Within the confines of our small, yet global tea community, there have been very few people that I have met who have left lasting marks on my journey to discovering tea, John Harney was one such person.
We met at my first tea expo 2006. It was part of my immersion into the leaf, beginning with STI Certification Program intensive. Two full days of tea drinking, tea education, and tea bonding and networking. Oh, and did I mention testing, yes exams that I stayed up most of the night cramming for and being so totally wired on tea.
After acing the exams, we proceeded to enter the world of the tea business, the expo. I must say, like many others who have experienced this grand affair, it was definitely overwhelming. The conversations about sampling, minimums, grams, pounds, and so much more, to fill my brain and it seemed like a daunting task.
Walking the floor I saw a booth of one tea brand I recognized, Harney & Sons Teas. I was familiar with the line, as this is the tea they served at The Plaza Hotel in New York and we had been coordinating an annual New Years Eve tea gathering there for a number of years.
My favorite from the line was Black Currant. I sauntered over and proceeded to examine the other offerings. While I was looking, a voice interrupted my examination of the fine tea selection. I looked up and a nice friendly face greeted me and asked could he be of help. He took the time to look at my badge and addressed me by name. I was so taken aback, meeting the creator of this prestigious tea line.
Mr. John Harney asked me about my current business and the plan I had going forward. Looking back on this, he must have realized I would not become a large customer, yet he still took the time to offer some suggestions. He scanned his mental Rolodex for names of people and organizations within my area that I might connect with to help my business grow.
Then there was the year of “Paris”. At another industry event, I was strolling the aisle, you know, the first round where I see what’s being offered before making the investment to wait to speak to someone. Across the floor I see someone waving, I turn round and realize, since there was no one behind me, they were waving at me.
Mr. Harney beckoned me to come to his booth, once within close proximity he excitedly told me he had a new blend he wanted me to try, Paris. While pouring the sample in the cup he asked how I was fairing and how the business was progressing.
He was always interested in the person not just the sale.
I took a sip and for a moment I was transported to a little café in Nice, leisurely wasting away the day with a good book of my choice.
We cheerily spoke about the blend and it’s creation. I always appreciated the passion he had for his product and his work.
As years progressed I have met a few of his family members and was introduced to his lovely wife. I always make a point to stop by and sample the new offerings. Upon meeting the family members you become aware of the legacy he has passed on to each one, the love and appreciation of the leaf, as well as good business practices.
Most recently as part of my efforts to help those affected by “Super Storm Sandy” through Tea For Humanity, I called Michael Harney and asked if he would help. I was so grateful to receive their generous donation. Whilst handing out hot cups of tea one most memorable moment was when a recipient said ” it’s not just that you brought tea, it’s what you brought”.
My condolences to his family, he has left you with so much and I cherish my memories of the “Master Blender”, I will miss Mr. Harney.
In celebration of Harney & Sons 30 years in tea, this event will be happening Aug 16th if you are in the area, be sure to check it out.