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Plants as Allies

One of the most commonly asked questions at our tea and tisane classes is “How did you guys get started?” Of course I can only answer that question from my perspective and experience, so I will let Ruby and Will write their own posts…but here is my recollection. 6 years ago I had just finished a 2 month stint in Moscow helping to open a coffee shop for a large, world spanning corporation. It was a LONG 2 months. At the end of it, I flew to Switzerland to meet my wife and take a couple of weeks of downtime. We nestled ourselves in a cabin in the alps for a week, then took a nice, slow train through the mountains down to Milan and finally a cozy apartment overlooking the Italian Riviera in the Cinque terra. Ahhh…steam release. Sounds nice, no? Well, of course it was nice. But overlaying the whole vacation was a dread; A slow, creeping dread that my time was just a furlough from the grind that would greet me when I returned to Seattle. Here I was, getting paid to fly around and share my love of coffee- this plant that had inspired, energized and enriched me for so many years- and I was HATING it! I read a book during that time: “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle; A Year of Food Life” by Barbara Kingsolver. I was tired, a little lost, and feeling like I needed a new path, and that book became a germ of an idea. Kingsolver’s book was specifically about working to live for a year, with her whole family, on a diet constrained by distance- a 100 mile diet; Localism. But inside that narrative questions were raised about the relationships we have with food- with the growers and pickers, the travel and labor involved in creating our meals. And also, under all that - the relationship with the “food” itself. I realized sitting there in the mellow shade of the Italian sun, that I needed to slow way down and realign myself with a deeper, more meaningful relationship with not just my food, but the food that I was putting before people as a culinary professional. I needed to stop dealing with this plant, coffee, that I loved so much like it was a commodity. I had to return to the things that I loved about having a relationship with the plant- I had been taking from it for a while, and I needed to stop that and learn how to give back a little. How could I become an ally to that little tropical cherry? And then, with some talk and consideration- why stop at coffee? What about Tea? And wait…what about the whole world of plants that constitutes the human history of steeping and brewing? The practice of using plants made into beverages for therapeutic uses was as old as the first fires made by humans- and there was a whole new world waiting to be discovered for me. Luckily, there were thousands of great teachers and leaders to help- and even more importantly there were the plants themselves. We sit here in our little shop and rabbit away- ordering plants, bagging, blending, tasting- printing labels and stickering boxes, tallying numbers and laying plans for which show to go to when and what customer to visit when. And most days I get to take a moment and carefully brew up a little something that is new to me, and savor it, listen to it…go and read up on the plant and the history of its relationship to humans. And when I am really lucky, I get to share that with someone who says “Hey- that sounds cool- let me try some too.” Joshua Russert Chief Alchemical Officer B. Fuller's Mortar & Pestle