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Tea time at Harney & Sons is a family affair

John and Elyse Harney
John and Elyse Harney
Harney & Sons

January is appropriately celebrated as National Hot Tea Month and what better time to be sipping hot tea than on a cold wintry day? And what better recognition can be given to the world of tea than to pay tribute to a master tea blender, John Harney, and his company Harney& Sons. His company is truly a family affair involving three generations: son Michael, Vice-President, master tea buyer and blender; son Paul, Vice-President and mastermind behind Harney’s signature sachets and organic teas and juices; Mike’s wife Brigitte and their two sons, Alex who is chef/manager of the Tea Bar & Shop in Millerton, and Emeric who manages the Soho Tea Shop.

Chai Tea Gift with Indian Spice Tea
Harney & Sons

Mike, who travels the globe tasting and sourcing teas for his blends, says he taste tests about 30 teas a day in the Harney tasting room. On many tea tins, you will find Mike’s ratings based on three attributes: Briskness, Body and Aroma. A zero rating indicates the tea has none of that particular characteristic; a rating of 5 indicates the primary characteristic. And, on many tins there is a notation as to the tea’s “effects.” For instance, in a tribute to his wife Brigitte’s French heritage, he blended a tea Paris, a delicious blend reminiscent of the city of light, Paris - its effects: ” enlightening.”

As for a few tea tips and brewing basics, Japanese teas only should brew for 1-2 minutes, while herbals, black, Oolong and Darjeeling teas brew for 4-5 minutes. If stored properly, tea can last up to two months. Tea leaves that are cut to fit into the paper bags don’t taste as good as uncut leaves, which are used in the sachets where they have room to breathe and exude their fragrance and flavor. A good source of reference are the books written by the Harneys. Mike, as a master taster, has authored a definitive book of advice on tea, The Harney & Sons Guide to Tea. John Harney has co-authored The Tea Cookbook with food writer and consultant, Joanna Pruess, that features recipes ranging from “the teapot to the soup pot.”
And how did the Harney reign of tea begin? “I was slowly seduced,” says John Harney, “by a British gentleman Stanley Mason, who was a guest at our White Hart Inn in Salisbury, Connecticut.” Mason came from a family of tea merchants in England and encouraged Harney to start serving Mason’s Sarum loose teas at the inn. Under Mason’s tutelage and inherited knowledge from two generations in the tea business, Harney learned the art of tea crafting and followed Mason’s guidance up until his death in 1980. In 1983, wanting to share the joys of great tea with everyone, Harney ventured into the world of crafting his own teas. It all began in the basement of his house with the creation of just five teas: Earl Grey, Darjeeling, Orange Pekoe, English Breakfast, Gunpowder Green and Formosa Oolong.

For John Harney it’s been a 30-year journey and the evolution of becoming Harney & Sons. In December, 2013 Harney & Sons celebrated its 30th anniversary with the production of Thirty Years Black Tea based on Harney’s favorite teas Ceylon and India. It’s been an amazing journey from the depths of a small basement in his home to a company that has grown into a global operation with a huge 90,000 square foot factory/warehouse in Millerton, NY. The company employs more than 155 people and blends and makes more than 300 teas that are shipped all over the world and supplied to restaurants, hotels, gourmet shops, retailers and cruise lines. Teas come from the world’s tea gardens in Japan, China, India, Taiwan and as far away as Sri Lanka to Harney’s production facility in the Hudson Valley.

Concern for the carbon footprint of global shipping and how it impacts our increasingly fragile environment led Mike and Paul to join 1% For the Planet giving Harney & Sons an opportunity to help bring positive environmental change to the geographical region of the Hudson Valley and beyond. As a member of 1% For The Planet, Harney & Sons donates one percent of total sales to specific environmental organizations, among which include: Scenic Hudson, Housatonic Valley Association, Ocean Conservancy, CT Farmland Trust, Appalachian Trail Conservancy and many others. The company has also partners in philanthropy with renowned personalities as designer, Donna Karan, and restaurateur, Marcus Samuelsson, in support of their charities.

Tea cups around the world should be raised in a toast to Harney & Sons 30th anniversary and to John Harney, who is a testament to pursuing and achieving the American Dream – from humble beginnings, taking risks and being an innovator (acquiring a toll-free 800 number when it was newly initiated) to a global presence. A charming gentleman in his early 80’s with twinkling eyes and an infectious laugh, he remains very involved in the daily operation and, not only is he a master tea blender, he is a master of entertainment as he regales his guest with a wealth of tales and experiences over the past 30 years.

As tour guide of the facility, son Mike exudes such enthusiasm, energy and interaction with his employees, it is obvious that it is with great pride that he shows off the facility. With his dad, brother, wife and sons, it is and always will be a family affair.

Happy Anniversary Harney & Sons!

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