More than tea

Tamarin Howse created the Better Tea Company to help start a conversation about mental health through tea.

She started with an organic blend called “Anxie-tea” and has since added the “Gut Feelings” and “Hemp Relief” blends.

We chatted with Tamarin about her journey with anxiety and how that inspired her to start her company.

What originally made you want to start selling teas?

I never intended to start a business, and certainly, not one that was going to sell teas, but it was sort of an organic process. I was working in a very stressful work environment. We were going through a big redundancy; it was a lot of uncertainty with my first real job in a corporate. During that process and my time there, I started to experience bad anxiety, although I didn’t know what it was at the time. I had a racing heart, then I had this knot in my throat all the time. I felt sick, my fingers would go numb randomly. I just thought it was caffeine, and I thought ‘why don’t I cut that out and maybe I’ll drink some herbal teas’. At the same time, because we were going through that redundancy, our colleagues and I would all catch up and talk about what we were going through over a cup of tea. We called it our anxie-tea sessions. And that’s where the idea originated, it was quite serendipitous timing. And I thought, if I’m getting such benefit from talking over a cup of tea with my colleagues about what we were going through, maybe there’s something in the space, and maybe I could create a blend that can help with anxiety.

What is the process of coming up with the teas?

I started by researching different anxiety medications. I learned about St. John’s wort and the benefits that has. I started looking at herbal medicine and the power it has and how a lot of modern-day medicine is derived from plants. Then I learned about hormones and how that has an impact on our mental health. I started adding raspberry leaf and looked at different ingredients that could help with different symptoms of anxiety. Peppermint leaf is amazing for serving upset stomachs, and rose petals are good for sleeping. It comes from people asking me ‘Do you have a tea for this?’ Or ‘Can you help me with this?’ And then I would start the research process.

When did you first start having anxious thoughts?

I don’t identify as being an anxious person. My report cards at school were always ‘happy-go-lucky and sunny disposition’. So that’s why it took me into my adult years to understand and accept that diagnosis. Looking back, I had anxiety my whole childhood and college years, and I really started to experience it at university. That was when it first started to affect me negatively. But I never joined the dots until I was 28. This was the first time I thought I’d better start learning and try to figure out what was going on. I was catching the bus one day, and my hands suddenly went numb. I couldn’t feel them. I just had pins and needles and it was the most terrifying thing, and I went to the doctor, and I said, ‘Oh, this weird thing’s happened. Am I dying?’ And he’s like, ‘Oh, no, that was just an anxiety attack’. And I thought, ‘No, I don’t have anxiety. That’s wrong’. I had the long journey to come to that self-acceptance.

How has that compared with having your own company now?

It’s a lot easier to look after myself. It’s also been beneficial because I’ve been able to spend more time with my family, which has been important in the last couple of years. Removing the cause of anxiety is always going to be helpful. But over that journey of learning about myself, I’ve also learned what my triggers are. When I start to get that feeling in my throat, I try and take a step back from life. A friend of mine was writing a blog for her website. And in the blog, she wrote to talk to yourself like you would talk to a friend. And I read this, and I was like, ‘wow, that is amazing advice. So simple.’ But when I started to listen to my thoughts and really identify them, so many of them were. ‘Oh, you’re so stupid. Why do you do that? What’s wrong with you?’ I would never say that to a friend. You’d never say, ‘you’re so dumb’. But you say it to yourself. I was saying it to myself. I started to identify that I was doing that, I’d say, ‘It’s okay. Everybody makes mistakes. That’s alright. You’re learning, it’s fine.’ And I started to have compassion for myself, which I hadn’t had before.

Why do you think it’s important for your company to become more environmentally friendly now?

The obvious reason is climate change, plus I feel it’s my duty and responsibility as a business owner, to make better decisions. If I’m going to be contributing to the economy, and I’m going to be creating waste, it needs to be waste that is waste-free. There’s no excuse. Also getting outside is so beneficial for your mental health, but if you go for a walk, and you’re seeing rubbish and waste, well, you’re not going to feel great and perhaps start feeling miserable about oh, the world is doomed, and you can get into that catastrophising mindset. So, it’s important that if we’re going to look after ourselves, we need to look after our world as well. The goal is to try and be waste-free, but little steps. It’s hard when you’re a small business outlaying all that money for 10,000 bags that you might not sell, or they might even start decomposing before you’ve sold them. So that’s a big risk, but it’s an important one.

Tell us about your reusable tea bags…

I had a lot of customers asking for tea bags because they liked the convenience of them. But the issue was that a lot of tea bags are made with plastic. Even some of the ones that are made with cornstarch, it’s pretty hard to find, and they’re single use. So, the reusable cotton tea bags are good because you can top them up and prefill them in the morning, taking five of them to work. And then you’ve got your tea for the week.

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