Voices of Tea: Michael Harney
Michael Harney is Vice President and second generation face of Harney & Sons Fine Teas. His book, Harney and Sons Guide to Tea came out last year. I recently had a chance to talk with him about his family and their connection to tea at the 2009 World Tea Expo in Las Vegas.
1. You recently wrote about some of the obstacles you faced in sourcing teas during your recent trip to China. What are some the critical factors in finding the right tea crop in China and bringing it to the US? One of the most important factors is knowing the right place to be at the right time. In China, tea moves quickly through a process from harvest to local markets where processors snatch up the teas that will sell well. A reputable exporter is also immensely valuable in assuring your quality teas arrive promptly in the US.
2. Harney and Sons was started by your father some 26 years ago. Now you and your brother are carrying on the family business. Besides family, what drew you into the tea business and keeps you there? I used to work in the hotel industry and was active in the wine business. From my work with wine, I developed an appreciation for the multi-generational wine families of France who carry on their familiy’s traditions. The Harney family carries on tea traditions with rites of passage for my children. They accompany me on tea tasting trips to Germany, and they join me on trips to China and Japan. My son went on a recent trip to China. It’s great to have him along, and he shoots better pictures than me.
3. The Harney and Sons Guide to Tea is an excellent introduction to the origins, characteristics and processes of making several of the world’s best known teas. What prompted you to create this work? I reluctantly got into writing through a parent of a kid on the hockey team I coached. She encouraged me to become more active in writing about tea. It has been satisfying to know that the Guide was nominated for a James Beard award in the beverage book category. This category is usually dominated by wine books, and this is the first year a book on tea was a finalist.
4. You find yourself on the streets of NYC and craving some good tea. Where do you head first? Radiance Tea is good. In the past, Harney & Sons did some work with Takashimaya’s Tea Box Cafe, and would recommend it as well.