Residing in Seattle, Washington, Crai S. Bower is an author, photographer, and broadcaster who lives to travel the world and share his experiences. He’s a natural-born adventurist and an award-winning storyteller whose work has contributed to over 25 publications and online outlets. When writing in his studio, this self-proclaimed tea addict drinks up to 20 cups of Harney & Sons tea a day!
We had the opportunity to talk to Crai about his travel writing lifestyle, successful career, and love for Harney tea. Check out the Q&A below:
Harney: When did you find your passion for photography and writing?
Crai: I have been writing in a journal since I was 14 to get over, as I often jest, a high school freshman breakup. I began writing full time professionally in 2002 after teaching middle school for ten years. Coincidentally, my first published work came five years earlier when I reviewed “High Tea” at the San Francisco Ritz Carlton. This is also where I discovered Harney & Sons Tea, as it was the Ritz’s brand. At the time, I lived in a Berkeley commune and I would never have dreamed one day I would find myself in some of the most exclusive places in the world, writing and shooting for Robb Report, Private Clubs, Travel & Leisure, and others.
I started shooting photos in the early 1980s and began shooting professionally in 2005. I have never sat still well and so photography allows me to keep moving, even in museums and on wildlife tours. I was originally a “writer who shoots photos,” but today I consider both facets equal parts of my portfolio. To this end, I was thrilled to have my cover shot of Bali’s Amandira sailing vessel for Private Clubs selected as a finalist for “Best Leisure Cover” at the 2017 Western Magazine Awards.
Harney: Can you tell us a little about what you’re doing now?
Crai: In September, I was very excited to showcase eight influential Seattle locals and their cultural preferences for the month’s Delta Sky Magazine, which was seen by an estimated 14 million readers. As an adventure and Canadian travel expert, I am currently thrilled to see my words and images in Explore Magazine, Canada’s premier outdoor recreation publication. I contributed a 2,500-word feature that chronicles a 50 km canoe expedition on Lake Kipawa in the Abitibi Region of Quebec.
I collaborated, as I often do, with the Seattle outfitter, Outdoor Research, an adventure brand, for whom my Instagram images garnered over 50,000 likes and hundreds of thousands of impressions. The story idea came about when I saw an amazing Abitibi & Co. custom kayak hanging in the new Filson flagship store. Founded to outfit Yukon Gold Rush prospectors, Filson is another partner, a Seattle institution with a quality and legacy that mirrors what Harney has done in the tea world. Personally, I launched my new Instagram Canadafiles, featuring images and information about traveling in Canada. I love watching Canadafiles grow among my peers and the traveling public.
Harney: Can you provide a list of the different publications, online outlets, broadcasts, or companies you have contributed to? What has been your favorite, or what have you enjoyed most?
Crai: All of the publications would be tough, considering I have written for more than 100 outlets over the past 15 years. Some of my favorites: American Way, Nat Geo Traveler, Delta Sky, Private Clubs, Virgin Atlantic, Beyond by Lexus, Sunset, The San Francisco Chronicle, Westworld and Interval World. I have written online for more than fifty entities. I honestly enjoy any time I can disappear within the words for a couple thousand words.
Parks Canada and Destination Canada are two of my favorite branding clients. I contributed the rebrand copy for several amazing parks in Canada’s Northwest Territories. I am content anytime I can combine research, experience, images, and writing. I also am very fortunate to research and write for Hearst Story Studio, a content producer for whom I have written over 150 articles about topics ranging from Costa Rican resorts to innovative Texas elementary schools. Speaking of education, I really enjoyed writing the new website for Teach Washington, especially with two kids in Washington State public schools. The site, intended to draw teachers to our booming state, was created by a Seattle-based agency, one of fifty or so ad and marketing agencies I have contracted with over the years.
I also greatly enjoy my broadcast work, whether appearing on Q13 TV with host and good friend Bill Wixey (our road trip to Whistler a couple of years ago was epic), or sitting down with Rick for “Travel with Rick Steves” or with my former producer Dave Beck at NPR affiliate KUOW to discuss travel, music, and, more often than not, my love of birds and outdoor adventure. These days I work with On Travel’s Paul Lasley with whom I record bimonthly radio broadcasts for the Armed Forces Network. Describing adventure travel for our armed services is a natural fit.
Harney: What is your favorite part of the travel writing life?
Crai: I always look for perfect days, like the one that began by riding a BIXI rideshare bike in Montréal, my favorite city. After biking 25 miles in the morning, this particular day involved watching my beloved Montréal Canadiens beat the Penguins, attending my favorite opera, Tosca, eating plenty of oysters with an excellent Sauvignon Blanc at Liverpool House then dancing the night away with a dear friend on Rue St. Denis. Any time I can get outdoors though, whether skiing in the Sun Peaks, B.C. slack country with my family or “stalking” Komodo dragons in Indonesia, has the potential for awesomeness.
Another, less flashy component of the travel writing life I appreciate is testing gear for outfitters Outdoor Research and C.C. Filson, Seattle brands renowned for the quality of their products. From packing to writing, organizing everything is a blast. For example, I always travel with my 20 oz. Stanley Travel Mug and a chocolate tin filled with Harney English Breakfast, Orange Pekoe, and Earl Grey sachets. I used to take loose tea on the road but it could get a little messy. Finally, though I spend tons of time traveling solo, I really love bumping into my travel writing peers from around the globe at conferences and on press trips. My studio would be a very lonely place, with the exception of my husky Korra, if I didn’t have my virtual officemates, a few very special friends who feel like they are a cubicle and not a hemisphere away.
Harney: Can you offer a couple tips and advice for aspiring writers or photographers who want to make a living doing what you do?
Crai: I always think this sounds haughty, but I travel to write, I don’t write to travel. If someone feels the same, he or she should just start writing. I entered this crazy dream job because a former editor at Sunset saw a couple of free weekly pieces I had written. Same for photography—just get out there and start shooting what inspires you. My son is a successful freelance photographer and his compelling images of the human condition couldn’t be more different than my shots of polar bears and waterfalls. Stick with your style. For example, I love obscured subjects, often to the amusement of some of my photographer peers. I honestly think we live in a great period for freelance writing and photography. Everybody loves content at the moment, a great time to make a living with plenty of room for passion projects. Oh, one more thought—being your own boss means doing what you love to do, about 15 hours a day!
Harney: You’ve won many awards for writing and photography. Can you tell us about the award that you’re most proud of?
Crai: Perhaps my favorite article was for Journey Magazine, where I capped three cover stories in a row with a piece about taking the Rocky Mountaineer luxury train with my family from Vancouver to Jasper, Alberta. My editor, who has left unfortunately, allowed me to compose “Riding the Rails” without using the “to be” verb once. Not a single has, is, was, had, etc in the entire piece. Some readers found it too much, understandably, but I received a lot of positive feedback including a “Best Feature” nomination from the American Society of Journalists and Authors.
I am also very proud that the goofy little humor book I created and wrote, Farts: A Spotter’s Guide, received a “Pick for Reluctant Readers” award from the American Librarians Association. This book, written in the form of a field guide, has sold more than 300,000 copies and is now published in six languages. Absurd! Finally, my cover image nomination of the Amandira Phuket for Private Clubs was quite satisfying, since writers do not usually shoot their own stories.
Harney: How and when did you discover Harney teas and why do you drink it? Would you call yourself a “tea traveler”?
Crai: I’ve only had half a cup of coffee (with ½ cup of cream and ½ cup of sugar) in my life and that was in fifth grade, but I always loved tisanes like peppermint and almond. I first discovered a “decent cup of tea” at Stella’s Café in Ithaca’s Collegetown where I used to read fat French novels and play chess until the wee hours. I discovered Harney & Sons Teas, as I wrote above, when I reviewed the San Francisco Ritz Carlton “High Tea.” Today, my Harney Tea collection alone stands at over 50 caddies. I believe Harney has done for our “Secret Society of the Leaves” what my fellow Seattleite Howard Schultz has done for coffee. The fact that I travel with my own tea-branded travel mug and when in my studio drink in the Samuel Johnson range of 25 cups a day, definitely makes me a tea traveler. I also give Harney Tea sets as thank you presents to my hosts around the world.
However, my favorite Harney Tea moment doesn’t involve a cup of tea at all. I was visiting my wife’s best friend in Lakeville, Connecticut when I saw Mr. Harney sitting on a bench watching his grandchildren at the town beach. For me, this was a rock star sighting moment. I went over, introduced myself, and showed Mr. Harney a photo of my tea cabinet, thanking him for making so much World Class tea available in America.
One other Harney tale: My wife’s best friend’s husband, Paul, used to play hockey with Mike Harney. Paul mentioned once that his wife’s best friend’s husband was a huge tea drinker. Mike actually recognized my name when Paul referenced me. I guess that means I drink, or at least order, a lot of tea!
Harney: What does tea do for you?
Crai: Tea fulfills so many elements of my life at this point. I love the literature of tea as my dog-eared copy of Norwood Pratt’s Tea Lover’s Treasury would indicate. I have also read every other book about tea I can find. The origin story, a Camellia sinensis leaf falling into the emperor’s hot water, is beautiful, especially to a gardening geek like myself. I also begin every morning when home with tea in my garden, reading a poem aloud and writing in my journal. On weekends, I often bake scones and invite friends for afternoon tea. I also try to make time for afternoon tea with dear friends as often as possible during the week.
My workday consists of cup upon cup of tea, though I leave the carafe inside my house to cajole myself to walk from my studio through my garden to refill each cup. The raising up and settling down effects of tea perfectly suit my personality and metabolism. Finally, as you see from the variety of teas I have, I love the contemplation required to determine what varietal to steep, as I write below.
Harney: What is your favorite type of tea and favorite type of Harney tea?
Crai: People often ask me this question, which I equate with asking me to identify my favorite trip. (In answer to the latter, I usually say my last one, though, my default ‘best day’ was spent kayaking among penguins and marine iguanas in The Galapagos.) As for tea, I begin each day with a breakfast tea, usually a Keemun-based blend like English or Supreme Breakfast. Once a week, I go malty with Irish Breakfast, a TFGOP Assam or Scottish Morn. On Sundays I drink Hao Ya ‘A’ in my garden, if it isn’t raining, with the NY Times. My daily ritual: After draining my eight cup Brown Betty teapot in the morning, I move on to my 12-cupper for the afternoon.
My tea selection all depends on the day, the weather, and my mood. During the week, I usually drink an early flush Darjeeling at least one afternoon, or perhaps a Pangyang Congou or a special blend like Elyse’s, Palm Court, Malachi McCormick, or Eight at the Fort. If I am feeling ambitious, I will steep an exclusive Indian Nimbu, New Vithhanakande, Wuyi Black or the like. Cold, wet Saturday afternoons in Seattle are reserved for Lapsang Souchong, Russian Caravan (my wife’s favorite) and Scottish Afternoon, bold teas for a sodden clime. (My 14-year-old son, for the record, drinks Harney Chocolate Mint every morning.) ‘Desert Island Tea? Hao Ya ‘B’ I think, rich, full-bodied but not too overbearing for everyday use. However, were I marooned at sea I would somehow find a way to order more tea varietals from Millerton, New York, because—whether living in a geodesic dome in the Washington rain forest or watching the stars come out above a luxury sailboat in the Indonesian Sea—tea has always come first among my provisions.
Thank you for taking the time to talk with us and share your story, Crai! To learn more about Crai, his work, and his love for Harney tea, check out his Instagram(s) @craisb or @canadafiles, or visit www.flowingstreammedia.net. All photography has been provided by Crai.