Tea Time! From Biscuit Breaks To a Manifesting a Tea Empire: The Founder Behind Sloane Fine Tea Merchants
by Kiki Athanas
November 12, 2017
Hoda is an Iranian Canadian - although she’s never been to Iran and was born in India, where her love for tea started to “brew” so to speak.
Her story is one of hustle and grit, similar to many, if not all, of the entrepreneurs we sit down and chat with. Hoda’s though, is also remarkably focused: her passion for tea was present throughout every stage in her journey, and is truly the key element to the founding success behind Sloane Fine Tea Merchants.
When she was three and a half she moved from India to Brockville, Ontario (what a culture shock that must have been!) and lived there until she was 20, at which time she moved to Toronto and became a young newly-wed. Getting hitched certainly didn’t slow down this entrepreneur though, as she still went on to pursue impressive educational endeavours at York University - studying psychology and completing all of her science pre-requisites to become a physician. Unfortunately, this was more of her parent’s dream - or at least what she assumed her parents would wish for her - rather than what was manifesting in her heart.
With that said, Hoda did resonate with a more of the holistic approach to medicine, and so she decided to continue her education at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine. That’s where she started a tea club - jokingly admitting: “Truth be told, I put more energy into that versus studying for my exams!”.
REAL LIFE TAKEAWAY #1:
If your path is leading you elsewhere - read into that, rather than interpret it as a “distraction”. While Hoda was a noticeably successful student on the outset, holding a spot as the top of faculty - she realized that she was there for the wrong reasons, and couldn’t help but come to terms with the fact that she just wasn’t as passionate about it (like everyone else she was surrounded by).
REAL LIFE TAKEAWAY #2:
Take the plunge! “I finally did it: I admitted to NOT wanting to become a physician! I was fearless about it! ...Well, fearless - yet I didn’t tell my parents for two weeks, ha!” Hoda laughs.
She looks back on her times at school, and overall in life: “Regardless of what was going on, I looked forward to my 3 pm tea time. The world could be ending, but tea had this special way of making everything just that little bit better.”
I’m about to add another layer to Hoda’s story: perfumery. She’s always had an obsession for it, and was constantly blending perfumes - more on that later.
Guided by her own light, Hoda went on to get top of the notch tea education in both the United States (where it was first offered) and then in Canada. In fact, in 2009, she was officially the first person to be accredited by both tea certifying bodies (in the USA as well as in Canada).
REAL LIFE TAKEAWAY #3:
Become an expert. Thanks to Hoda’s inherit over-achiever mindset, she knew she HAD to become an absolute expert in whatever she did. Maybe it was also due to her feeling that she had to overcompensate for her parents’ lack of educational opportunities (coming to Canada as refugees and facing many socio-economic obstacles). Hoda claims “You can never go wrong by being informed and educated”.
And that’s exactly what she did. While she notes that accreditation is great, and knowledge is wonderful, what she really wanted was to SEE, BREATHE, and LIVE everything about the tea that she was studying. That’s why she had already begun travelling to countries like China and India while gaining her tea sommelier accreditation, in order to start building relationships she knew would be invaluable later on. Hoda understood that direct-trade in this industry was key, so building trust was everything.
REAL LIFE TAKEAWAY #4:
Relationships are EVERYTHING. Hoda made it extremely clear that it was the hands-on approach she took while building her business, and still fosters today, that makes all the difference. She jokes that she would message various estates across the world and ask if she could drop by, knowing very well that they likely wouldn’t take her seriously, but loved shocking them by actually showing up! Today, a similar theme rings true, as she explains that all of her first distributors and retailers she single-handedly had to “woo” herself - with a bit of hustle and charm!
One of the influential turning points for Hoda came upon reading The Alchemist - she notes that this particular book had a huge impact on her. She wholeheartedly agrees with the underlying premise of the book: when you find and pursue your passion - the world steps in to help you achieve that destiny. For instance, Hoda notes that just getting to Darjeeling (as a solo female) was a mission and a half now looking back on it. Yet, she was so in love with what she was doing, that she didn’t even consider the dangers or obvious worries involved. “Sometimes, ignorance is bliss I guess” Hoda reflects.
Earlier on I mentioned that Hoda was a self-declared perfumaholic - and that actually weaves nicely into her story building Sloane Fine Tea Merchants. See, the principles of blending a tea actually share a lot of parallels with creating (or “layering”) a perfume. Another one of Hoda’s educational endeavours (it’s hard to keep up!) was studying perfumery. The more she understood scent, the better at blending and layering teas she became. In the world of perfumery, the concept of layering includes the top, heart and base note. There’s a particular ratio of how to do this, which makes studying perfume so integral to her work with the teas. “What I also loved learning about was the correlation between scent and memory - they are so remarkably intertwined.”
Today, Hoda uses the principles of her perfumery knowledge to make blended teas that are luxurious yet accessible. With Sloane Tea, Hoda strives to enhance the experience of drinking a beautifully curated tea - not mask the effect or quality of its elements.
Clearly, her thousands of customers agree, as Sloane Fine Tea Merchants go above and beyond their aesthetically pleasing packaging, in fact, each tea is stunningly crafted - individually sourced directly from growers abroad by certified tea specialists.