John Harney’s Story

A Family Of Fine Teas | 0 Comments
Harney & Sons



It was 25 years ago that John Harney made the decision to found Harney & Sons. He had worked for others all of his life and felt (at the age of 53) it was time to run his own show. Since he had worked with Stanley Mason at Sarum Tea for 13 years, he understood the basics of tea.

However “tea” back then was much different. China had opened only recently and there few teas coming out there in 1983. So Taiwan was the source of the basic “Chinese” teas: Gunpowder, Oolongs, and keemun. These teas did not taste like the real thing, but rather, were a version. The Taiwanese had not yet begun to make the great greenish oolongs that they do today.

India’s teas were still strongly influenced by the British, so Darjeelings and Assams were dark and monotone, just right for milk and sugar. The Indians had only just begun to experiment with changing style of teas to make the teas taste more seasonal and more flavorful. Japan kept its Senchas to themselves. So back in 1983, the tea world did not offer many great teas. And that was fine, because few people drank tea. How that has changed, and for the better.

John Harney: Patriarch and Founder

John Harney is the patriarch of the Harney family, as well as President of Harney & Sons Fine Tea Blenders. A gentleman with old-world charm, John Harney embodies hospitality in his approach to business.

Having founded the company in 1983, John continues to serve as the quintessential brand ambassador and “teavangelist,” spreading the everyday luxury of tea throughout the world.

The story in his own words

Who would have thought this is possible? All those years ago, when we had tea chests (when they still used those bulky wooden boxes) down in our basement, I surely did not. Our youngest, Paul, was still in school, so he would have to lug them down the narrow stairs. I would take the light boxes back up to be shipped out to those few people that bought from us in 1983. It seemed busy at the time (little did I know). I remember the phone call from this guy who said his name was Chuck Williams, and he said he had some cook shops and wanted to carry my teas. Williams-Sonoma still is a valued customer.

After a few years, I convinced my son Michael to join me. Now there were two full-time employees! We moved to a new house with old sheds, and we grew. And we grew. My only daughter, Lyse, did sales calls in New York one college vacation. She walked into the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. She told the manager that they had to use Harney & Sons. And they still do.

Baby Paul got bigger, but he never lost his love of machines. When he joined the company (after being a USMC officer) he brought us into a new world: one of tea packing machines. I still do not know how to turn one on, but they are efficient and help the company grow. They allow us to offer the best tasting teas in convenient ways. Michael travels the globe in search of the best tasting teas. Now the next generation is coming on board. Alex manages the restaurant at our Tasting Room and Emeric manages the Tasting Room in SoHo.

My wife Elyse and I travel when I am not here at the tea company. As we travel, it is humbling to be welcomed at great hotels and restaurants. Such a change, traveling so much. When I started in the business, I considered Boston a trip!

For someone who devoted himself to tea at 53 years of age, it is a dream come true. My mentor, Stanley Mason, taught me so much. I loved learning about British Legacy teas from a Brit. He taught me how to make the best Earl Grey. Stanley started me down this long road, but now we sell teas which he never even considered . The world of tea has expanded considerably in the last 25 years. I stay committed to offering the finest teas. My love of tea has spread to my family and our customers worldwide. I know that we have a tradition of tea that will endure.

I drink to your health.

Harney & Sons
Harney & Sons

Michael Harney: Vice President and Second Generation Master Tea Blender

Michael Harney joined his father’s tea company in 1988 as its second employee. Following in his father’s footsteps, Michael earned an undergraduate degree from Cornell University’s School of Hotel Management in 1973 and then went on to garner a graduate degree from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. Michael’s entrepreneurial realism and understanding of hospitality has transformed his father’s small tea business, into one of the most recognized tea companies in the world. In pursuit of finding the best teas from around the world, Michael’s palate is now one of the most acute and experienced.

Today, he is responsible for all of Harney’s sourcing and blending, as well as the author of The Harney & Sons Guide to Tea, which has established him as an authority in the world of tea.

Encouraging the family to break into new markets and approach the tea business differently, under Mike’s guidance the Harney & Sons tea offerings have gone from six to over 250 teas. Equally important to the family’s success, though, has been Mike’s superior palate for tasting tea, which was initially developed in his twenties when he worked in the wine business in France. Applying the same principles for tasting and evaluating quality, Mike discovered that tea and wine actually had very similar chemistry.

At Harney & Sons, Mike has applied his superior palate to the sourcing of tea as well as the creation of new blends. Traveling around the world, Mike is able to assess the quality of different growers’ product personally, thus often eliminating the need for a middle-man. Mike is also a Master Tea Blender, pairing together the notes of exotic and familiar ingredients sourced the world over to create new and exciting teas for discerning tea drinkers on six continents. Some of his favorite and most successful blends include Paris, Bangkok and Harsha.

In 2006, Michael combined these gifts for academia and the world of tea, and with Penguin Press published a book, called The Harney & Sons Guide to Tea. The book has become a veritable classic of tea and was nominated for a James Beard Award. He covers the agricultural, historical and cultural significance of tea, as well as the characteristics, brewing instructions, and origin of almost every variety of tea grown today. He also discusses developing and refining ones tea palate and how to perfectly brew 56 types of tea.

When asked what he loves about working for Harney & Sons, Mike says, “Everything. Tasting, traveling, discovering new teas and ingredients and sharing the best product possible with our customers. I am proud to be a Harney.”

Harney & Sons
Harney & Sons

Emeric Harney: General Manager of Harney & Sons SoHo and Third Generation Master Tea Blender

Emeric Harney is like a blended tea: part zest for sourcing like his father, with a chic, yet understated design aesthetic undoubtedly from his mother, and last, but not least, the endearing charisma of his grandfather. As a third generation Harney, tea is in Emeric’s blood. Despite years spent in both Los Angeles and Paris pursuing a career in fashion, Emeric feels most at home in his family’s teashop, where he enthusiastically and patiently explains each and every nuance of the teas to his earnest customers.

Emeric is now the General Manager at the Harney & Sons SoHo teashop, where he continues the family tradition of making great tea an everyday luxury for New Yorkers and tourists alike.

Having grown up surrounded by tea, Emeric has a superior knowledge of the intricacies and characteristics of the many varieties grown the world over. He has accompanied his father, Mike, on trips to China where he assisted in the sourcing and quality control processes. Emeric is also becoming increasingly involved in blending, a responsibility that his father solely held, until recently, and has already put together three well-received blends: White Christmas, Apple Cinammon, and Macha Iri Genmicha.

Design is also a passion of Emeric, who attributes much of his aesthetic to his French mother, Brigitte. With his mother’s help, and the consultation of design firm Poesis LLC, Emeric has created an inviting, yet chic décor for the new SoHo shop that also tie in elements from the country, such as reclaimed woods and antiques. The staff uniforms, too, echo this sophisticated simplicity: black slacks and skirts paired classic black cardigans, and were hand-selected by Emeric.

But for Emeric, the most exciting part of the new venture is the enlarged role he is being asked to play. As General Manager of Harney & Sons SoHo, Emeric is responsible for a staff of almost 20 people, as well as responsible for seeing that the store runs smoothly and efficiently, and is well- received by the community.

“I look forward to interacting with the customers here in SoHo and helping them discover teas and blends that they find new and exciting. I want people to come to our store, not just to taste the 250 varieties of tea we sell, but also to learn about and enjoy tea in the way that my family has for over 25 years.”

Harney & Sons



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