November 29, 2013 6:55 pm

The Inventory: Henrietta Lovell

‘If I can make people appreciate tea, it will change the world,’ says the founder of Rare Tea Company
Henrietta Lovell

Henrietta Lovell, 42, travels the world to source tea direct from farmers for the Rare Tea Company, which she founded in 2004. She supplies exclusive blends to The Fat Duck, Noma and St John, among others.

. . .

What was your childhood ambition?

To fly. Not in an aeroplane – I thought I could learn to fly myself.

Public school or state school? University or straight into work?

Public school: a boarding school in Oxford and two day schools in London. Then I studied philosophy at Edinburgh University. I loved it, though I wish I’d had a slightly more studious attitude.

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Who was or still is your mentor?

No one person, but there are many friends I admire and turn to for advice.

How physically fit are you?

Fighting fit.

Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?

Neither – I think it’s tenacity.

If you had a coat of arms, what would be on it?

A Camellia sinensis bush.

A decanter – I’m pretty fond of my whisky and my gin, and I make a lot of cocktails with my tea. And a hat. Not just any old hat, it has to be my hat.

How politically committed are you?

Very – though not party politically committed. I’m an ambassador for the International Festival for Business in Liverpool next year, to encourage UK exports. I think that’s the way we’re going to move on as a nation. I’m also very committed to our partners in the second and third worlds, and to working fairly with the farmers. Working directly with them means that you can have a collaborative relationship rather than an exploitative one.

Do you consider your carbon footprint?

Absolutely. I think it’s a mistake to leave these considerations to governments – business people need to take responsibility.

Do you have more than one home?

No. One tiny little one.

What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?

Cocktails©Dreamstime

Biggest extravagance: Cocktails

A secret day when the world stops, everyone else is in suspended animation and I don’t have to try to keep up or catch up.

What’s your biggest extravagance?

Going to good restaurants. I love cocktails, I love food and I’m greedy.

In what place are you happiest?

In bed in the morning when I have my first cup of tea. I tiptoe off to the kettle with my eyes still closed, pour the tea in bed and get adjusted to the world.

What ambitions do you still have?

I want people to appreciate good tea the way they appreciate good wine and I’m not there yet. People understand wine and don’t mind paying a bit more for something beautifully crafted and delicious. If people felt the same way about tea, people on tea farms would thrive.

If I can make people appreciate tea, it will change the world.

What drives you on?

Caffeine!

What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?

I haven’t achieved anything great yet.

What has been your greatest disappointment?

That I can’t fly.

If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would she think?

“Blimey, that really does look like hard work.” I don’t think I knew what hard work was when I was 20.

A bothy in the Highlands©Dreamstime

Starting again: A bothy in the Highlands

If you lost everything tomorrow, what would you do?

Go and live in a bothy in the Highlands and maybe work in a pub, pulling pints.

Do you believe in assisted suicide?

Yes, absolutely.

Do you believe in an afterlife?

No, but that doesn’t worry me. I love the poem by Edna St Vincent Millay: “My candle burns at both ends/It will not last the night/But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends/It gives a lovely light!” My life is very busy and adventurous and at the end it will be a nice rest.

If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?

Ten. I have an optimistic outlook.

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