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GASTRONOMY
SEBASTIAN BECKWITH, THE AFICIONADO
Traveling the globe for superb leaves, the tea merchant offers varieties from Black Lapsang Souchong to White Peony.
House & Garden magazine, April 2006

Java made him do it. "too much coffee was getting to me," Sebastian Beckwith says. "I started experimenting with tea, and I thought there's got to be better than the bags you get in health food stores." Searching for an alternative to a cup of joe led him to a new career.

Beckwith got exposed to tea growing when he led treks for Geographic Expeditions in Bhutan and spent free time in Darjeeling, fertile tea territory. In 1999, he and a friend, Alexander Scott, founded In Pursuit of Tea, based in Brooklyn. They sell about 50 teas and 10 herbals. "Most people are going to have no idea about first flush Darjeeling," Beckwith says. "We want to make it more approachable, to say, This is good tea; this is something we like.' "

Eschewing big chemical-using plantations, the company buys from small farms and estates in many countries, which Beckwith frequently visits. "I could stay here and have them send samples," he says. "From a business standpoint that would be smart, but I wouldn't be getting the culture. That's what makes it interesting." The company Web site is a model of lively information. "From the beginning I wanted to educate." says Beckwith, who often lectures at conferences, including medical ones, discussing the physical aspects of tea and its health benefits.

The mellow tea man unwinds in the rural Connecticut house he grew up in. His father, a fine wood-worker, built it. There is no electricity but plenty of tea accoutrements, and coffee, which Beckwith still drinks. "It's important that it's not an either-or thing," he says. "I'd offer a wine drinker a great beer. "We're all trying to learn something." - Katherine Ames