Born and raised in Colombia, Elvira Cardenas moved to the United States in 1996, at the age of 20. After settling in the area, she became a tea packer at Harney & Sons where she worked closely with Michael Harney to learn the art of tea blending and purchasing. She joined our team as a tea purchaser shortly after and has been an integral part of our tea testing and blending process ever since. Read on to learn more about this exciting profession, its perks, its pits and how Elvira is breaking barriers as a woman in a male-dominated industry.
Harney: What is a tea purchaser’s job?
Elvira: My job is to travel the world in search of the highest-quality ingredients with the most distinctive flavors. I spend my days tasting raw materials and finished products to make sure we are meeting our quality standards. When I’m not doing that, I’m working to create and improve our blends. I love working with all of the natural ingredients the world has to offer to create new blends for our customers to enjoy.
Harney: Do you travel often to buy tea? What has been your favorite trip to date?
Elvira: I’m very grateful for all the places my job has allowed me to visit, but my first trip with Harney & Sons to Taiwan remains my favorite. It was really my first time traveling internationally for work. Visiting the tea gardens on the top of the mountains, smelling the fresh tea leaves and seeing the passion behind the artistry that is tea will always be the reason why that trip is my favorite.
Harney: What is it like to be a woman in the male-dominated tea industry?
Elvira: Being a woman in a male-dominated tea industry hasn’t been easy. For any woman that also faces this situation, don’t let anyone tell you can’t or your opinion doesn’t matter. There are people that don’t want to take you seriously, so you are constantly working to prove yourself. I’ve personally had to face these situations, but I don’t let that stop me. It actually pushes me to work harder. You develop a thick skin over time and learn that if you believe in your ideas enough, someone else will too.
Harney: What are the skills needed to be a tea purchaser? Do you have any tips for someone interested in this profession?
Elvira: In order to be a tea purchaser, you need to have a good palate, first and foremost. You also need to have a knowledge of tea cultivation, process and the market. Be ready to travel and practice good communication skills. Most importantly, always be open to new ideas, pay attention to what’s happening around the world and do everything with passion.
Harney: How have you seen the tea industry change over the years? Do you see any challenges facing the industry or any exciting new trends?
Elvira: Today, farmers are dealing with global warming which makes the search for high-quality teas difficult. This is one of the main challenges we see facing the industry as well as deforestation because both adversely affect the production of tea and the jobs the tea industry provides. However, people are becoming more aware of tea and its health benefits so the tea industry is growing. There are new ingredients being created every other day, so we’re excited to see what new blends we can create for our customers.
Harney: What is your first tea memory? If you could only have one type of Harney tea for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Elvira: I started drinking tea 20 years ago, but my first tea memory is walking into Harney’s blending room in Salisbury, CT and smelling all of the wonderful flavors of tea. If I could only have one type of Harney tea for the rest of my life, what would it be? That’s a very difficult question because every cup has their own distinctive flavor. I’d have to say Taiwanese Oolongs because of their fruity flavors.