Our Tradition of Tea
July 26, 2012
It was 29 years ago that John Harney made the decision to found Harney & Sons. He had worked for others all of his life and felt (at the age of 53) it was time to run his own show. Since he had worked with Stanley Mason at Sarum Tea for 13 years, he understood the basics of tea.
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However “tea” back then was much different. China had opened only recently, and there few teas coming out there in 1983. So Taiwan was the source of the basic “Chinese” teas: Gunpowder, Oolongs, and Keemun. These teas did not taste like the real thing, but rather, were a version. The Taiwanese had not yet begun to make the great greenish Oolongs that they do today. India’s teas were still strongly influenced by the British, so Darjeelings and Assams were dark and monotone, just right for milk and sugar. The Indians had only just begun to experiment with changing style of teas to make the teas taste more seasonal and more flavorful. Japan kept its Senchas to themselves. So back in 1983, the tea world did not offer many great teas. And that was fine, because few people drank tea. How that has changed, and for the better.
The story from John Harney himself
Who would have thought this is possible? All those years ago, when we had tea chests (when they still used those bulky wooden boxes) down in our basement, I surely did not. Our youngest, Paul, was still in school, so he would have to lug them down the narrow stairs. I would take the light boxes back up to be shipped out to those few people that bought from us in 1983. It seemed busy at the time (little did I know). I remember the phone call from this guy who said his name was Chuck Williams, and he said he had some cook shops and wanted to carry my teas. Williams-Sonoma still is a valued customer.
After a few years, I convinced my son Michael to join me. Now there were two full-time employees! We moved to a new house with old sheds, and we grew. And we grew. My only daughter, Lyse, did sales calls in New York one college vacation. She walked into the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. She told the manager that they had to use Harney & Sons. And they still do.
Paul (left), John (center), Michael (right)
Baby Paul got bigger, but he never lost his love of machines. When he joined the company (after being a USMC officer) he brought us into a new world: one of tea packing machines. I still do not know how to turn one on, but they are efficient and help the company grow. They allow us to offer the best tasting teas in convenient ways. Michael travels the globe in search of the best tasting teas. Now the next generation is coming on board. Alex manages the restaurant at our Tasting Room, and Emeric manages the Tasting Room in SoHo.
My wife Elyse and I travel when I am not here at the tea company. As we travel, it is humbling to be welcomed at great hotels and restaurants. Such a change, traveling so much. When I started in the business, I considered Boston a trip!
For someone who devoted himself to tea at 53 years of age, it is a dream come true. My mentor, Stanley Mason, taught me so much. I loved learning about British Legacy teas from a Brit. He taught me how to make the best Earl Grey. Stanley started me down this long road, but now we sell teas which he never even considered. The world of tea has expanded considerably in the last 25 years. I stay committed to offering the finest teas. My love of tea has spread to my family and our customers worldwide. I know that we have a tradition of tea that will endure.
We make our teas for your enjoyment, so if you have any questions or problems, please call us at (800) TEA-TIME or e-mail us at HT@Harney.com. We always love to discuss our favorite subject!
I drink to your health.