As a teenager, Steve Schwartz lived in 24/7 survival mode, going hungry whenever he couldnt find enough work to pay for his school lunch. At the age of 18, he nursed his dying mother through the final stages of terminal cancer. His mothers death launched him on a journey to the far reaches of the world where he discovered a passion for the ancient, calming rituals of tea.

Fascinated by the craft, he voyaged with sages and tea gurus around the globe, sourcing in far-flung fields and developing an award-winning blends along the way, turning that passion into world-renowned teas. In his new book, Art of Tea, he reveals the surprising true story behind the international success of his company named Art of Tea, of course.

Inside, Steve talks about how he grew a tiny tea concept into partnerships all over the globe, all through the timeless ritual of tea itself and its mysterious ability to carve small pockets of peace into modern life.

Hey Listeners, my name is Drew Applebaum and Im excited to be here today with Steve Schwartz, author of Art of Tea: A Journey of Ritual Discovery and Impact. Steve, thank you for joining, welcome to The Author Hour Podcast.

Steve Schwartz: Honored to be here, I appreciate the opportunity.

Drew Applebaum: Steve, help us out and help us kick off this episode. Can you give us a brief rundown of your professional background?

Steve Schwartz: Yeah, sure. My backgrounds in Ayurveda. Ayurveda is a form of preventative medicine based out of India and I – through my journey that I share and dive into in the book and I believe – ended up starting a tea company called Art of Tea and that was back in 2004 that I started the company and Ive developed a reputation as being a master tea blender. I have trained the first tea sommelier in the US, I provide tea for various, wonderful hospitality resorts everywhere from Maldives to Japan, all throughout North America, Singapore and so, I am the founder and CEO of Art of Tea, a tea company based in Los Angeles, California.

Drew Applebaum: Now, the book is broken up into two parts. The first really being a memoir about yourself and about your life and kind of what led you to the world of tea but you probably could have written the book at just being successful in business and in the tea business. So what was that decision like to also share your personal journey into tea?

Steve Schwartz: Yeah, its funny, when I was working on this amazing talented team over at Scribe, there was more that just got unpacked and in terms of the understanding. There is layers and layers of this onion that needed to be shared that was being revealed through this process.

I felt like if I have something that could hopefully impact someones life through this story and through my journey in some way, maybe not now, maybe its a hundred years from now or 50 years from now, whatever that case may be, then, I need to be able to share a little bit more about my history, struggles, trials, learnings, best practice, some of the sages that Ive been able to meet and surround myself with and it felt like it would not do the book justice if that wasnt included. I felt like it was my servant responsibility to be able to include that within the book as well.

Drew Applebaum: When you started writing the book and you started reliving your past and putting the pen to the paper, did you just by re-examining your own life, come to so many major breakthroughs or maybe some learnings that you didnt see at the time but you discover by starting this book?

Steve Schwartz: Yeah, what was amazing was that you know, I started putting the book together pre-COVID-19 and then was continuing the process during COVID-19. As it was talking about sort of this entrepreneurial journey and the beginnings and all these learnings, we had to recreate ourselves in many ways and I had to recreate myself as a steward leader within the space and what did it mean to reignite my company and my team and get us all focused on getting through this really challenging time. 

So, I was finding that the book actually gave me this powerful fuel to relook at our company and reignite and repurpose what were doing in this world and it gave a lot of juice. I mean, we were having people calling us in the middle of COVID-19 as we were writing this book and putting it together where people needed tea and so, as were a purpose-driven, mission-driven organization, it gave more power, more fuel and more reason behind the power of this book and the message within this book.

Drew Applebaum: Lets dig into the book itself and again, as I mentioned, the first part is all about you and your upbringing and your introduction to tea and youre very open about the change in your childhood after your parents get divorced, your tragedy of your mothers untimely death and what got you through those seem to be, actually, practicing yoga and as you mentioned Ayurveda. I hope I said that correctly.

Steve Schwartz: Yeah, you did great.

Drew Applebaum: Can you talk about both of those and how those can really kind of transform someone who is grieving, you know, you could transform both physically and emotionally through those practices?

Steve Schwartz: Yeah, first of all, I laughed earlier. The reason why I laughed is because now that the book is out there and sharing with the world, its a very vulnerable experience being able to share this and Im sharing with people that I will probably not have the opportunity to meet but again, if it impacts someones life, weve all gone through a tremendous lift in this world and hardship in this world just based on the recent tragedies of COVID-19 that as someones looking at starting a company, if someones looking at overcoming some major obstacle, whether thats a health obstacle or family obstacle or personal obstacle, whatever it might be, then you know, hopefully, that this will help inspire someone like me can be able to breakthrough some of these challenges and as a leader, you know, turn the script from being about me to now being about you as a listener, you as a team member or you as a customer then hopefully, that impact will be tenfold, way beyond my time and presence on this planet. 

So, going back to your vulnerability question, it was hard. It was hard putting this but I felt like again, I just felt like it needed to be shared because in order to give some – Listen, theres a lot of companies that are out there that maybe had been around for many years. They are deeply well-funded and you know, I have VC funding and the startup culture, this hustle culture thats out there, its awesome. Its inspiring but its definitely not how I started. I started really with an idea to help as many people as I can through tea and I didnt have family money or investors, it really was a long process through struggle and trial and tribulation of being able to continue to stay on this mission and impact as many lives as we can through this beverage that I find so fascinating.

Discussion of Tea

Drew Applebaum: Yeah, lets dig into the tea portion. When you first thought about opening up your first store, was it almost like you were selling yourself and for your love of tea as much as the tea itself. How did you go about saying, Im going to make tea exciting for the average consumer?”

Steve Schwartz: Great question. Well, first of all, we dont have any physical stores. What we do is we have two major channels, So we sell to hospitality so thats restaurants and hotels and office programs like everything from Google to Slack, to hotels like Four Seasons or Ritz Carltons of the world and then we also sell direct to consumer so people find us online and we dont sell the supermarkets. Its not a channel that you believe where you can get the freshest and best bio available tea in the market.

It’s funny, I remember from really early on, because we dont have stores where people can come in and they can experience our teas, when I was still selling and making tea out of my living room, I remember meeting some people at a restaurant. I was doing a delivery and theyre like, Oh, we love Art of Tea” and Im like, Youve heard of us?” “Yeah, I order in your website.” I thought for sure they confuse us with some other major tea company that was out there.

I was like, Oh, thats awesome, thats great” theyre like, No, no, really, we buy this” and they describe exactly what they bought. I was surprised that there were people out there that were people out there that I was starting to interact with that have experienced our tea. Im still in this startup mindset. Ive not let go of that, like were just starting out, were just starting to make an impact, were just starting to reach more people and I think that thats also the fuel of our ethos of our company of just really wanted to reach as many people as we can through tea.

Drew Applebaum: I find that tea is such a common beverage but you actually ask this question in the book and its a really good one, most people dont even ask where the leaves in their teabag or canister even come from. Can you answer that question for us? Traditionally, its a supermarket tea, where does this come from?

Steve Schwartz: Yeah, its a great question. First of all, tea is the second most consumable beverage in the world right behind water. Theres a large amount of people, especially millennials that drink tea. It doesnt mean that they dont drink coffee, they might drink coffee at a particular time of the day and theyll drink tea at a different time of the day. Its deeply becoming immersed in our society as especially this mindset of you go, and you go and you go. Theres people who are looking for something thats going to keep them their energy levels sustained and high and elevated but no crash associated with it.

So tea tends to fit all these different spectrums, whether its a tool for meditation, its used in Zen monasteries throughout Japan or whether it is a focus for healing or for sleep or restoration, so all of these different powerful botanicals that are blended together and sourced but we source as the top one to two percent of all the teas that are produced in the world. When you go to a supermarket for example and you order, when you buy, imagine were going to use a potato chip analogy here. 

Imagine getting a bag of unsalted unflavored potato chips, okay? So on the top of the bag you get these beautiful uniformed shapes and as you work your way down to the bottom, it is just powder or dust. As we are producing our teas in the factory, what we source is that top of the bag and as they produce our teas in the factories, the dust flies in the air, falls on the ground, they sweep that in giant piles and thats whats reserved for most traditional paper teabags. 

Drew Applebaum: Oh no.

Steve Schwartz: What we source is more polyphenols and flavonoids and catechins and all the good stuff for you thats found within the whole leaf itself. So most people are used to drinking tea, theyre used to drinking the stuff that you find in the supermarket thats you need, you need milk and you need honey and you need sugar and lemon and all these other things and its not like really a tea, it is something else. 

What we source, what we really want to introduce to the world is what a really high-quality tea experience can bring not just in terms of the flavor but also in terms of just the bio feedback effect that happens from this amazing plant medicine. 

Drew Applebaum: I think we need to let everyone pause right here and go to their tea cabinet and throw away basically all the sawdust tea that we all just have laying around. We just got schooled but besides the actual, knowing now that there are – theres a better way to tea if you will, I think you also talk a lot about the ritual of drinking tea in the book. For the novice, what are some of those tea-drinking rituals and personally, what is your perfect seat tea-sipping scenario if you will. 

Steve Schwartz: Yeah. Wow, great question. I am glad you said novice because I think approaching it in that state of mind of like, if I see this is though its a new experience each time, one it becomes that much more joyful and more beautiful. At the same time, I think a lot of people are threatened with leaves and water like they dont want to mess it up, you know? These are the same people that might have the grinder and the Chemex or they might have the French Press. 

Like theyll do all these amazing things with coffee but when it comes to tea, theyre afraid of over seeping it or theyre afraid of doing it wrong but when you have a really high quality tea, it is more forgiving. It is more challenging to mess up, so for me a beautiful tea drinking experience is theres major vessels of producing tea but in terms of creating a sense of ritual, its finding that space. 

It could be nook in your garage or a place in your patio. It could be a corner of your office, wherever that might be but setting a specific amount of time, turning your phone off for about eight minutes, diving into a digital detox through that full sensory experience of leaves and water, by preparing the water, getting the leaves ready, getting the pot ready, watching the leaves unfurl in the hot water and then pouring that into your favorite cup and being really mindful in that process of sipping. 

Over 98% of what youre drinking when it comes to tea is water, so allowing yourself that permission of just taking a mini-retreat, a mini-digital detox and dive into that ritual, you dont need super complex tools, you dont need fancy ware, it is literally you and your full sensory experience and its a whole paradox. You might not have eight minutes in the day to be able to do this but if you allow yourself permission for those eight minutes then you end up having so much more valuable time and presence and energy that you can share for yourself and for your loved ones and community around you throughout the rest of the day. 

Drew Applebaum: Youve been in the tea game for quite some time, so do you still find yourself learning more about tea even today? 

Steve Schwartz: Yeah, I always say Im more into learning about tea than I am drinking it. You know, I share in the book how the government in Japan picked four tea companies from around the world to go and meet with different growers and suppliers and so one of the tea companies picked and it was a full all-expense paid for ten days to just go around and meet with these different growers and I felt at that time, Man, I already knew so much.” 

I dont know if I had time to step away from the business but I ended up going and I realized how little I know. In fact, I met someone that had not just a masters in tea but a doctorate in tea because there is just so much you can learn. It is unbelievable from the origin, the soil, the Terroir to even the discussions and the history thats happened over this amazing leaf has transformed our supply chain and our world today. 

The Tea Blends

Drew Applebaum: Also in the back of the book, you list about 50 pages or so of tea recipes and we dont have to go through them all. Of course, you dont have to show me – tell me any ingredients but are there ones that just pop out in your mind that you think one will either people will really love or just want that has a very maybe special memory for you? 

Steve Schwartz: My daughters love to cook, so there is a short bread recipe in there thats really amazing and then also there is some really fun cocktail recipes in there. So depending on your flavor and the season, I think youll find lots of inspiration based on the different recipes that are in there. 

A lot of the teas even the blends that we have, have been created by accident and so whether its coming up with a unique blends that weve infused inside some of these recipes or some of these recipes that weve co-collaborated with, with mixologists or bakers, you know theyre really fun and I encourage people that are reading this book to dive into the experience and lean in on messing up and just seeing some of the wonderful creations that you come up with. We love to see what you guys end up coming up with. 

Drew Applebaum: Is there one tea that youve heard about that youve tried but it is just escaping you at this point and for some reason you cant share it with the world? Is there that one leaf out there you just love for people to be able to have a taste of? 

Steve Schwartz: Yeah, so all true tea comes from Camellia Sinensis, right? Think about it like wine, all true wine comes from grapes but depending on the type of grape thats used and how is it crushed and aged and is it in an oak barrel or stainless steel container and is it a Merlot, a Cab, a Serrat, like all these different grapes play into making a delicious glass of wine. 

So all true tea comes from Camellia Sinensis, so whites and green and oolong and black tea all create Camellia Sinensis. From Camellia Sinensis, the origin of it is from this province called Yunnan Province. It is a musky sub-tropical area like lots of different flora and botanicals and super diverse but one of the amazing things that happens that there is an interconnected relationship with some of these ancient tea trees that grew up to ten stories in height within Yunnan Province. 

Where some beautiful wild harvest teas come from and along that is this one rare fungi that grows right next to it and it translates as crab legs and it has the taste of tea, it brews like tea but the health benefits are tenfold. It is a phenomenal experience and it only grows like a few centimeters a year, its an incredibly slow growth fungi and so there are some teas that Ive had that have been infused with them. Its very rare, it is very hard to come by. 

Drew Applebaum: Switching gears one more time, if someone reads the book, they have an overall picture of tea in your life and success and highs and lows but what is the main impact that you hope the book will have on a reader and is there any steps that you hope theyll take maybe in their own life after reading it? 

Steve Schwartz: Yeah, so you know, when I was first starting out, it was nearly impossible to get high-quality tea in the US. In fact, I went over to Asia, I went to several conferences thinking, Oh, theyre going to want to try to bring it into our country.” What I found and I mentioned this in the book is that they really had no desire. They are such a tremendous amount of people that they can cater to within their own domestic markets that it just didnt make sense. 

So I really had to struggle to bring in high-quality tea into the US and I smuggled some of these things in my backpack just to be able to offer it to the world here and so knowing that it is now accessible through multiple channels to a wider audience, I would strongly encourage people to go out and source really high quality leaves through some of the vendors that are out there. You can visit us at but dive into the ritual. 

I find that the greatest impact that I believe that I can have with this book is for people to take the time out to discover the impact it can have in their lives, that they are sharing with themselves the daily ritual practice or even pouring an offering tea for a loved one, that simple act regardless of age and gender and demographics and religion and background, its a simple timeless process. It is a gift that we can give ourselves that pays back tenfold. 

Drew Applebaum: Well Steve, we just touched on the surface of the book here. There is so much more inside but I just want to say that writing a book to help folks not only understand the world of tea but as you mentioned earlier, being incredibly vulnerable with your own story and overcoming so much is no small feat to put that on paper. So congratulations on having your book published. 

Steve Schwartz: Well, its such an honor and the audiobook is even that much more rewarding. We made it a podcast style, very much inspired by David Goggins and it actually ended up being recorded in that same area. So if youre an audio fan, I would strongly recommend downloading our audiobook, I think youll find it super rewarding. Thank you so much for the opportunity. Its been an honor to chat with you today. 

Drew Applebaum: Well Steve, yeah, this has been a pleasure. I am excited for people to check out the book. Everyone, the book is called, Art of Tea, and you could find it on Amazon. Steve, last question, besides checking out the book, where else can people connect with you?

Steve Schwartz: You can find us at or on Instagram @artofteala. 

Drew Applebaum: Awesome. Well Steve, thank you again for giving us some of your time today and best of luck with your new book. 

Steve Schwartz: One last thing, you can also find us at

Drew Applebaum: Perfect. Steve, thank you again and enjoy the rest of your day. 

Steve Schwartz: All right, be well. Thanks.