People often come up to us and ask, “How did this happen? How did your family start working together selling tea? What is your success story?” Well the short and simple answer is that there is no short and simple answer to any of those questions, and we are not a success story, but multiple success stories. A jumble of circumstances, a group of amazing people, and the grace of God all came together and created something that none of us ever imagined.
To get any kind of clear picture of how this happened we need to follow all four of the owners on their paths through life before Piper and Leaf. First as a group, then on their individual journeys, and then back to the point where all of their separate lives collided again and created something no one ever imagined, connecting our success stories into one story. The owners are me, my husband Caleb, my older brother Connor, and my younger sister MaryClaire (MC).
Connor, MaryClaire, and I are siblings so we obviously had similar upbringings (although MC being the second youngest could be argued to have a very different upbringing than the oppressed older children, but we won’t go there). Caleb was raised in a family with a lot of similar values and traditions to our own, causing our childhoods to be overall very similar. Our parents poured more than just love into each of us, they also strived to give us stellar educations, pushed us to work hard, and encouraged us to follow our passions, all of which were very different. Connor was always medically minded, Caleb wanted nothing more than to run a business and create art, and I loved writing and traveling, and doing a little bit of everything else on the side. All of our lives were also inundated with a wonderful culture, food, and even tea.
Travel took me to Boston when I was about 20 years old and I fell in love with that city and the tea that I found there. I spent a week soaking in that wonderful old town and unbeknownst to me that short visit changed my life forever, though it was years before I realized this. In the meantime I met and married Caleb, Connor became a doctor of physical therapy, and MaryClaire (who is 8 years younger than me) was growing up and going through high school. Our lives seemed to all be taking different paths and family was the only common thread. From the outside, it looked like we were all on the way to having pretty solid and separate success stories. And then with a jerk, our lives took a turn that none of us saw coming.
It started back in Boston. Caleb and I ended up traveling to Boston one fall completely on a whim to visit his sister, and while there I knew I had to introduce him to some of the wonderful tea culture I had previously discovered. The trip was so short that the tea was almost cut from the agenda, but through a series of fortunate events we ended up making it happen. Caleb was immediately hooked, as I had been with the experience of premium loose leaf tea. At the time we still did not realize what was happening, but we were now on a fast track to total change in the direction of our lives.
Soon after that trip, Connor started talking about moving home to be closer to the family. He had been practicing physical therapy in North Pole, Alaska (yes, that is where Santa’s letters actually end up) and had just been offered a job in Antarctica. As much as he wanted to go live with the penguins and seals, he decided that more than that he wanted to try to do something to effect a change in the culture and community of our hometown of Huntsville, AL. His idea was to start with a fun family project of selling something in a mason jar at a local farmer’s market and go from there, but the dream hadn’t fully developed. Again, on a whim, Caleb and I decided it would be fun to help make it happen, so one wintery day, we called up Connor in Alaska and asked if he wanted to start a farmers market booth the following summer with us selling compost and compost tea. Connor said “Sure” and just like that our company was born.
I bet you feel like we just fell off the tea track when I said compost, but bear with me – this story is still about tea, and we’ll get back to that after the compost.
From years of owning a lawn care company, Caleb had amassed a mountain of deliciously dark, rich compost which all of our farmer friends assured us was in hot demand. Unfortunately, though, it turned out that while farmers were excited about compost, all the market customers had no use for it, and were even a little afraid of it. Luckily, we had brought a side product: premium loose leaf teas that Caleb had blended with herbs and berries from our garden, brewed and served in Connor’s dream mason jars. It’s funny, several flavors have not lasted, but the three we served that night are still among our most popular: Sassyfras Strawberry, Healing Honeysuckle, and Old-Fashioned Birthday Cake! It quickly became apparent that tea was our dark horse champion, as it sold faster than we could mix it, and eventually sold out. Compost was quickly removed from the picture, and tea in mason jars became iconic of what was to be known as Piper & Leaf Artisan Tea Company.
From that very first night, the resounding support that we were met with was astounding. What we had thought would be a fun family side project turned out to be the point where our success stories and the success stories of many who were to become invaluable parts of the Piper and Leaf family in the future came together as a unified story. The continuation of the Piper and Leaf journey, and the personalities that create it is what we hope to bring to you here so that you can join in the journey of tea with the rest of the Piper and Leaf Family.