Reading Tea Leaves

tea cups
By Ralph Cohen

Ever since the Boston Tea Party, tea has gotten a bad rap in the U.S.

From Revolutionary times, drinking tea smacked of royalism, anti-Americanism or plain old snootiness.

But tea is making a comeback. With its health aspects, a third the caffeine of coffee, plus antioxidants and a host of vitamins, and its economic appeal, pennies on the cup, Americans are rediscovering its benefits.

One of those leading the charge is Sharon Pauley ’97. Together with her business partner and friend, Diane Peterson, Sharon co-founded Sweet P’s Teas in Columbia, Mo., two years ago. The company is mainly an online distributor, but a selection of the teas are available at Columbia’s popular Market Place CafĂ©. And within the next few years the women hope to open a tea shop.

Columbia College alumna Sharon Pauley and business partner Diane Peterson
"It won’t be a tearoom where food is served, like you find in England," Pauley says. "Instead, it’ll be a place of discovery where you can taste different types of tea or buy tea-related items and gift packs. We’re really sweet on tea." Hence the "sweet" in the company’s moniker. The P’s come from the first initials of the two partners’ last names.

The curious, however, don’t have to wait for the tearoom to open. Today, through the Sweet P Web site, they can order a variety of brews, teapots, infusers or books about the subject; join a tea club; plan a tea party; read the tea quote of the month (e.g., Ancient Proverb: "The path to heaven passes through a teapot."); or just have a good time.

"It’s all about fun," Sharon says. "There’s nothing snobbish about it. But we are passionate about tea."

Just how passionate? Enough for the business partners to attend festivals every few weeks to promote the joy of tea. Enough to hold Mad Hatter Tea Parties in which participants are dusted off with a duster when they come through the door, eat with big wooden spoons and drink tea through straws, along with other shenanigans. Enough to attend the world tea expo in Las Vegas this coming May to get certified as tea instructors.

Red Hat Ladies enjoy a tea party
Sharon’s love affair with tea began when she was four and her grandmother served her a cup of Lipton pekoe with honey. Memories of dressing up for tea parties stayed with her during the years. So, when the one-time social worker saw an ad from an Indian firm in Entrepreneur Magazine, she and friend Diane investigated and liked the prospects of being distributors. The courses she took in accounting and business while studying social work at Columbia College also helped.

"I always had an eye for going into business, and now is as great a time as ever," Sharon says. "Both Diane and I have grown children and careers behind us, but we’re not through yet. Not until we push through another revolution – one that’s pro-tea."