About four years ago I met Young Mountain Tea at a farmer’s market in Springfield Oregon. I had just wrapped up a season of harvesting seaweed along the California coast and was visiting a friend before trekking back to Minnesota for winter. As I walked through the late fall market something more unusual was illuminated amongst all the vegetables – a tea stand. Behind the candles flickering below the glass teapots stood Raj, founder of Young Mountain Tea. He happily welcomed people to his booth, pouring samples and speaking to the various teas with enthusiasm and care.
Over the past two years, I had spent time on both the east and west coasts learning about where food came from. In upstate New York, I spent time dabbling in vegetables, bees, and dairy while on the west coast I delved into permaculture, earthworks, and foraging. Despite covering a wide array of food and farming endeavors, one of my daily staples was missing from field and forest experience… and that was tea.
Up until this point, tea was a mystery to me. I knew I liked tea and preferred it to coffee. I often made a habit of going to the Asian grocery store buying teas with the most interesting names, or ones whose labels were in anything but English. I was well aware of the transformation the coffee industry was experiencing regarding direct-trade and total transparency in the supply chain – but did not see that mirrored in tea. Little did I realize that those flickering lights at the Young Mountain Tea table would be at the catalyst for that demystification.
I tasted every sample Raj offered as he described his experience with each grower, and how their teas were made. I learned that all tea came from the same plant and it was a matter of processing (among other factors) that accounted for their differences. I left that meeting with a bag of Indi’s Gold and returned to Minneapolis. Later, as the winter snows began to fall and my tea supplies needed replenishing, I emailed Raj with a proposition. “I think your teas would do really well in Minnesota. There are lots of people interested in socially responsible sourcing, and… it’s COLD here!” With that Raj and I decided to give tea sales in Minnesota a try. With no marketing experience - he sent me a kit of written materials, glassware, tea, a video clip of how he presented the teas, and with that, I became a traveling tea peddler of sorts.
Since then I have been working to bring Young Mountain Tea to tea drinker’s cups in the Midwest and around the US. My friends can hardly hide their surprise when they hear that their friend Ingrid, usually dabbling in gardening or sports, is doing SALES work. But I reassure them, “I don’t do sales … I do storytelling.”
Since day one, sharing Young Mountain Tea has been an opportunity for me to participate in the timeless ritual of pouring tea for strangers. Every time a grocery manager or café owner agrees to sit down with me, I realize I am treated to a rare and precious exchange – 2 people carving out time in our busy days to give a moment to an unscripted meeting. Sure, we will of course talk about tea and the people who grow it, but with a warm cup in one’s hand, it is easy to talk beyond the tea and laugh about a mutual experience or empathize with a difficult day. And as tea contains L-theonine, an amino acid responsible for producing a calming and relaxing effect on the body, I also believe that these mid-day tea interludes are good for everyone’s balance and peace.
Young Mountain Tea has given me friends around the world, connection to my community, and a deeper knowledge of the world’s most consumed beverage after water. It is a pleasure to share Young Mountain Tea with you. I hope we all keep our cups full and continue to pour tea for dear friends, family, and the occasional stranger.