By Angie Brown and Lorna Reeves
Photography Courtesy of Julia Matson
Julia Matson's first taste of loose-leaf tea made an indelible impression on her. “I was instantly hooked,” she says, “like the first time someone had her first piece of chocolate.” This life-changing event occurred in 1999 at a community-education class on how to steep tea the English way. "From that moment on, tea fully infused my life."
In the ensuing years, Julia dreamed of translating her passion for tea into a business, but she needed to find an outlet that would also allow her ample time with her two sons. The result was Bingley’s Teas, Limited, an online tea purveyor — wholesale (to tearoom owners, gift stores, and other retail businesses and restaurants) and retail (to consumers). Julia, a longtime member of the North American Jane Austen Society, named her company after Charles Bingley, a character from Pride and Prejudice known for his good taste and friendliness. “I felt this was a great standard for approaching a business,” she explains. Established in 2008, Bingley's now features in its main line of teas approximately 40 varieties, including herbal and fruit selections.
As Julia has grown her business, she has become passionate about learning more about tea, traveling to Taiwan and achieving Specialty Tea Institute Level 3 certification. “As I studied tea, it dawned on me that tea has personality—not just history of flavor, but a personality,” says Julia. It was this revelation that prompted her to blend her love for and knowledge of tea with her enthusiasm for Jane Austen's literary works by adding the Jane Austen Tea Series to her company's offerings in 2010. Each of the line's 16 blends is named after an Austen character that matches its personality. “Marianne’s Wild Abandon is probably the best seller. It is a bubbly, vivacious blend—very expressive.” Some of the other teas in the series include Mr. Darcy, which she describes as a “well-respected oolong [that] takes you through complex layers with each steeping”; Compassion for Mrs. Bennet’s Nerves, a calming tisane; and Longborn Wedding, a champagne-like white tea scented with rosebuds and raspberries.
A portion of the proceeds from the sales of the Austen-inspired teas goes to the Central Asia Institute (CAI). Moved several years ago by Greg Mortensen’s book Three Cups of Tea, Julia wanted to contribute consistently to the education of girls in that part of the world. “It is my belief that Jane Austen considered literacy for young women to be of utmost importance, not simply to marry well. To support the CAI in its mission is something she would have approved,” says Julia. “Through CAI’s efforts, already girls are becoming doctors and teachers. The next great author may be among them as well.”
Julia never imagined when she took her first sip of tea that it would translate into a passion that would blend so well with her love of literature and learning and then overflow to improve the lives of others. But she’s glad it did, and we think Jane would be, too.
Find out more about Bingley's Teas Limited by visiting bingleysteas.com