by Mona Bavar
“I realised that I didn’t need to change my life, only live the life I had made for myself with as much pleasure as possible.”
~ Henrietta Lovell
Best known as the ‘Rare Tea Lady', Henrietta Lovell is on a mission to revolutionise the way we drink tea. After leaving a successful, yet unfulfilling career in finance, Lovell founded the Rare Tea Company in 2004 in London, an ethical and sustainable tea business which trades teas and herbal infusions directly with farmers around the world.
Ceaselessly traveling the world, Lovell visits small farms in China, India and Africa in search of the world’s rarest and finest teas. “From the Shire Highlands of Malawi, across the foothills of the Himalayas, to the hidden gardens of the Wuyi Shan, China, I make my way across the world, hunting for the most extraordinary tea.”
In 2019 Lovell published her memoir, Infused, Adventures in Tea, candidly sharing her adventures in tea, “it is my story of tea, not the story of tea.” She recounts her first experience with the magical drink at the age of five in the “drawing room of a grand old lady, Diana”, listening to stories of India and sipping her first bone-china served cup of Darjeeling - unaware of the arrow Cupid had shot into her heart.
Rare Tea Company
It wasn’t until a business trip to Hong Kong when Lovell discovered the love that had been quietly infusing in her heart through the years. The oolong tea, “Tie Guan Yin, an ‘Iron Goddess of Mercy’,” that rekindled dormant memories of her first love would be the inception of a fated love affair that would define the woman. “Since then, tea has been my soundtrack and my narrative. I dream about tea when I’m not drinking it. It’s there beside me, my most constant companion. I can’t conceive of a morning, let alone a day, without it.”
After the death of her father from cancer and her own bout with the disease, Lovell realized the preciousness of time and forged ahead on her mission of replacing industrially produced teabags with traditionally grown, high-quality tea leaves. Her journey has taken her to remote small farms where the cultivation of tea is a delicate and ancient practice no different than the process of making fine wine.
Like every true adventurer, Lovell’s struggles have served as welcomed indications on her amorous pursuit to find meaning. It was during her recovery from cancer that she had time to think and time to foster new ideas for supporting the many unsubstantiated tea farms she worked with. “I set up a charity, returning a percentage of the revenue from my company’s tea sales to the farms. Rare Charity now funds education scholarships.” She also tapped into her innate courage, appreciating her fragility, yet “able to appear indomitable with a steel framework of kindness around me.”
Rare Tea Company
For Lovell drinking tea is much more than boiling water and brewing loose leaves, it is a centuries’ old ritual with a profound history dating back to 2nd Century China and the Camellia sinensis leaves which, depending on how they are harvested and cared for, will determine the type of tea they will become. “From the same leaf you could make a white, green, oolong, black or pu’er tea.”
As a part of her holy mission, Lovell bears the cross of educating tea drinkers about the various strains as well as the patience and attention needed in preparing the heavenly nectar. “Pu’er is fermented. Black tea is fully oxidized to bring out rich, tannic depth. Green tea is only lightly processed to reveal more subtle, vegetal flavours. Oolong lies artfully between the two. But white tea…White tea is the beginning, the untouched leaf, just dried and so retaining the softest notes of the fresh leaf, clean and grassy.”
Convincing a market stubbornly devoted to their teabags to switch to loose-leaf tea proved to be a challenging task, one that Lovell faced head-on. “I had to start stirring things up a bit. I had to force people to take notice and I had to open up a market that didn’t exist.” Working with Michelin-starred restaurants and grand hotels, Lovell successfully established a devout following of enlightened customers who have willingly abandoned the arguably inferior teabag for the exact brewing methods of the loose-leaves.
Passionately devoted to her mission, Lovell thoughtfully chooses every single tea she sells. “I visit every farm, I know all the people, I blend the ones that are blends. These are all made because I love them. And there's nothing about the teas that I don't think is extraordinary and beautiful. I get the best ones from the best people.”
Rare Tea Company
Like most revolutionaries Lovell is not hindered by obstacles, pandemics included, instead, she is fueled by them. Creatively embracing the restrictions brought about by COVID, Lovell has been focusing her attention on educating a new market of tea enthusiasts through online tasting events on Instagram. “It's really important that the consumer directly influences the market. If people say, I don't want that cheap industrial tea, I don't want those bags, I want to know where my tea comes from, then things will start to change.”
Sales of industrial teabags are declining and the consumption of green tea and herbal infusions is growing, proof of the revolution’s effects. Regardless, Lovell is relentless in her mission, pointing out the fact that “with good tea, you can change the world" as well as support communities, “people trying to work their way out of poverty into a sustainable future.”
She invites all consumers to be conscious of where their tea comes from. “If there's a relationship between the company and the farmer and not through a broker or a middleman, it's much less likely to be exploitative. Please don't buy tea that's covered in flavorings and chemicals to make it taste nice.”
Lovell starts every day with the White Silver Tip tea - her bed tea, referring to the first cup of tea in the morning. Both in her book and on the Rare Tea Company website, Lovell gives precise instructions for making the "perfect cup of tea". Here at DLISH, we finally mastered the perfect cup of Matcha Tea.
Rare Tea Company
Click here to learn more about the Rare Tea Lady and the Rare Tea Company.
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