From the desk of the founding editor of VICTORIA magazine
Thursday, February 18, 2010
Harney & Sons
On a snowy day, I took first one train, and then another, to travel to Harney & Sons in Connecticut. I have known John Harney for many years. As I was developing Victoria magazine, John was beginning Harney & Sons Fine Teas in a big way. We are talking about the mid-1980's when there seemed to be some kind of magic in the air for rediscovering the tastes and aesthetics of another time.
John Harney is as delightful as the tea he purveys. A firm handshake and a ready laugh are trademarks of the gentleman who is a wonderful blend himself. John is a passionate advocate for tea drinking as well as a very accomplished businessman with a Connecticut Yankee's good common sense. John and I greeted each other as the old compatriots we are in the belief that tea is more than just "a cuppa."
It was Trica Foley who reminded me of the author Edith Wharton"s comment about "the charms of tea." That was a perfect heading for the section that would be in issue after issue of Victoria. Many different topics were included over the years--and Harney & Sons was definitely one of them. In addition, John Harney was always willing to speak at Victoria teas and to do anything he could to help us promote the beauty and intimacy of drinking tea.
How very warm to be greeted by John at the door of his factory. It is an amazing place, as Harney & Sons has expanded to purveying over 300 teas that ship all over the world. Teas from Connecticut to Great Britain--John and I had both had to smile about that. But the Brits want the very best teas, and they can count on this master brewer for that to be sure. Today tea is 4 times the business it was in 1990, thanks to the John Harneys of the world.
John, and his son Michael have both been kind to Victoria and to me-- crediting us for helping them in the tea crusade. If so, from our early and consistent support, Harney & Sons have done just fine on their own. What a pleasure to see both of these men so proud of their product and accomplishment. John couldn't wait to show me the factory--after we all donned little white hair nets. It was like a Willie Wonka chocolate factory experience. Machines that you couldn't imagine how anyone dreamed them up to create packaging and packing. It was somewhat like visiting a vineyard-- interesting as Michael Harney came to tea after his experiences in France.
Walking along the aisles and aisles of boxes of tea, I realized how far we have come from the teas we used to have to choose from: English or Irish breakfast, and perhaps, Earl Grey. To help consumers understand all the teas, where they come from, and how to brew them, Michael has produced the Harney & Sons Guide to Tea. On it's pages you'll be introduced to white teas, for example. I brought home a tin of Chinese white tea with peach flavor. I have used it in the past, especially for summer iced tea. (By the way, John and Michael have recently begun bottling iced teas! I told you there was a smart businessman in John Harney...) There are also sections on black teas, yellow teas, etc.
Harney & Sons were the originators of sachets (a delicate fabric "tea bag"--a term I use reluctantly, as they are nothing like the paper bags we have become accustomed to recently). This afternoon, still under the Harney spell, I made a cup of their Paris tea with a sachet. Oh my, I am in love again.
While the Harneys are proud of sachets and the small round carry-along tins they developed so you can take a small sampling with you wherever you go, Michael does have this to say in the introduction of his book:
I will insist you set aside teabags and try a teapot and loose leaves.
Michael then goes on to give other very specific brewing advice, as he does for every tea he covers in the book. This is a tea bible you won't want to be without if you are serious about the subject. And tea for health is large part of the Harney mission as well as for the pure enjoyment of the experience. How lovely that one can have both in a ritual that is ageless.
Leaving the factory, John took me by his nearby tearoom complete with a tasting room, just like many a vineyard. The snow was getting fierce by now--but the room was warm and welcoming. I wish I could have stayed longer, but I had those two trains to catch. My bag was full of tea samples...teas I never could have dreamed of long ago when John Harney and I were younger and our passion for tea was just being fired. On their web site you can experience a world class tour of teas.
Harney & Sons is my February entry for my year of taking tea journal. How could John Harney not be part of this journey? This was not only an education day, but a reunion around tea. How many of those I have had, and how many more I hope to indulge in. I doubt I can sample all 300 Harney teas--but I'm sure going to take Michael's advice and stick my nose into the teapot to savor the aroma of all the beautifully blended flavors of those I do. For today, Ah Paris--a relaxing Earl Grey blend created for me by a master blender and friend.