The Gentlemen of Tea

Regena RafelsonPost by Regena Rafelson, editor of T Ching


I came to tea reluctantly, rather like attending the wedding of a co-worker I respected but did not admire. Sure, I had consumed a few cups of tea over the years, but these were confined to mountaineering or backpacking expeditions where I could not carry my stove-top espresso maker. At 14,000 feet, the wind howls, spindrift finds its way into even the tiniest opening, and hot drinks are consumed with a level of appreciation unparalleled at lower elevations.


When I began my career as a teacher – in my mid-thirties – even my coffee habit changed after one of my students described me, “She smells like coffee.” From then on, I drank just one cup of espresso each morning – the color and consistency of black strap molasses – after which I brushed my teeth thoroughly. If I needed a pick-me-up at work, I purchased a cola from the vending machine.


At home, I had the typical Baby Boomer’s collection of tisanes: mint for an upset stomach, chamomile for restless evenings, and lemon-ginger to stave off a cold. The only time I needed real tea - our beloved camellia sinensis – at sea level was when I went snow-blind after a sunny ascent of Mt. St. Helens in 1990. The Emergency Room physician advised placing wet and cold orange pekoe bags on my closed eyelids.


When medical issues forced me to examine my coffee habit, I was non-plussed. I was told to avoid caffeine. After quitting coffee cold-turkey, I had headaches, difficulty sleeping, and prone to violent outbursts of profanity. When I asked my primary-care physician about tea, he launched into a well-memorized, ancient, and unquestioned maxim: “tea-has-more-caffeine-than-coffee . . . “ in a sing-song voice. Rather than launch a world-record outburst of naughty words, I consulted an herbalist. He recommended that I drink oolong. He told me that oolong has just enough caffeine to alleviate my symptoms, but not so much to aggravate my health issues.


I went online. There were, literally, hundreds of choices: green oolong, brown oolong, black oolong, oolong with a few almost-white leaves, oolong rolled into little pebbles, oolong that looked like twisted green rope. Oolong that smelled like fruit and oolong names which conjured up an entire novel.


Freedom is the absence of choice.


One day, my tea supplier delivered my monthly 150 grams of oolong in a large silver mylar bag. “It’s the last before I re-order,” he explained, “so I’m including a few extra grams as a bonus for being a loyal customer.” I handed over the $18.00 and examined the bag. Originally containing a full kilo – which I purchased 100 – 150 gram parcels over several months – I saw that it came from India: Lochan Tea, LTD.


I googled it and found that I could purchase my beloved oolong directly from the source at a third of the cost. Too good to be true? I e-mailed the store, and sure enough, if I were to order half a kilo, a little over a pound, shipped from India, the total cost would be about two-thirds what I was paying to purchase the same tea here. Surprising as that is, I squealed with delight when I read the e-mails from Rajiv and Vivek: American business could learn a lot about polite professionalism from Lochan Tea.


I ordered half a kilo and waited anxiously. Two weeks later, a parcel wrapped in muslin and sewn to the carton arrived on my doorstep. The seam was sealed in sealing wax. It was the beginning of a beautiful relationship. In the last five years, I have ordered black, oolong, and green teas. Teas from China, Darjeeling, and Doke. I ordered Dream and Calming Chai's. 


Lochan Teas have been honored at the Bejing Olympics, the Tea Expo, the Great Foods in UK and by the ITCC. Their on-going efforts to assure that tea workers are compensated to first world standards, and to provide educational opportunities for women are nothing short of remarkable. Their ongoing leadership in the world of tea will benefit all of us who love tea.


Lochan Tea is an exemplar for business conducted with dignity. My thanks and warm regards to the Gentlemen of Tea.