attached to it.
As is the case with many tea lovers, I have my grandmother Evelyn to thank for always taking the time to sit with me at her tiny kitchen table in her row house in Brooklyn and make me tea as she sipped her coffee and we both ate a slice of her favorite coffee cake by Entenmann’s.
Time flies when you’re traveling the world for tea, standing under a tent on weekends (rain or shine) and working to grow a Pearl. If you are or have been a Pearl Fine Teas supporter… Thank you from the bottom of my tea filled heart.
~ The Chief Leaf