I have always been intrigued by one our member’s company name, The Republic of Tea. I thought it both unusual and creative, and one that was full of promise. My intrigue was further fuelled when I learned in August that I should make time from my routine activity to meet their ‘Minister of Origins,’ who would be passing through Kolkata. So that was how I met with Sarah Scarborough on the 9th of August this year, first over a breakfast meeting and then in November having the privilege of travelling with her to Assam.
I listened with interest about the philosophy of the company and how it was conceived by Mel & Patricia Zeigler (yes, those associated with ‘The Banana Republic’ brand!) who then sold it to Ron Rubin who made it a name to reckon with in the niche speciality tea segment. To keep in line with the name of the company, the designations of its people are quite unique. Staff like Sarah are known as ministers, sales people are ambassadors and retailers, embassies!
Sarah travelled to Assam to understand what the ETP assurance programme was all about, to visit potential supply sources for her company, and also to see Rainforest Alliance-certified estates. Apart from viewing these estates as being potential sources of her company’s supply, she visited them to acquire a feel and understanding of the work that ETP does on the ground. It was another coincidence that these estates were recently Rainforest Alliance-certified, and were thus in keeping with her requirement for her company’s supply. She visited the hospitals and saw in-patients, met estate residents, saw tea fields with harvesting in full progress, and saw two of the most modern and efficient tea factories.
Unfortunately, owing to a bandh (general strike) in Assam on the 3rd of November our travel plans were disrupted. However, we made the most of our location and visitesd the Tea Research Association (TRA) headquartered in Tocklai, Jorhat. We were lucky enough to meet Dr. Mridul Hazarika, Director TRA. Sarah had an interesting meeting with him dicussing tea chemistry, which is a subject that’s close to her heart. Before I knew it the TRA Director was offering her a week long customised course on tea chemistry scheduled for spring 2012!
Since writing this Sarah has visited Darjeeling and Nepal. I look forward to seeing her again and hope her trip was meaningful!