Until we met Hoda Paripoush, we never knew there was such a thing as a tea sommelier. Very cool indeed, but that is hardly the most impressive accomplishment on Hoda’s extraordinary resume. Named after London’s posh square, Hoda is the founder of Sloane Tea, a luxury loose leaf tea brand that is sold in gourmet food shops like Pusateri’s and is set to be distributed in ninety Chapters & Indigo stores across Canada this month. Wow.
Hoda traveled the world to find the very best tea plants and somehow managed to lock down exclusive North American rights to Indian teas from two of the top estates, including the award-winning, world revered Jungpana estate.
We had the pleasure of tasting a variety of Hoda’s tea at a special tea and cheese pairing at Terroni Bar Centrale. (The best event we’ve attended this year!) With sixteen different premium loose leaf teas, Hoda has already built a very strong brand in a short time. A twist on the classics, Oh My Darjeeling and Heavenly Cream take your everyday cuppa to a whole new level. And for an exotic taste, we instantly fell for the White Jasmine Ice and Orchid Oolong.
Honestly, this ambitious and talented young woman is the definition of trailblazer. And damn, we like her tea.
What does a typical Thursday look like for you, starting from when you wake up – to heading to bed?
First and foremost, I start my day with a cup of tea- usually our Masala Chai Classic. If I don’t have a sales meeting scheduled, I sit down in front of my computer and go through all the emails in my inbox, and address the pertinent inquiries or requests. Towards the end of the week, I work from my home office and I usually have music playing in the background- I listen to Classical 96.3 online at the beginning of the day.
At 10:30a.m. I start making calls to clients and following up on client inquiries from various trade shows and noting the result of the conversation for future reference.
At noon, as most retailers are busy servicing customers on the lunch break, I take a break from the calls and follow-ups and head downstairs and have lunch with my daughter. It’s usually a quick lunch, but I get to see and squeeze her a little at least.
I then head back upstairs, complete my client calls for the day, and organize and pack the orders that are to be shipped the next day.
I spend a solid two hours per day on product and sales development. This could have to do with package design, food-labeling requirements, export requirements etc.
We also have shipments of tea and packaging arriving regularly, so it may end up that on a Thursday I will be receiving a delivery at our facility or shipping out a large custom order.
What was your first job out of school?
I had a lot of volunteer positions throughout and after high school, so my first official paid position was in sales- selling spa packages on the street. In retrospect, it was fantastic in terms of skill-building, because you really had to develop thick skin, which I believe is essential to any successful business. Rejection was common and you really had to learn how to talk “to” people and not “at” them. No matter what industry you are in, you will experience rejection for any number of reasons, but the key is to continue on and not to take everything personally. Some people just don’t know how to to say “no” in a polite way, and some just can’t be bothered.
What are the 3 skills you require most to do your job well?
In my profession as a tea sommelier and brand developer, you must be a perfectionist. There are so many products out there, and in order to develop a product that stands out in the crowd, you absolutely must pay attention to the tiniest of details and demand nothing but the highest of standards. It drives the people you work with crazy, but only temporarily. When they see the culmination of the fruits of your labour and your constant revisions, they get it. Some products stand out for that simple reason alone.
Secondly, you have to have a sensitive palate and a great nose ; ) What I mean by “nose” is that your ability and sensitivity to smell must be heightened, because when you are “cupping” teas (the industry term for tasting), you need to examine a tea on so many levels. It’s not just based on how the tea looks in its dry form. It’s important to examine the colour of the infused liquor, the taste… obviously, but also imperative is the “nose” on the infusion. Subtle nuances can be detected that can make the difference between a great tea and an exceptional tea. Exceptional is what I seek.
Thirdly, in my industry, if you really want to take it seriously, you have to be flexible and be willing to sacrifice. There is a lot of traveling involved in the tea industry, as you are constantly traveling to trade shows and to point of origin to source the teas and continue to build and strengthen relationships with your suppliers. As such, with family life, you have to accept that certain trips are not meant to be taken with a young child, which ultimately means that you will spend quite a lot of time away from your family. Also, when you have your own business, there is no maternity leave. You need to accept that and understand that “play groups” and “lunches” will not be a part of your schedule. Rather, you may go from a late-night feeding to a scheduled conference call with a supplier in India.
What do you love most about your career?
I love the fact that I am able to pursue my passion. I love creating experiences that are memorable and accessible, and I feel that through Sloane Tea Company I am able to do that on many levels- be it through the creation of packaging that never before existed, or through the creation of stellar teas that can be enjoyed from porch to palace. As well, relationships are so important to be, and I love the fact that I have such true and genuine relationships with my suppliers, who in reality, have become like family. It’s really quite special when you travel across the world to source product and you feel that you have just gone to visit a relative. The warmth of the people I work with is something that shows through the product, as the tea itself is so inviting.
Do you have any warnings?
My only warning is that you must be passionate in what you do. You really need to believe in yourself and your product, because that is what will make it stand out amongst the masses of products that already exist, especially those created by companies with a lot more capital. If you are not passionate then you really need to make some changes.
If you could try a different career on for a year, what would it be?
It’s always been a dream of mine to be fashion designer. Things come to mind all the time, and I usually channel the inspiration into the packaging design of my products. However, I would love to design clothes- they would be bright of course ; )