Spotlight On: 5 Minutes with John Harney, Harney & Sons

Interview by Effie Gidakos

Harney & Sons – SoHo Shop

A: 433 Broome Street, New York, NY, 10013 | E: [email protected]

T: (212) 933-4853

Harney & Sons – Millerton Shop

 A: 1 Railroad Plaza, Millerton, NY, 12546 | E: [email protected]

T: (518) 789-2121


T: @HarneyTea

Effie Gidakos, our CEO, with John Harney, founder of Harney & Sons

Effie Gidakos, our CEO, with John Harney, founder of Harney & Sons

A few months ago, we mourned the loss of John Harney, founder of Harney & Sons tea company, USA. He was a charismatic pioneer in the world of tea in the United States, a true TEApreneur and all round great guy. I had the fortunate experience to meet him at last year’s Tea & Coffee Festival NYC. It was a privilege, it was a pleasure, it was entertaining!

After some introductions and playful banter, John mimicked my unmistakable Aussie accent down pat with that real “Straya” accent.

‘Aw-straya’ (John Harney).

‘Australia’, that’s it, you’ve got the accent, that’s great.

I’m an old ex-marine and remember the marines left from Australia to go to Guadalcanal.

So you’ve been to Oz?

Yeah. I was there when I was 11 or 12 years old. And you use the word ‘mum’ just the right way.

‘Mum’, that’s right, M.U.M. not ‘mom’, that’s right.

You said it.

Michael [Michael Harney, whom I had interviewed] was good enough to tell me that you learnt [about the world of tea] from an Englishman.

He was an Englishman and he married an American lady and lived in Salisbury, Connecticut. He had it and he came to me and I had the hotel, the White Hart Inn, and he asked me to use his tea. I did and people kept asking where to buy the tea and I’d send them up to his house because he was packing [tea] in his house. It was very funny, and finally he was getting older and he said ‘John, I’m getting older, why don’t I teach you how to do this’. I said ‘why not, I don’t know, I can’t think of any reason’.

So it seemed like a great idea. I had the tea company and I was getting out of the Inn because that was just taking too much time…

[I asked John to elaborate a bit on his hotelier background]

I had a inn for 3 years and then we closed that one, it was only 3 rooms in West Cornwell and that wasn’t enough to eat on. I was up doing a food service at a ski area up in upstate New York and I had a call and a friend of mine, said they need somebody at the White Hart Inn, why don’t you do it. And the White Hart Inn was a much larger inn and we were getting some money in and we built three more dining rooms.

And is that where you met this Englishman?

Yeah, that’s where I met him. He lived in town there and he asked me to serve his tea. I did and everyday people would come and ask me where to get it and I sent them up to his house. Then [my wife and I] took an old dining room and we built three dining rooms more and he asked me to start selling tea. [Eventually we took over his tea business] lock stock and barrel. In other words, all the material and all the inventory. All they wanted to do was get out, get their books balanced and go. So that’s what we did.

His name was Stanley Mason. Stanley Mason was a wonderful Englishman, about 5 foot 2. His wife was an American and she was about 5 foot 10. Which used to make me laugh. Can you see them dancing. Think of it, think of it. That’s right. It wouldn’t quite be chins. It would be good for him.

That’s funny. That’s hilarious. So tell me, John, back in those days did people drink tea all times of the day? When would you serve the tea?

If they asked for tea I would serve it to them.

So it could be morning, noon, night?

Morning, noon and night, we served tea for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We were truly a country inn and whatever a person wanted is what we did. I went to the Cornell hotel school before the marines. I was working in my uncle’s hotel up in Manchester, Vermont. He had three little hotels, one up in Mt. Equinox which we leased, and two in Manchester itself, one downtown and one just out of town.

I’m intrigued from your hotelier background. Was it your father?

No, no I had an uncle that did it. He had [those] three inns.

Are you happy that your sons have followed in your footsteps and continued?

I am very happy and actually we have grandsons following in our footsteps.

Okay. I’ll ask one final question. I could chat with you all day, it’s been an absolute pleasure but I’m hoarding you I’m sure. John what’s your favourite tea? What do you like to drink?

I like English breakfast. It used to be Earl Grey but I don’t care about flavoured teas anymore. Our hottest seller is hot cinnamon.

Harney & Sons' Best Seller, Hot Cinnamon Spice Tea

Harney & Sons’ Best Seller, Hot Cinnamon Spice Tea

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