Zundert is a small town in south Netherlands, population 22,000. The birthplace of Vincent Van Gogh, it lies in a province that is one of the biggest agricultural provinces in the country. Strawberries and hedging plants are commonly grown. In fact, close to 10% of Netherlands nursery production takes place right here.
It was only natural then that Johan Jansen chose this town for his idea. Johan is a traveler and most at comfort when close to nature. His travels have taken him all over Europe but crucially – for our blog – also to China. When he was 20, just after having completed his bachelors in business administration, he spent close to six months in China. It was there that his love for tea was born.
For most of us, getting hooked to tea means ordering our favorite brand and ensuring that all the raw material for our choice cup is always at hand. Blame Johan’s childhood for what he did to get his favorite flavor. Having grown up with his parents and grandfather in an agricultural setting with a cool access to a greenhouse full of tomatoes any time of the day; Johan’s solution was decidedly in line with his roots. He decided to breed a tea plant that could be grown right there – in Netherlands.
Easier thought than done. On the plus side was a growing interest in health & green tea, going local & having organic products. On the minus – well, let us just say that there were not too many tea plantations in Netherlands. If he succeeded, Johan’s tea plant would have been the very first.
What started was eight long years of struggle. Of countless plants ordered from all over the world – the US, Canada, Asia. Bred and cross bred. Tried and failed. Failed and tried. Till one succeeded. What his 8 hectares of tea plantation (5.5 hectares are open and close to 2.5 hectares are in a greenhouse) hide is the countless hours spent in trial. Of hours of doubt and niggling worry. Of his full family supporting him in this endeavor. And then rejoicing when the one plant lasted the winter.
With this huge victory behind him, Johan set off to climb the next hill. How to successfully scale production. And what should he be selling – the tea plant or the tea leaves. Well, his answer was to simply go to the Customer for both. Crowdfunding his way to buy land, Johan’s firm – Teabyme – sells both, the tea plant and packaged green, black and oolong tea, to customers.
His key co-pilot in this venture has been Anne Adams. A self taught tea sommelier, Anne is behind the blends and the tea that the plantation sells. If there is a video on tea making, it is likely that Anne has already seen it. A book on tea making – high possibility that she has read, digested and experimented its recommendations and findings.
Their “tea”m has won the Gourmet D’or in France and recently, their stall at the Great British Tea Festival in Derby was a huge hit.
And had the genius impressionist been alive today, we might have been witness to how Van Gogh saw a tea plant. A plantation in his birthplace, Zundert might just have been too cool to resist. A tea plant to go with the sunflowers and olive trees paintings. Well, so what if we do not have a painting – we can always wait for the Van Gogh tea blend from Johan and Anne.