Artist Feature: Albion Tea Company! When Tea is More Than Tea

Today’s Artist Feature is one of the single most inspiring, mobilizing stories of beauty and heart that I’ve had the privilege of sharing so far on this blog.

Deborah and Brock Wilkie are the founders of Albion Tea Company, a business + ministry that not only creates beautiful and delicious teas (and even herbal coffees- what?!) and tea products, but also utilizes their heart for the broken, marginalized, and needy. They are doing good as well as creating good product and I simply can’t say enough about them!

Settle in with a cuppa for my interview with Deborah as she tells of the adventures that led them to start this exciting journey! (All product photography by Kara of Humilitea House who was featured on this very blog here!)

Tell us a little about your background:

World travel was a big influence in my life. I started traveling overseas immediately after high school and never looked back. Germany, Malta, England, Wales, 4 times to Ireland, 2 times to Australia…interning on a cattle station, helping as an au pair, teaching English, volunteering with a ministry…wide variety of experiences that broadened my horizons and gave me a deep appreciation for other cultures, cuisines and of course, introduced me to the wide and wonderful world of TEA!

WOW! That is a lot of travel!! (I’m only a little jealous…like 99%) Were you always a tea-lover? How did that passion develop?

I grew up collecting tea things and having teas with my mom. Our favourite book was Emilie Barnes’ If Teacups Could Talk. From picnic teas to themed seasonal teas, to teas with my dolls and teas at real tea houses, it was a staple of my girlhood. The teas my mom would throw became legendary in our area. So many amazing memories wrapped up in the gentle beauty and bonding of tea time.

I love that tea was such a sweet and meaningful part of your childhood!! I’d love to hear how the business developed from a passion into a business?

Albion Tea Company really all started with chai tea. I first had authentic loose leaf chai while on my first trip to Australia and fell in love. I never could find it back in the states, so I set about learning how to craft it myself. Many, many months later I developed a stunning chai we dubbed Rivendell Chai which has become our flagship tea. This experience opened my eyes to the complexities of tea blending, but also to how much I enjoyed the challenge and the process.

My husband and I have a heart for the UK, particularly Wales. We fund raised for two years to move to Wales and work with World Horizon’s Youth Development Team, leading an outdoor adventure program for Welsh young people. However, UK immigration denied our visas which closed that door, causing us to look for a new direction but still with a burden for that corner of the world.

Wanting to be free to pursue ministry stateside and create the life we wanted for our young family, in 2016 we decided to go into business for ourselves. Early in our marriage I had been crafting a few teas and candles and such and selling on the side. Our friend, Kara, was the one who asked if I had considered re-starting a full-on tea business, considering I had already crafted a killer chai! 😀

The seed was planted, the idea grew, and we realized that was the perfect fit for us. I had become quite the tea snob from my time overseas, and my hubby and I could see a tea business being something we would love doing together. We had a soft launch in November, 2016 and were stunned by the response from family and friends to the teas we were creating. So we officially launched in January 2017 and made the leap: Brock quit his remodeling job and I stepped away from my role as Senior Executive Leader at Usborne Books & More to give 100% to the business we are building together.

This story is so uplifting to me as a creative, hearing how God has grown this dream into a reality! And you are also using this passion to give back to that corner of the world you’d felt led to as well, right?

Yes! We currently have a tea, Snowdonia Ceylon, that has a portion of the proceeds being donated directly to the YDT program in Wales.

Tell us a little about how you created your logo and came up with your company name?

Our logo includes the Trinity Knot and the name Albion is the Ancient name for Great Britain. We love books, so there was also a literary influence to our name choice: Stephen Lawhead’s Song of Albion trilogy which is a favourite of ours!

(Yes! Favourite with a “u” in true British style.)

Clearly, you have a heart for reaching people along with your passion of creating fabulous teas. Is God opening your hearts to any other avenues of ministry?

As we have looked at the future and how we can impact young people here in the states through our business platform, youth aging out of foster care were put on our hearts. Our goal is to build our business to the point of needing to hire employees and then hire young people in this much ignored, but often very needy, demographic! We want to provide a good income, a stable work environment, mentoring, and assist in plugging them into the community and find their passion for their future.

As many as 36% end up homeless as they lack the support system and skills needed to acquire a job and establish a life for themselves. Nearly half of youth who age out of the system end up in prison within 2 years. Our goal is to hire aging out youth as employees of Albion Tea Company, providing a steady paycheck, mentoring, and assistance plugging into the community.

That is amazing!!! I think you’re the first person I’ve heard of point out this overlooked corner of the population. How awesome would it be to see God use Albion to reach and bless them!

We are actually moving to northern idaho next year and looking at farm properties. To expand our business and ministry, we want to have a pick-your-own-lavender and tea farm with a tea/gift shop, a getaway cabin or two, and tiny houses for the youth we employ to live- a place of peace and rest for folks to come, relax, and find Christ-love. Our own little Rivendell if you will.

We believe this vision to provide work and housing for a time will give these people much needed tools and eventually help them work towards full independence to chase their own dreams!

I am already in love with this idea, not only because I would obviously want to visit, but because it’s so empowering and inspiring to find ministries and businesses and creatives (or a combination of the three) who are not only creating beautiful, excellent products, but are also using their gifting and business etc. as a vehicle to draw people close to Christ and grow the kingdom of God.

Personally, I LOVED the teas you sent me. Would you share a little more about your process of creating them and what kinds of products you have?

Each tea blend we sell is completely our own creation. We dream them up and make them a reality. We currently have 15 black and herbal blends, plus 4 drinking chocolate blends, and an herbal coffee blend, plus chai tea jelly and a chai spice blend. We love to get creative and think outside the box with tea! We also love searching for unique beverage accessories to provide for our customers.

Herbal coffee?! Okay. That’s the next thing I’m ordering. And hey, if I decide to go absolutely all-natural everything tomorrow, can I still consume your products?

Absolutely! We are committed to an organic, eco-friendly life style and this carries over to our business as well! Our tea ingredients are organic and fair trade. We do not use any artificial or natural flavorings or preservatives…if we can’t make a flavor with real food ingredients, we don’t make it! Presents a huge challenge but we are committed to providing tea as it should be…fresh, pure, organic, utterly delicious.

We create our teas and drinking chocolates to order so each customer receives a deliciously fresh product every time. Nothing sitting on shelves and collecting dust over here!

What if I’m new to the tea-drinking world? Can I ask questions or reach out to you guys?

Definitely. We love teaching people how to use loose leaf tea and love answering our customers questions about the process from selecting a kettle to choosing an infuser! The taste of fresh loose leaf will blow the mind of anyone accustomed to drinking tea made from boxed tea bags. And not only is it easy to prepare and tastes amazing, but it is highly cost effective. Our loose leaf canisters come out to less than 50 cents per cup for made to order, fresh, organic, fair trade tea! You can’t beat that anywhere!

That is a lot cheaper than my Starbucks order, not gonna lie. Can you give us any sneak peeks of what’s new or coming up for Albion Tea Company?

This month we have launched our Adventure in a Cup Club…a monthly subscription box featuring our teas and drinking chocolates, along with carefully curated accessories and goodies. We have a box for adults as well as one for kids! With our love of world travel, we will be exploring different cultures with our boxes throughout the year.

That sounds fabulous!! And for kids, too? I would never have thought of that.

Yes! Kids love tea too; plus, it makes a super yummy alternative to sweet sodas and juices! We have created many of our herbal blends with kiddos in mind; our daughter Carys LOVES being our official taste tester for those. 😉 Her favourite is Misty Mountain Chai.

Since it’s summer, do you make any cooler options?

All our teas and drinking chocolates can be made ICED! How cool is that?! So for warm months, or for those not keen on hot drinks, we have ya covered. My favourite trick to make iced loose leaf tea (which knocks bagged iced tea out of the park!) is to use a french press (that hasn’t been used for coffee of course.) You put in 1 tsp per 6 oz of water, cover with cold water, pop the french press in the fridge for 6-12 hours (depending on which kind you are steeping), press down, and voila!

Also, the drinking chocolate makes amaaazing homemade popsicles! A trick of the trade for hot herbal brews is to cover your mug with a plate while steeping to keep all the healthy herbal goodness and flavor in your tea instead of letting it escape with the steam.

Wow. Great tips!! Anything else we should know about your fabulous company?

In July, we will be donating 10 trees to Trees for the Future for every canister of tea we sell: our goal is to sell 1,000 canisters in July to plant 10,000 trees! 1,000 trees brings an entire family out of poverty! (After July we will regularly be donating 1 tree per canister.) Trees for the Future has an amazing program teaching forest farming techniques to families in Africa to help bring them out of poverty and to restore the land itself. Check them out here.

I can’t stop saying wow… Readers, are you inspired yet???

Thank you to Deborah from Albion Tea Company for taking the time to share your story with us!!! And just for you, reader, use this COUPON CODE to receive 15% off your order: BEAUTY15

If you want learn more about Albion Tea Company, here are all the places on the interwebs you can find them:

ALSO: Deborah and her hubby are hosting a tea time event TOMORROW evening for anyone who would like to know more about their online tea experience program!!! To find more info, click here.

And one more thing…
If you’d love to do something fun in support of Brock and Deborah’s fabulous business + ministry, here’s a truly fun idea!

Artist of the Month: Heather Hernandez

I am so honored to introduce May’s Artist of the Month with you! Heather Hernandez is a wife and mother of two, writing about embracing divine joy in every season. We met recently over the interwebs, via our mutual membership in an excellent website called Hope*Writers.

Encouragement flows naturally out of Heather and subsequently her writing, because it is innately part of her. She writes over at rejoicinginlife.com where you can find more encouragement as a mom, creative, and/or human being. Heather was recently featured at (in)courage as well, which is a website devoted to creating a new home for the hearts of women to connect and thrive with God and each other.

You’ll also find some excellent FREE resources when you subscribe to Heather’s blog that will help you embrace the season you are in through faith, organization, and really good questions to ask yourself.

Today, she generously shares how to live a creative and artful life well from a place of purpose and peace.

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“God wrote, ‘I love you’— he wrote it in the sky, and on the earth, and under the sea.  He wrote his message everywhere!  Because God created everything in his world to reflect him like a mirror — to show us what he is like, to help us to know him, to make our hearts sing.”  Sally Lloyd Jones, The Jesus Storybook Bible

I was reading this to my son yesterday and it stuck with me.

Because all of creation, all of the beauty God lavishly painted across the sea, the earth, the sky, and the stars, all of his ART…it all points us back to him.  It whispers to us deep in our souls and spirits about who he is.

He poured out his creativity into his creation.  Into us.

And I believe that all of us have that spark.  That divine well of creativity that when we are soaking in His words, His song, His beauty, His creation, enables us to live creative, beautiful, artful lives wherever we are at, in so many different ways.

It’s been almost seventeen years since my father died and it wasn’t until last month when I wrote about him living his life well, that I realized part of why I thought he lived it well was because he was making art with his life.

I think that looks like being present, blooming where you are planted, using limitations for inspiration, doing the things that make you more fully yourself and using the gifts our Creator bestowed upon you.

For my father, that looked like, transforming our little backyard into his own mini farm, woodworking, leather working, hiking, camping, fishing, taking classes in Western history, and writing a book by hand during his lunch breaks and cracks of time.  It also looked like playing, and chasing, and wrestling with my brother and I.

He didn’t have acres of land to farm or the money to buy one.  He didn’t have the ability to quit his “regular” job and write for a living.  But he didn’t let the limitations stop him from using his gifts and pursuing the things he loved.  He lived and loved and died well.  And his life pointed everyone back to the Creator.

I inherited my love of writing from him.  There have been a lot of stops and starts and redirections along the way, but I’m finally feeling like I have a purpose in it all.  That I have something to write about.

But this season for me is one of pregnancies and raising babies and making a home.  And so it looks like finding my cracks of time to write and create and dream.  And remembering to be present with my children and my husband.  To see the limitations as ways to decide what is important and refine my focus.

I think there is this idea that bigger is better.  That we have to be on the NY Times Bestseller list, or reach hundreds of thousands with our words.  That we need to be selling albums, or be a nationally recognized name, or grow our businesses bigger and bigger.

But I think when we measure value by the number of sales, page views, and likes, we are missing the mark.

It is so easy to compare my life, my purpose, my gifts to other people.  Especially the well known ones who do have the big numbers, likes, and followers.  But we are all unique and we are in different places and seasons and God’s purposes for our lives are as vast and varied as His creation.

And the person who is faithful where they are planted, who blooms there as they cultivate and care for their patch of ground, their little family, their little community.  They are doing just as valuable work as the person who is speaking to the masses.

It’s not about the quantity of what we have to offer, or even the number of people we touch.  It’s about offering up our gifts to God and listening to what He is calling US to do and being faithful in that.

In the interest of my love for lists, here are some things I think we can do to be purposeful about living more creative and artful lives.

1. Be Present.  

It’s so easy to drift through life always thinking about the next thing on the To Do list (Ahem, Me!) Try to stop and slow down and be present in what you are doing.  Really take in your surroundings when you’re going for a walk.  Give your children some focused attention and listen to what they are saying.  Dance in the kitchen.  Sing with the kids.  Savor your cup of coffee.  Use your five senses.

2.  Where Are You Planted?  

Take stock of your season and your responsibilities.  What are your limitations right now?  They can change sometimes without us really noticing.  Be realistic about what you have time for.

3.  Use Your Limitations for Inspiration.

Take the parameters of those limitations and think about what you can do within them.  Prioritize what is important to you and your family and refine your focus and purpose for this particular season.

4.  Use Your Gifts.  

What do you love?  What skills and abilities did the Lord give you?  What makes you feel alive and energized?  Write them down and think about ways you can use them in your life.  You may not have room for all of them at once.  Come up with what you can do right now in this season and pick some to add in.  Depending on how much time and energy you have in your season, it may look as simple as writing while the kids are napping, or inviting another mom over for coffee once a week or sketching after the kids are in bed, or playing the piano for your children.

5. How Can You Help and/or Enrich Other’s Lives?  

This goes hand in hand with using your gifts.  Once you decide what you love and which things to make time for, then think about how you can use them to help others or enrich others lives.  Can you make dinners for new mothers? (They SUPER appreciate this, I guarantee!)  Maybe start writing encouraging notes to people, or help in the nursery at church, or do something to raise money for charity.  Ask the Lord to show you opportunities that are a good fit for your season.

6.  Keep Your Well Filled.  

This should perhaps be #1 as well.  It’s so easy to get caught up in the busyness, in the cares of this world and stop dwelling on God and my well dries up, and I feel like I don’t have anything to pour back out.  Anything to fuel that kind of art.

I think that’s why it’s so important to dwell on the true, the noble, the just, the pure, the lovely, the admirable, the excellent, and the praiseworthy.  (Phillippians 4:8)

To seek out the things of beauty.  To fill ourselves up so we have something to give, to create.

To reflect the glory of God.

So remember, you are special and unique and don’t have to be anyone except who God created you to be.  You can live artfully no matter what season you are in and what your particular gifts and talents are.  And everything you have to offer is valuable and you don’t need to compare yourself to anyone.

And all of this beauty?  All of creation?

It is his message of “I love you”.

Artist of the Month: Heather Knudtsen

Our September Artist of the Month is the beautiful, articulate, brilliant Heather Knudtsen! (And not to brag or anything, but she’s one of my best friends and most kindred of spirits! So… yeah.) Heather and I used to stay up way too late in college talking about this very dear subject of beauty, of Jesus, of the inextricable link between the two, and how we carry his beauty into the world. (And sometimes dressing up like pirates because it’s cool to do that.) It is a great treat and a high honor that you get a peek inside her beautiful heart today. Enjoy!

The Case for Beauty 

When I was little, I used to hate when my Dad listened to the news. It seemed to me to open a portal into our little living room to let in all the misery the world had dreamed up that day. I’ve always struggled to keep my perspective hopeful when my focus is drawn to the evil, the ugly, or even just the empty that shares this world with the good, the beautiful, and the meaningful. How is it that I can trust or believe in the beautiful and the good when there is such cruelty and despair?

For whatever reason, evil seems to cancel out good more quickly than the reverse. I wonder if this is not the reason that for much of the past hundred years our artists seem to be more and more disenchanted with the pursuit of beauty in creating their art. After two world wars and countless other horrors, who can believe the lies beauty has been telling us all these years? That there is good, there is healing, and that we are part of a story bigger than ourselves?

I think artists are somewhat more sensitive to despairing at the evil in the world. We are always stretching the hands of our souls out, feeling through the dark for little pieces of infinity. We have an intuitive sense that constantly reminds us of the way the world should be: filled with purposeful identity, excellent craft, and moments of beauty.

This is perhaps why “artists” as a group are often less concerned with the get-a-job-and-a-house-with-a-picket-fence standards of the society around us. We seek after a standard on a different dimension. But this means that when we realize that the purposeful identity and moments of beauty we seek are even harder to come by than a job-and-a-house-with-a-picket-fence, we feel cheated. Our souls stretch out their hands and so often find filth instead of beauty and apathy instead of purpose.

The question is, what do we do next? Do we give up on art? Do we pretend we never found the evil and create instead a false world of meaningless beauty? Or the opposite—do we use art only to express our sense of despair?

I think these have been reactions that myriads of artists have chosen. But I believe there is another perspective to be had. One that says it is evil that is intruding on a world that was meant to be good and beautiful, rather than the beautiful fighting a dying fight in a small corner of an evil world. Those of us who believe the words of Christ and his followers know the world to have begun with “it was good”, and eagerly await the day when good is restored. In our perspective, the evil and the ugly are a passing fancy; foreigners to our land who will not succeed in their attempts to conquer it. They do not belong, and deep down we know it, and their departure is the very cry of our hearts.

So take heart, my fellow artists! You are not over-idealistic misfits soon to be dashed on the harsh, stony shore of the world, but instead, the keepers of beauty and meaning in a time when the souls of the world are hungry for the hope you hold, as they wait wearily for evil to thrash its last thrash. You have a job to do, and it is bigger than the insecurities you have about your artistic ability and even transcends the work you do in your specific artistic medium.

Bring some beauty back to the world.

It might not be popular, it might be accused of taking no account of the grittier truths of life (but it is because of these truths that you should do it). Be willing to go after this subjective and ethereal thing that is as likely to make a fool of you as it is to decide to show its face. Because when we decide to attempt the creation of beauty, we open ourselves up to the possibility of failure. We reach for a standard we do not intrinsically have the full power to achieve. The attempt cannot even be begun without vulnerably opening ourselves up to be sensitive to the whispers of beauty and the story we need to tell. We must be willing to dream bigger dreams than we assuredly know we can accomplish.

And as far as how to recognize when you’ve created something beautiful, I think you’ll know. If you shut off the voices of comparison and just do the work, something right will happen inside you when you do it. And you must try, because a world without beauty is a world without grace, humanity, and hope.

Beauty refutes both the meaninglessness of the daily and the despair of destruction. It does not negate it, but it meets it on the battlefield and says “this is our land, not yours”. As artists, we must bridge the gap between the world that we delight in and the world that we have. We must live in the tension of the world we hope for and the world that is.

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Heather Knudtsen directs theatre and is a freelance graphic designer & social media marketer by day. Recent theatrical productions have included The 39 Steps adapted by Patrick Barlow, A Christmas Story adapted by Phillip Grecian, and Trifles by Susan Glaspell. Her favorite arts are music, literature…ok all of them. Her favorite college roommate was Haylie Allcott. Find out more about Heather at heatherknudtsen.com/directing.