Portland, Oregon– Ravi Kroesen has recently been named Vice President of Tea Operations for Steven Smith Teamaker.
Kroesen is no rookie to the industry. He had an opportunity to work at Portland’s Tao of Tea’s warehouse back in 2000, where he wore many hats over his 7-year tenure and eventually became operations manager. That gig led him to the Brooklyn-based Bellocq tea brand and oversaw tea operations for 6 years. Then, Royal Coffee New York approached him to run operations at their tea sector Royal Tea.
He plans to use this opportunity to continue the tradition at Steven Smith Teamaker and to bring better quality tea to consumers thus aiming to shift the consciousness of the tea buyer in the United States.
“I want to carry on the tradition. There’s a strong respect for what has come before here at Smith but we’re always looking ahead. For instance, our British Brunch, which is one of our best selling teas, is a breakfast blend but it’s not any ordinary tea. Every time we blend that tea it goes through an intense, rigorous process. We’re dealing with different crops year to year as well as even season to season. So some of our lots are going to taste different just because of the growing cycle,” He continued, “It’s amazing how subtle shifts change the flavor profile. We’re constantly retooling and tweaking. It’s a craft. I feel so proud to be a part of a team that puts so much care into every product we produce.”
Throughout his life, Kroesen has been on a unique path that brought him here, although his tea journey started well before 2000. It began to take shape when he and his brother were sent to boarding school in the Himalayas. He was 10 and his brother was 8.
They were raised as Sikhs and their parents wanted them to be immersed in the religion. “We were up in this remote area, our school was on the side of a mountain, about a mile and a half outside of town, surrounded by nothing. So our school looked down into the valley, seeing fifty miles into the horizon.”
They were away for 5 years and didn’t see their parents for the first three. “It was a very life-changing experience. It changed the dynamic of the family in a sense. In a strange way, it was almost like being an orphan. You were really brought up by your peers. It was the kids in school that became the family. If someone in that circle were to reach out to me today they would always have a place to come stay if they wanted to– wherever I lived. Or, I would drop everything to go have dinner with them. It’s just that level of bond that was created there was very strong.
Since his time in India (and many other travels around the world) and work in the industry, Kroesen’s relationship with tea has grown.
“It’s such a beautiful way to cement that relationship- c
Kroesen continued, “Being able to travel to origin – it makes such a world of difference. I spent years studying, reading all sorts of books, everything I could find about tea and then it really helped just going to the garden and seeing firsthand the entire process with which tea is made. And it’s something else, just this deeper level and it clicks. It helps to bring everything full circle- being able to see how that [tea]was made in person and then drink it right there, right after something had been made the day before – it really brings a deeper respect for the people that make the tea as well as how much gratitude I feel for being able to drink that tea here in the U.S..”
Professionally, he plans to continue his journey by supporting the tradition that exists at Smith and providing exceptional quality teas that use the craft implemented by Steven Smith. But traveling and tasting fresh, new teas is something that inspires him on a personal level.
“I really look forward to traveling- being able to drink tea at the origin with a farmer that’s put so much effort and energy into creating something so beautiful.” He continued, “For me, I’ve always found that there are those teas you end up having that there’s life before it and then life after- a life-changing moment tea. I’ve probably had close to 7 or 8 of those in my life and I always look forward to that next one.”
One of those moments he described was tasting Spring Chinese Greens. “Cupping them, samples that were sent from China that were 2 weeks old. They were so bright, so fresh, and so crisp it was literally like you were drinking the mountain. It was like you were absorbing the experience.”