Who We Are

Who We Are 2018-11-27T14:11:22+00:00

We are a cross-section of subject matter experts and working tea professionals, both independents and company leaders, with more than 100 years tea business experience among us. In addition to our Board of Directors, we are fortunate to have the guidance of a highly experienced and diverse Advisory Board, each member invited specifically for their service in areas of high need and strategic value to our membership.

Tony Gebely
Tony GebelyExecutive Director, Founder
Throughout his 13 years in tea, Tony has worked for many leading tea companies, helping them navigate the burgeoning specialty sector of the tea industry. Tony is also the founder of the two-time World Tea Award winning website, World of Tea which has produced well-researched content on tea since 2009. He also founded Chicago Tea Garden, a tea importing business that he ran from 2010-2012. Having traveled extensively through tea producing regions during his life in tea, and having a degree in Computer Science, he developed a pragmatic approach to tea which led him to write his 2016 treatise, Tea: A User’s Guide. Tony continues to be a student of the leaf and is currently working on his second book.
Suzette Hammond
Suzette HammondDeputy Executive Director, Co-Founder
Suzette is the founder of Being Tea, offering education-based programs and project consulting. For 15 years, she has traveled extensively in the US and abroad as a professional on location trainer. She spent over a decade managing training programs for leading US tea companies before creating Being Tea in 2015. Being Tea’s flagship offerings include Sensory Skills Workshops, Train the Trainer, and Tea Mindfulness Therapy, as well as an online program (via Patreon) for live broadcast workshops and private tutoring. Suzette also works with the International Specialty Tea Association (ISTA). She collaborates with World Tea Academy, World Tea Expo, and leads conference and festival workshops anywhere the tea calls. She serves as a judge for the Global Tea Championship, and previously instructed and developed content with the Specialty Tea Institute (STI) for many years. Suzette also has experience in specialty coffee and is a trained journalist, an advocate of tea therapy for mental health, and studies somatic therapies. More than anything, Suzette’s clear passion is shepherding connections through tea: She is the peer-nominated recipient of 2018’s World Tea Award for Best Tea Educator.

Board of Directors

Rich Avella
Rich Avella
Rich Avella first encountered specialty tea in 1990 as a job requirement. Though his focus was on playing and recording music for a living, he was expected to develop expertise in this bitter beverage made from camellia sinensis leaves. Rich’s “a-ha” moment that tea could be delicious captivated his curiosity. Rich pursued the path of trainer, with an emphasis on helping individuals connect with their own sensory experiences and put them into words. He ultimately developed a multi-level coffee and tea education program at Peet’s Coffee & Tea and led a team of inspired and inspiring trainers. Rich co-founded Highwire Coffee Roasters and Highwire Tea in 2011. In 2016 he launched 4track tea, with the intention to make delicious tea easy. Rich remembers what it was like to know nothing about tea and to think that it wasn’t for him – he firmly believes that anyone can find the right tea for them.
Noli Ergas
Noli Ergas
Noli Ergas never really “got into” tea; it just sort of grew on him. While living in Japan, he became accustomed to both the standard daily teas (sencha, genmaicha, mugicha, etc.) and the traditional tea of Japanese tea ceremony (matcha). Daily habit grew into interest which grew into passion. Now, he is one of the few outside of Japan certified as a Japanese Tea Advisor by the Japanese Tea Instructor Association. With an education in the sciences (BA in Geology and MS in Biology), Noli has a solid scientific background to aid in understanding and communicating the processes by which tea is grown and how it benefits our health. With his background in education (Teaching Certification in Japanese), Noli enjoys spreading knowledge on any topic from organic tea farming to Japanese Tea 101 to nutrients in tea as part of the Sugimoto Tea Company Team.
Cynthia Fazekas
Cynthia Fazekas
Cynthia began her tea career with Special Teas in 1999, handling varying roles in the fledgling company, including customer service, operations, office and sales management, and tea tasting. Her evolving responsibilities grew to include blending and QC not only for Special Teas, but also for its eventual sister company Teavana in the pre-Starbucks days. She joined Adagio Teas in 2007 as a wholesale sales manager and currently also has the responsibilities of tea buyer and master blender for this industry pioneer. Her continuing tenure with Adagio has enabled her to deepen her passion for specialty tea with trips to origin and exploring tea trends worldwide.
Jordan G. Hardin
Jordan G. HardinCo-Founder
Jordan has spent most of his life working in the food and beverage industry. He was introduced to specialty tea after working at a string of Japanese restaurants and, upon moving to Los Angeles, got a job at the American Tea Room where he worked for 6 years. This provided him with a professional working education in tea, which he used to became their General Manager and Beverage Director, helping them expand to three locations in Southern California. There, he met Tony Gebely and started writing articles for World of Tea, and later became Editor in Chief. In 2016, Jordan began work with Alfred Inc., where he helped manage and develop a concept on Melrose Place that eventually become Alfred Tea Room, which they later expanded to locations in Tokyo. He now serves as Food & Beverage Director for Alfred Inc. which owns multiple Alfred Tea and Alfred Coffee locations across Los Angeles.
Danielle Hochstetter
Danielle Hochstetter
Danielle Hochstetter has been studying tea or working in tea for over 15 years. In 2007, after working in wholesale at International Tea Importers she decided to move to China to learn more about tea. During her six years living in Hangzhou, she came in first place in the Zhejiang University Mandarin Chinese competition for non-native speakers and graduated from the Master’s program at Zhejiang University in Tea Science. During her studies, she ran a tea tourism business showing people around the tea fields, museums, and best tea shops in Hangzhou. She has visited tea fields all across China. She returned from China in 2014, working at Peet’s Coffee and Tea, Mighty Leaf Tea and Teforia.
Jo Johnson
Jo Johnson
Jo-Ani Johnson’s path in the industry began 15 years ago while working in corporate advertising and marketing. She began hosting afternoon tea events throughout New York. Her passion has evolved through her business venture, A Gift Of Tea (tea business consulting and tea speaker/educator). She is also owner of Tea Blending Sisters, offering tea blending instruction and event coordination. Jo is an International Tea Education Institute (ITEI – Canada) certified tea blender, and is also certified by the Specialty Tea Institute (STI). She participates regularly at World Tea Expo and the Tea Bloggers Roundtable, and blogs under the handle Scandalous Tea. Her experience includes keynote speaker in Taiwan at the International Forum on Tea Culture, Creativity & Science (2015), and the Green Tea Study Tour Japan through STI (2016). She has also written, illustrated and self-published two children’s books on tea. Jo’s duel focus currently includes tea and fashion: She has walked the runway in both New York and Paris Fashion Week, and can also be seen Vogue RTW Pre-Fall 18.
Nicole Martin
Nicole Martin
Nicole Martin is the resident tea nerd at Tea for Me Please, a blog where she has been writing about her love of the leaf since 2008. Her writing has also been featured on World Tea News, The Daily Tea, Tea Journey, and other publications. Nicole has worked in tea retail for several years and provides freelance social media and marketing services for the tea industry. She is the winner of the 2018 World Tea Award for Best Tea Blog, as well as the 2015 World Tea Award for Best Social Media Reach.
Jason McDonald
Jason McDonaldBoard Chairman
Since 2012, Jason McDonald has worked tirelessly pioneering the US farm-to-table tea movement, starting with a tea growing operation on his family farm in Mississippi. Jason is the founder of The Great Mississippi Tea Company, Chief Tea Officer of The Hawaii Medicinal Tea & Herb Cooperative, and co-founder of The United States League of Tea Growers. His tea has won 6 awards in the last 6 years for both quality and innovation. Jason believes that tea growing in the US will only be sustainable if it adheres to strict quality standards via the specialty tea sector. It is his mission to reshape US tea growing through innovation and collaboration with tea growing regions around the world to create an economically viable model based on quality through mechanization.
Andrew McNeill
Andrew McNeill
Andrew McNeill began working in the tea industry in 2005. He presently serves as Director of Business Development for Seven Cups Fine Tea. Established in 2004, Seven Cups is known for its early adoption of a direct-trade sourcing model and the promotion of traditional Chinese teas. Andrew also serves as an advisor to the International Specialty Tea Association, which strives to identify and train the technical quality standards of specialty tea manufacture worldwide.
Raj Vable
Raj Vable
Raj founded Young Mountain Tea with a promise – if remote Himalayan communities in North India would grow tea, he’d set up a company in the US to sell it. Since then, he’s been focused on connecting all the elements in tea’s supply chain – from farmer to factory to exporter to retailer to consumer. Based in Oregon, Young Mountain Tea offers a collection of direct sourced teas and organizes trips to origin including India Tea Tour, a 3 week experiential learning focused on the evolving Indian tea industry. Young Mountain Tea is the 2018 recipient for Best Sustainability Initiative at the World Tea Awards for their Global Tea Exchange program, India and Nepal.
Michael Ortiz
Michael Ortiz
Michael Ortiz was born in Miami, Florida. While studying meditation at a local Buddhist temple, he was unknowingly initiated into the way of tea. Since then, he has made it his personal mission to see an authentic 21st century tea culture in America. In 2011, he founded JoJo Tea which has focused primarily on whole sale and foodservice tea distribution and staff training, and is developing retail distribution.
Marissa Reddy
Marissa Reddy
Marissa works at The G.S. Haly Company, the oldest specialty tea importer in the United States, where she is responsible for navigating regulatory compliance at origin while upholding G.S. Haly’s benchmark quality standards. Marissa began her career at Peet’s Coffee & Tea in 2004, learning from the last of the Peetniks trained directly by Alfred Peet. Since then, she’s woven that educational thread through other areas of the tea industry, including developing resources and leading classes for a variety of retail and wholesale audiences across the United States. Marissa has also worked extensively in specialty coffee, led workshops for the World Tea Expo, and served as cupping coordinator for the Global Tea Championships. In her non-tea life, she tries to dust off her MA in Literature whenever possible.

Founding Members

Advisors

Dan Bolton
Dan Bolton
Dan Bolton is a journalist and publisher who has covered the beverage industry since 1995. He travels the tea lands regularly to consult with tea industry executives, market analysts, tea wholesalers and retailers, and to speak at conferences. He is the founder of Tea Journey, a consumer magazine for tea enthusiasts launched after a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2016. Since 2013 he has worked as managing editor of STiR coffee and tea, a global publication for the tea trade. His work appears weekly in the World Tea News, a digital newsletter that he re-launched as editor and publisher in 2011. Dan is the former publisher of Tea Magazine (now The Daily Tea). He is co-founder and editor of Natural Food Network and magazine and published the first Certified Organic Food Directory in 2003. He lives in Winnipeg, Canada.
Kevin Gascoyne
Kevin Gascoyne
British tea taster Kevin Gascoyne was weaned on tea and has been buying it in Asia since 1989. Since 1993 every spring has found him up in the Himalayas, obsessively sourcing the finest seasonal leaves of the region. Over the years his passion for the black teas of India has spread to the plantations of many other countries. In Canada he co-owns, runs and shop-keeps the award winning Tea Studio project in Nilgiri, India. Kevin, having written for publications in the U.K., Canada the U.S.A. and Japan, still pops up in various publications and has co-authored a couple of prize-winning tea books including ‘Tea, History, Terroirs, Varieties’. Recently voted World’s Best Tea Book 2014 by the industry in World Tea Awards. Kept busy with a wide range of blogs, workshops, conferences, seminars, research and field consulting activities in North America, Africa, Europe and Asia, his colleagues claim that Kevin’s daily tea consumption compares to the flow of some small rivers.
Bachan Gyawali
Bachan Gyawali
Bachan Gyawali is the founder and owner of Jun Chiyabari Tea Garden, over the hills around the small town of Hile, Dhankuta, Nepal. After competing his education in Hotel & Restaurant management from the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, he joined the family’s hotel business, going on to plan and open a further three properties in Nepal. A background in the hotel industry has trained and served him well in the tea business, with an eye for details with uncompromising focus on quality and a mind of curiosity and creativity that is always looking to experiment and innovate. Jun Chiyabari, whose name translates to “Moon-lit Tea Garden”, was founded in 2001. The underlying philosophy of Jun Chiyabari, which is respect for produce, people and place, comes from Bachan’s love for the land and the people that share and harmoniously coexist in this Himalayan nation. The goal – to excel and produce the best possible teas in keeping with organic practices and ecologically friendly principles – is an extension of his persona.
Nigel Melican
Nigel Melican
Nigel Melican, a crop scientist by training, has clocked up 39 years’ hands-on practical experience in the tea industry, initially as a peripatetic field and factory technical trouble-shooter with Unilever Research and, since 1990, as owner of his tea technology consultancy company Teacraft, and his specialty tea e-commerce company Nothing But Tea.

Nigel has extensive experience in all facets of the industry, assisting tea producing clients in 28 countries – from green tea feasibility in Australia to tea extracts in Zimbabwe – and is proud to boast having manufactured black tea on six of the world’s seven continents.

He believes that this 5,000-year-old industry is now facing unprecedented changes and is fascinated by the opportunities they offer. With an eye on the future he now concentrates on helping to develop non-traditional tea growing origins – USA and Europe in particular – and innovating to solve the novel challenges of growing fine specialty teas under some very marginal climatic conditions.

Nigel is co-founder of the US League of Tea Growers, co-founder and President of the recently formed European Tea Society, and 2018 recipient of the John Harney Lifetime Achievement Award.

Chaminda Jayawardana
Chaminda Jayawardana
Chaminda Jayawardana is the Managing Director of Lumbini Tea Valley, located on the edge of the Sinharajah Forest Reserve – a World Heritage Site – in the Lumbini Valley of southern Sri Lanka. He has over 20 years of experience in tea growing, manufacturing, tasting, marketing and exporting. His father, Dayapala Jayawardana, planted his first tea field in 1975. Chaminda has also offered seminars in Ceylon tea for many years, in locations including the United States, Japan, Australia, Spain, Korea and Mexico. Lumbini Tea was recognized with 20 awards nationally and internationally in 2017. They started exporting tea for the first time directly from a garden in 2006.
Lydia Kung
Lydia Kung
Lydia Kung is the owner of VeriLeaf, specialty tea importer and wholesaler. Lydia’s first encounter with tea gardens and workers came during a year of dissertation fieldwork in Taiwan. The research topic at the time was factory women. As wage earners, these young women’s predecessors were tea workers. After several years as an anthropology professor, Lydia turned to specialty teas as an importer and wholesaler. The business of specialty teas makes for rich opportunities to educate fellow trade members and consumers alike, and sharing tasting notes and product information is a priority in VeriLeaf’s operation. All tea categories never fail to surprise and enlighten, but Lydia admits to a partiality for oolongs. In this category, one can delve deeply into the interplay of origin, cultivars, and processing methods. Such a focus makes a good entry into elevating benchmark standards and into establishing good value teas as well. Serving as a judge for the World Tea Global Tea Championship provides Lydia with invaluable insights in a comparative context, a role she is honored to hold.
Mike Spillane
Mike Spillane
Michael Spillane has set the standard for tea professionals in the United
States for four decades. His profound love for tea and his commitment to
education and industry growth inform every aspect of his role as president
and owner of America’s oldest tea importer, The G.S. Haly Company. Learning the ropes of the industry from experienced tea makers and traders shaped his core beliefs: rigorous cupping and thorough familiarity with tea manufacture should be the basis of tea education, and education is the foundation of successful long-term business relationships. To these ends, Mike began offering tea training through the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) in the early 1980s. The popularity of these classes led him to create the American Premium Tea Institute (APTI), the first
tea education program in the United States. APTI later evolved into the Specialty Tea Institute (STI). Mike also served as chairman of the United States Tea Board of Experts from 1993 until 1995.

In 2016, the World Tea Expo honored Mike with a Lifetime Achievement
Award in recognition of his many contributions to the tea industry. His dream
is to pass on his passion for tea to the next generation of tea professionals.

James Norwood Pratt
James Norwood Pratt
With books translated into multiple languages and numerous articles, columns, videos and print and TV interviews in US and overseas media, James Norwood Pratt is quite possibly the world’s most widely read authority on tea and tea lore. Since the first edition of his classic Tea Lover’s Treasury appeared in 1982, he has been an inspiring presence on the international tea scene. He has served as Honorary Director of America’s first traditional tea house and International Juror at India’s first Golden Leaf tea competition.

He is the author of James Norwood Pratt’s Tea Dictionary, the worldwide tea trade’s standard reference work, and is America’s acknowledged Tea Sage. In 2015 he was the recipient of the John Harney Lifetime Achievement Award at the World Tea Expo. A native son of North Carolina, he lives with his wife Valerie Turner Pratt in San Francisco.

Marzi Pecen
Marzi Pecen
Marzi’s experience in the arts, technology, medicine, customer service and Vajrayana Buddhist practices gives her a unique perspective on understanding others’ needs, allowing the facilitation of collaboration with a variety of individuals and occupations. As a certified tea professional she works with a range of experts in the tea industry, tailoring education and organoleptic programs for culinary programs, mixology professionals and aficionados of tea, chocolate and perfume. A lifelong love of tea and her constant quest for knowledge has resulted in acquiring all of the professional certifications given by The World Tea Academy, Specialty Tea Association Canadian Tea Association and North American Japanese Tea Association. Her primary area of concern is assuring that the dissemination of tea knowledge is up-to-date and factual, reaching those within the industry and any interested consumers. Currently, she is working on a do-it-yourself book on sensory training and a fragrance kit specific to tea. She continues to collaborate with artists and perfumers on sensory delights. When not immersed in tea, Marzi is involved in local wildlife rescue in East Texas. She is a volunteer emergency care provider and educator for BatWorld, and serves on the board of Hearts Afire Deer Rescue.
Virginia Utermohlen Lovelace MD
Virginia Utermohlen Lovelace MD
Virginia Utermohlen Lovelace MD is a Board-certified pediatrician and retired faculty member of the Division of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, the world’s premier nutrition faculty. While there she earned numerous teaching awards, including the State University of New York’s Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. She explores the aromas of teas and how teas and foods interact in the mouth, nose, and brain, with a special emphasis on how you experience beverages and foods together. With respect to beverages, she has studied not only tea but also coffee, beer, and wine and their flavors, and why you may prefer one over the other. She is the author numerous of scientific papers, a blog, and the book “Three Basic Teas and How to Enjoy Them,” available on Amazon. Virginia wants to say, “I love tea, love teaching, love writing, love answering questions, and love joining you at the American Specialty Tea Alliance!”
Scott Svihula
Scott Svihula
Scott Svihula has carved out a niche as an expert in the specialty coffee & tea industry. His discerning palate has garnered him many industry awards and achievements. He further fortifies his multi-faceted skill set encompassing strategic planning, product development, operations, marketing, quality assurance, regulatory compliance, training, sales & production management. He brings exceptional business acumen focused on enhancing sales & revenue growth within regional and nationally leading brands supported by impactful advertising, continuous research, & a talent for identifying and capitalizing on emerging industry trends. In 2016 Scott started his own tea & coffee consulting business, Hula Consulting, to offer a unique one stop service approach offering everything a company needs to grow, whether they are a startup or have been in business for decades. His customized consulting approach allows companies to capitalize on his skills and knowledge to target specific growth areas. Hula Consulting’s main focus is on regulatory compliance, certification support, product development, product sourcing and training.
Tony Tellin
Tony Tellin
Tony Tellin stepped off the train in Portland, Oregon on a summer evening in 1998. The next morning, he chanced to pedal by the loading dock at Tazo. Determined to make something of himself in life, he wound up making tea for 20 years. First at Tazo, where he rose quickly to craft test batches for tea shaman Steve Smith. Then, in 2009, as a founding member of his mentor’s newly-formed specialty company, Steven Smith Teamaker. From Smith, Tony acquired a classic, old school tea education. Extensive visits to India, China, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Nepal added a thorough understanding of production practices, product qualities and supply chain factors. In due time, he was voted to the advisory board for the Specialty Tea Institute, crafted curriculum for the International Culinary Institute, and judged World Tea competitions. Today, as the head teamaker at Smith, his highlight reel includes pioneering the concept of tea on tap. Rolling out wine- and whiskey-barrel-aged teas. Arbequina olive oil oolong. The ricotta cheese Lover’s Leap latte. And his latest, greatest hit: Maker’s Series No. 006 3-Finger Black, a mashup with Grammy-winner Béla Fleck. The son of a seamstress, Tony embodies what it means to be a maker in every aspect of life. He says Steve Smith would say, ‘If you want to be different, don’t act the same. Look to makers outside your craft.’
Bliss Dake
Bliss Dake
Bliss Dake is a strategic leader, entrepreneur and brand builder passionate about building premium consumer experiences. He has over 20 years of marketing, general management, operations and business development experience spanning consumer to B2B. His connection with tea started in 2004 with Mighty Leaf Tea where Bliss built the company’s e-commerce business from the ground up into a multi-million dollar sales channel. Later as Chief Marketing Officer and a key member of the leadership team, he developed a global marketing strategy that established Mighty Leaf Tea as an iconic brand and premium leader in the tea category. Bliss managed all marketing functions including brand, promotion, digital, CRM, e-commerce and product innovation across retail, foodservice and web channels. He won accolades as an early social media adopter including his role as Mighty Leaf Tea’s brand voice on Twitter where he was named “a must follow account” in 140 Characters by Dom Sagolla. Mighty Leaf Tea was named an Inc. 500 Fastest Growing Company in 2005 and 2006.
Brighid O'Keane
Brighid O'Keane
Brighid began her tea career in 2006 as a tea educator at Samovar Tea Lounge in San Francisco. She is a co-founder of Open Heart Tea Company and directly imports tea from Thailand, where she has worked with local farmers for 15 years and opened a donation-based tea house, Wong Nam Cha (วงน้ำชา “Circle of Tea”). Brighid has professional experience in nonprofit organizational development and is currently the Executive Director of the Cider Institute of North America, where she works with business leaders to develop industry standards for cidermaking training and certification. She looks forward to bringing her experiences in the cider, wine and food cooperative industries to the American Specialty Tea Association.