Why should you care about tea?

John Hales holding a spoonful of tea
John Hales is a level five tea master. (Photo credit: John Hales)

Whether it’s tea, chai or chă, there’s no doubt that tea is one of the oldest and most popular drinks in the world. From steaming mugs of hot tea in the winter to iced and bubble teas in the summer, rarely does a day go by that I don’t consume tea in some form. But I’ve never really given much thought to where it comes from or how it’s made, which is why I was so excited to sit down (over a cup of tea, of course) with John Hales. John has been working in the tea industry since he was 19 years old and is currently a level five tea master at Metropolitan Tea.

BZ: Let’s start at the beginning. How did you get started in the tea industry?  

JH: I guess you could say I was born into tea. My dad was a tea buyer and I got my first job was preparing teas for the tea tasters when I was 19 years old. I would weigh the teas by hand, brew them and flick the leaves into the lid for the taster to inspect. Then I became the guy that was tasting, blending and buying the tea. After a few years of doing that, I took on a new role where I was the middleman between the tea growing estates and the tea buyers. That job took me to Mombasa, Kenya, where my eldest daughter Rosie was born. After we moved back to the UK, I started working for a tea broking company, which closed in 2004 after we realized that the internet made it easier for buyers to have direct access to growers. I heard about an opportunity in Canada with a company called Metropolitan Tea and moved my family here in 2005 and that’s where I am today.

BZ: Wow, that’s quite the journey. How has the world of tea changed since you first started out?

JH: It’s really changed a lot, both in terms of the what and the how. When I was working for the specialty tea company as a 19 year old, specialty teas were pretty much jasmine tea, lapsang souchong and Darjeeling. Then Earl Grey was introduced as a flavoured tea, followed by lemon flavoured teas and all of a sudden, people realized that you could flavour all these teas. In the last few years, the doors have just blown off on specialty teas. Now, we can even do pina colada flavoured teas! It speaks to this movement away from traditional tea as I knew it growing up. We still see good sales in black, white, green and yellow teas, but herbal tea is where all the expansion is taking place.

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