The Bluegrass State is known as a place for fast horses, great bourbon and excellent basketball. However, over the years, Boyle County resident Bruce Richardson has been striving to add fine teas to that list.
“I had a friend, his name is John Harney in New York and he’s one of the grand tea gurus of the American tea renaissance, he used to introduce me to audiences by saying, ‘If Bruce Richardson can sell tea in the middle of bourbon country, the world is really changing,’” he said, laughing.
It all began in 1990 when Richardson and his wife, Shelley, purchased and renovated their historic Perryville home, the Elmwood Inn. Shelley came up with the idea to open a tea room as a means of creating revenue for the house. She says Bruce loved the idea.
“I just came along for the ride,” Richardson said, laughing.
The two already enjoyed traveling and tea, so it seemed like a great idea to bring those flavors home.
At that time, it was “unheard of” to open a tea room in Kentucky. The Elmwood Inn Tea Room was truly what started it all for Elmwood Inn Fine Teas, a company that was built out of that initial venture and includes custom tea blending, tea seminars for newbies to enthusiasts, and Benjamin Press Books, a publishing division named after their son.
Bruce Richardson, who is a noted speaker, writer and recently-named Master of Tea for the Boston Harbor Ships and Museum, said the beverage also has been his “passport to the world.”
“Every day I’m talking with people in Calcutta or Kathmandu or London or New York or Toronto. … It’s an amazing world that we live in, because we can reach out and touch people. And it’s all because of this common cup of tea that brings us together,” he said.
Richardson still seems surprised by the variety of people he’s been able to meet through the world of tea. It reaches beyond nationalities and fields, touching health, agriculture, government and more.
“In the past six weeks, a boy from Danville, Ky., I’ve had dinner with the ambassador of Sri Lanka at his home in Washington, D.C. The night before, I was at the India embassy in D.C. Then, I’m at the Department of Agriculture reporting for two magazines on the international scope of tea and health. It’s a great opportunity,” he said.
Channeling his creative energies into tea was not an incredibly difficult task for Richardson. He is also a musician who was involved in founding the Danville children’s choir and says creating music is much like creating a tea blend.
“If you’re a musician or a composer, you’re using creative abilities all the time. So you just take those same creative abilities and put them into blending teas, rather than blending choruses,” he said.
Richardson, who writes books, blogs and contributes to a variety of publications, including “Tea Time” magazine, which included the Elmwood Inn Tea Room in Perryville in its charter issue, says writing is something he’s always enjoyed. It wasn’t too difficult to believe he’d turn to writing about tea.
“When you have that passion, you write about what you know. When we started tea, there weren’t that many books on it. We really did it because there was a demand for it,” Richardson said.
They publish books that are not strictly tea books. One of the most recent include a children’s book about the debate at Centre.
Part of the reason Richardson loves a good cup of tea is the ability it has to slow you down, even for a short while, as you brew and enjoy it. There’s an entire lifestyle associated with tea drinking, he says, one that encourages you to slip out of your world and into a calm place.
“People are discovering tea as part of a lifestyle,” Richardson said, adding that tea can be “your sanctuary.”
Another reason tea is experiencing a resurgence, he believes, has to do with the major health benefits associated with partaking it. Richardson frequently attends internationally-known seminars about this connection and reports on that for several of the publications he contributes to.
“We listened to nearly a dozen research scientists all over the world who came in to present papers. … It’s just amazing how tea and health have linked together. It’s one of the healthiest beverages you can consume,” he said.