Aaron Stair has turned his life-long love of tea into a profession. His new premium tea range is the result of months spent with individual growers from around Asia ensuring the quality and sustainability of the farmers’ soil and methods that make up every tea in their collection. We spoke with Aaron to discover how tea became his drink of choice, and eventually, his livelihood:
What started you on your tea voyage?
I have been on this journey for as long as I remember, but if I had to pinpoint a specific moment, I would say it was one day when I was 16 years old and I found an Asian market in my hometown and stumbled across Oolong and Green tea, which I had never seen before. I still remember the packaging and thought they were like mysterious treasures!
Are you launching the teas worldwide?
Currently Hong Kong is our focus. It’s right in the middle of our chosen partnering farms. We can be anywhere we’re needed in several hours, which is critical for us due to the amount of time we spend with our partners. HK is also a fairly tea neutral city meaning that no type of tea is indigenous to the city and the very international nature of the place lends itself to a wide scope of preferences for flavours. Everything we deal with starts and ends (created, warehoused, packaged, etc) in Hong Kong.
Tell us about your strict guidelines for clean farming practices?
We understand, cooperate, or even in a few cases, take care of the agriculture for our partners. We are oriented by efforts to increasingly build what could be called a “life-based” model of agriculture as opposed to a “death-based” model. By this I mean the primary focus is on restoring and maintaining life. We have chosen to emulate the natural process of succession in ecology with confidence that these practices are restorative because they are based on replicating healthy natural systems. The “death based” model usually eliminates more than it creates. Industrial synthetic chemical models of agriculture are founded on creating cyclical patterns with the need for larger biology/people to regularly add fertility to soils and, in almost all cases, the need for the use of synthetic pesticides. It creates a condition where eliminating a few pests with insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, etc. At the same time destroys all other life fundamental to healthy ecology and consequentially sterilizes and toxifies the environment. Bluntly stated, in a theoretical sense, it ends up being a type of ecological genocide wherein the successful growth of the few is dependent upon the death of the many.
Is it difficult to find tea producers that live up to this criteria?
There are clearly measurable factors like availability and potential quantities of tea per year/season for what we need. Then there are factors like intention and dedication to the craft of making tea or if the teas produced fit our flavour preferences. We also need to take into account viewpoints on social and environmental responsibility and if our strategies are aligned. These are all standards that are ongoing and under constant review but we have found that it is not difficult for the tea producers to live up to these if we essentially share a core set of basic values.
Tell us about the mini films that show the tea origins:
It’s all about connections and communities. We have a brilliant opportunity with tea to talk about the whole story of its life, from sun and soil, to people enjoying great teas wherever they may be. One of the things we want to achieve is to increasingly help articulate and recognise the identity of the people and places that create our teas. Tea can often be considered a commodity, in the sense that it is nameless and faceless in the same way as products such as copper or crude oil. We believe that tea is a craft and an art and we want to recognise the stories behind each tea that we produce. The reaction to the origin films has been great so far. I think people are becoming more and more interested in the social aspects of products and experiences as we all realise it’s important for the world’s future direction.
What are some of your favourite tea and food pairings?
I love cold steeped first flush Darjeeling teas with ice especially from Lingia and Upper Namring. That type of iced tea with a large garden salad makes for a really refreshing lunch. I also love our Traditional Smoky Bohea with a strong dark chocolate. They complement each other really well. A lot of people ask what I do and, when I tell them I’m involved with tea, more often than not I’m asked if I like Chinese tea or English tea. I hope we can help to expand people’s horizons a little and encourage them to sample the amazing variety of teas around the world.
What do you see in Hong Kong’s tea future?
I see tea moving in the same direction as other drinks like coffee, wine and craft beer. They have all developed in recent years and started reaching new audiences and I think tea is ready for a very similar experience. The next ten or more years should be a really fun and interesting time for anyone looking for better teas.