Zhena's Gypsy TeaFounding Gypsy Tea has been a great blessing in my life.  Getting the products into tens of thousands of stores and filtering back hundreds of thousands of fair trade dollars to our growers has been satisfying.  The pain of growth has shaped me into a bowl that can now hold much water.  Launching during the September 11 crisis and then learning how to scale a business in a severe recession gave me the strength to accomplish just about anything professionally.  Balancing single motherhood with being a tea entrepreneur added interesting twists in my path – taking Sage to my first Whole Foods meeting because I didn’t have a babysitter was both a blessing and, well, a curse when he spit up on his green overalls during my presentation.

As I write this, our team is packing up my office (I think I am a hoarder, and they are curing me of it now) and the rest of the offices for our move to Los Angeles.  Little Ojai doesn’t have a building big enough to accommodate us anymore and we need to be closer to the Port of Long Beach.  The larger-axel trucks are no longer allowed on the little road into Ojai and the logistics of moving tea have overwhelmed our local systems.  The quaint beauty of our village has guided our authenticity and nurtured me as I worked 10-hour days for the last 10 years on my vision for Gypsy Tea.  I have decided not to move, because at the end of the day, if I am not surrounded by wild nature, I am not my highest self.  I will be working from my new Mongolian, light-filled yurt in our vibrant wilderness property high in the mountains.  A river running past the little porch of the round nomad house is fitting for a woman of gypsy blood.  A blending room full of essential oils and fresh herbs, teas, and spices surrounded by trees?  It’s my definition of heaven on earth.

Zhena's Gypsy TeaIn light of this, we hired a new CEO to take over the parts of the business I can no longer manage from here.  I came to the realization that my greatest passions were getting the least amount of my time.  My title is now simply “the Mistress of Tea.”  Since January, I have been focused solely on product development, traveling to our tea gardens and building a foundation called Fair Trade for Education.  I am working on a line of clothing that will soon launch, a line of candles that are scented with the very teas we produce, and some exciting new tea blends.  The difference now is that I work on these things all day, then get to go home BEFORE dinner to be with my new baby girl and growing son.  I wanted to achieve balance in my life and here it is.  A life of tea IS SUPPOSED to be a life of balance, for tea’s message to our minds, bodies, and spirits is balance.  But running a complex business can be the antithesis of balance if you don’t have the help you need – or in my case, don’t know how to ask for it.

Last year, after the heart-wrenching failure of our biodynamic teas in the market place, I asked the universe for clarity and focus on what we should do next and finally came to the conclusion that we needed to evolve and grow and that I needed help.  We live in an asking universe – anything can be ours if we just have the courage to ask for what we want.  I asked the gods of tea to give me back the missing parts of my life.  I offered anything in return to have more time to focus on the parts of tea that I loved, while having the right person to manage the parts I didn’t love.

Within a month, we found the person I just knew was to be our new CEO.  I had never felt comfortable handing my responsibilities over in the past, always worried something would go wrong.  But suddenly I felt safe and began piling things on his desk.  Tea is also in his blood; he’s managed successful tea companies in the past and arrived at the right moment.

I belong to that strain of entrepreneurs who are also fierce mothers to their babes.  This business is my little girl who is now growing up.  I nurtured her, but now she needs more than me.  I couldn’t trust anyone more than I trust the team around me.  Now I get to finish the book I have been writing for years and already have been freed up to travel more to our tea gardens.  When placed lovingly alongside our growers and tea workers, I am able to fulfill the reason I started this company – to share, learn, and help.  Pushing paper and managing six jobs all at once caused me to nearly burn out.  I now get to spend my days blending, designing, and communing with our growers and customers in a more intimate way – a meditative way, more true to the way of tea.

Zhena's Gypsy TeaI love tea.  I love what it has taught me.  I love what it did for my son and me when almost 11 years ago, I strapped my baby to my chest and started making tea from a little cart.  Now we have a brilliant group of people growing our little business with my big vision.  Others can see my vision too now and have made it their own.  I am supported in ways I never imagined possible.  Gian, who grew up at the Golden Temple, in India has taken so much off my plate already.  Carlos, who survived civil war in El Salvador, is now caring for my customers with his kind nature.  Randy got a PhD in accounting in the Philippines before moving to California to help us create systems that will make all of our lives easier.  Edgar grew up in Durango, Mexico and has managed hundreds of warehouse employees at a time, before coming to us to manage our awesome tribe in the warehouse and facilities.  Paula headed up a global fitness empire before coming to help manage our complex importing supply chain.  Sean, the former COO of Oregon Chai, has now taken the helm of Gypsy Tea as its fearless CEO and given me back the luxury of time, creativity, and balance.  Tea has finally given me a team and continues to nurture my soul.

From the Ojai office, the boxes piled up around me, I watch the moving trucks pull up to the building and I begin dreaming up our next trip to the tea fields.  I am looking forward to being in Los Angeles at the offices once a week, doing tea trainings, tastings, and development, as well as communing with our team in my newly painted red office with the Japanese garden.  The fact that things are changing is proof that tea will continue to sustain me, and that the gods that run the tea pantheon in the sky do listen to us mere mortals who have been summoned to be of service to tea.