Hoda Paripoush is a tea sommelier, and founder and creative director of Sloane Fine Tea Merchants. Her teas are beautiful, and are gaining admiration and demand in the finest shops and restaurants across Toronto.
What do you love about tea?
“Hospitality is very big in our culture. Tea is a manifestation of hospitality. In my travels, I know what it means when someone offers me tea. It means, “welcome.” It’s such a unique product that has penetrated every culture in the world. From porch to palace, tea has its place in every home, in every heart, and in every village and city. It is the most widely consumed beverage next to water. It may take on different forms, but there’s an experience element to it; there’s a process; it’s like a universal language.”
There are so many teas on the market. What distinguishes Sloane tea?
“I believe life is in the details; and it’s the little things that matter. With tea there are so many labour intensive factors that, from the outside, you would never think about. Why would anyone hand roll a tea leaf around a sliver of bamboo? Because it makes that much of a difference. We launched to the market in 2011, but I spent a number of years prior to that traveling and establishing relationships with our farmers. There is an art to building those relationships, because it requires an extreme amount of appreciation for what they do; being able to cup 200 teas, and identify the two or three that are right for us.
We deal with the principles of perfumery where there are top, heart and base notes in every single ingredient. The same ingredient does not smell or taste the same in different parts of the world, or even on the opposite side of the mountain. There is an art to sourcing in the sense that not every farm is a match for what we need, because it’s about selecting the right blend. Our blend is only as exceptional as the quality of ingredients we work with. We’re known for freshness—that is the statement our tea makes. We do not purchase from distributors, brokers, or exporters, and we don’t wait for the tea to go to auction. We source directly from the gardens and so we’re known for exceptional quality ingredients. We’re also known for our packaging. Tea is sacred. We package it beautifully, because that is its temple. Sloane and tea are known for beauty: for the connoisseur; for the girl who likes pretty things; but also for the professional who is discerning and seeks value.”
How did you come to tea?
“Tea was something that always surrounded me. Being Persian-born in India, tea culture was huge in our family. I was also that child who was exceptionally particular about taste and presentation. I collected perfume bottles because I loved scent. I always enjoyed blending my tea. From a very young age I enjoyed pouring rose water, orange blossom or cardamom into my tea. I loved floral notes and aroma. Saturday mornings I would eat lavosh with butter and dip that into sweet tea. It was the most solace-full part of my day, and I enjoyed creating that ritual. When I left medical school, I read The Alchemist. It was the most life-transforming book. It taught me that, “When you pursue your personal destiny, the soul of the world conspires to help you along in achieving it.” I know I was destined to do this. I think of all the obstacles—or stepping-stones—and the people I’ve met along the way. Somehow I’ve developed relationships with them. They call me “Chhoti behan”, or, little sister; they come and visit me, and I stay in their homes. I was just a girl in North America who wanted to go out into the world and explore beautiful gardens, and learn as much as I could, but I’m also passionate and a little bit of a risk taker.”
You talk about destiny—like it was prophesied in tea leaves.
“Sloane tea has just been launched in all classes on all cars on VIA Rail across Canada. That’s very personal for me. When my family moved to Canada, we lived in Brockville. I often took the train with my godfather who worked for CP Rail. He helped design the VIA Rail station. I remember I would accompany him, and he would make me write letters to the commission identifying where the tracks were off. I have a fair amount of train travel. My parents were the custodians of that VIA Rail station in Brockville for two years, and I remember being with them when they were cleaning it. To think, now, that I’ll be able to take a trip with them on the train, and be able to have our tea served to us on the train for them to experience, is surreal.”
Why did you name your tea “Sloane?”
“I named it after Sloane Square in London, England. There is a sense of history and charm, and it’s gender neutral. Sir Hans Sloane was a physician. He was a traveler and a collector. Everything I do is inspired by what I have collected—physically or in my memory. He discovered drinking chocolate—my second favourite beverage—in Jamaica, and introduced it to the UK. Sloane Square is associated with old world charm; the millinery shops; and with luxury and quality.”
Adam Waxman is an award winning travel journalist focusing on food, wine and well being. As well as an actor in film, television and formerly, the Stratford Festival, he is the Associate Publisher and Executive Editor of DINE and Destinations magazine.