the gentlewoman

Reader of the Month

It’s that time of year where curling up with a strong brew and the best of Netflix seems like the only recourse. Enter Adrienne Anderson. A 46-year-old entrepreneur from San Francisco whose dual passions for the perfect cup of tea and a good film spurred her to found two initiatives: American Royal Tea, an online shop for hand-blended, organic herbal tea with names such as “Queen of Hawai’i Hibiscus” and “La Belle Creole”; and The International Black Women’s Film Festival, which she launched in 2001. Both ventures have caught the attention of Hollywood’s finest and has them parting with their hard-earned cash. The Gentlewoman’s Richard O’Mahony put the kettle on and took tea with Adrienne.

Adrienne Anderson

Richard: How do you take your tea? In the UK, an apparently “lowbrow” way, is to pour the milk in first. It’s a somewhat controversial approach.

Adrienne: Really? How bizzare! I don’t use milk. I have it black, no sugar.

R: What’s this blend we’re having?

A: It’s called “Le Tea En Rose”. It’s a traditional herbal blend with peppermint, rose petals, lavender and rose buds. It’s my favourite. It tastes very rich, especially with the rose petals, and I just love peppermint too.

R: How do you come up with the tea blends?

A: Mostly, it’s about enjoying food and flavours, understanding herbs and how they work together. I sometimes work with Camellia sinensis tea blends, which is traditional black tea, but my specialty is tisane blends, which are more artisanal – fruit infusions, herbs, spices, plants. California is the land of fruits and nuts and there are things available here that aren’t in other parts of the country so it’s perfect for experimentation. I also work with an organic, fair trade farming company in Oregon – more hippies than suits – as well as a company here in San Francisco. Ultimately, I’d like to have farms grow specific crops for me, but that’s further down the road.

R: Tea isn’t the first thing I associate with California.

A: I think Americans have a different connection with tea than the Brits. We don't have that tea culture or the appreciation for specific blends that you do. In the southern States, there’s a stronger tradition of it, but that’s a hangover from connections to British culture. American’s experience of tea is more through Starbucks and the like. We’re used to iced tea, but that’s usually sweetened beyond recognition.

R: So you’re out to change all of that.

A: That’s the plan! When I was a little girl I’d have tea with my grandmother, and that warm feeling of being in a happy place, with people you love, enjoying tea together is what I want to capture. The idea gnawed away at me until I decided, “OK, I’m going to do this!”

R: And how’s it going?

A: Well, I’m working from home, but I’m getting about 10-20 orders per month. In the US, tea sells well in the south and on the east coast. Internationally, there’s Brazil, where the “Lavender Lady Grey” blend is popular, and I get a lot of orders from Morocco, especially for the mint blends. I just did an order for this year’s Screen Actors Guild Awards too. A company called Hollywood Baskets, who specialise in gifting for awards shows, took 40 boxes and gave them to the stars that were presenting the prizes.

R: Which brings us neatly to the film festival you also run – tell me about that.

A: It’s a series of free screenings shown quarterly throughout the year at the Roxy Theatre in San Francisco and the New Parkway Theatre in Oakland. It culminates in a three-day festival in December. The festival grew out of my frustration with the poor representation of African-American women in mainstream cinema. I wanted to see well-produced, quality films featuring black women from around the world, not just African-American women, so I put the feelers out there and in the first year I had over 200 submissions. It sold out.

R: Wow, that’s an incredible response.

A: The festival continues to surprise me too. Star Wars’ director George Lucas donated to the festival, completely voluntarily! And last year, I won an Innovator’s Award from the ethical clothing brand Oaklandish to help support free public events so that’s helped immensely. There’s no income apart from tickets. Are you dunking your biscuit in your tea?

R: You don’t?

A: I usually have a Benne Wafer with tea, which is an American sesame cookie from South Carolina. But dunking in my tea? No way!

Interview by Richard O'Mahony. Photograph courtesy of Adrienne Anderson. Adrienne recommends the "Sleep Easy Speakeasy" blend from her range of speciality teas to help you through the challenging months to springtime. Would you like to be the next featured reader? Then sign-up sister and tell us about yourself!