Tea and Wellbeing: A Personal Journey

Katherine Boucher, founder of The Jersey Tea Company, shares how tea can play an important role in wellbeing.



In 2015, I was 37 years old with three children, and was working as a psychologist in Jersey. Life was pretty hectic so starting a new business was a slightly crazy idea. Having been raised in Jersey, my family and I returned to the island from London in 2014. My husband is also a psychologist and having both spent over 15 years working for mental health and prison services in the NHS, we were a little frazzled.


We wanted to be involved in working with the land (in particular, thinking about regenerative farming and biodiversity) and doing something different to our “day jobs”. My husband heard on Radio 4 about teas being grown in Scotland and remembered that Jersey has a history with tea, with the Oversea Trading Corporation being an important tea trader. We then researched how possible it would be to grow tea in Jersey (looking at average annual rainfall; soil quality; sunshine hours etc.) and discovered that this could be something that worked! So, we started experimenting with tea plants in our garden, and in 2016 my husband and I, alongside another local couple, established The Jersey Tea Company.



How starting a tea company has helped with my wellbeing

When we started telling friends and family about our idea to grow tea in Jersey, there were many amazed and concerned faces. People close to me were quite perplexed about why I was adding another element into the equation with an already busy lifestyle. I couldn’t provide a valid answer, apart from the clichéd response that I needed something different in my life. Something that still gave me a sense of achievement but didn’t require so much of my emotional world and instead provided me with something positive for my wellbeing in return.


There are many factors of the tea company that have had a positive impact on my wellbeing, and these have included:


The impact of being in nature and surrounded by nature

In a review of the research, it has been concluded that contact with nature is associated with increases in happiness, subjective wellbeing, positive affect, positive social interactions and a sense of meaning and purpose in life, as well as decreases in mental distress.


My personal experience of being in the fields, with the chickens clucking next to me and the insects buzzing around me, is that I am given brief moments in the day when my focus is not internal. I am not focusing on the “I should do...” or “I shouldn’t have done…”, but instead, the simple focus on life around me – the colours, the noises, the smells etc. This gives me time outside my internal focus and a break from the self-demands. (Bratman, G. et al. (2019). Nature and mental health: An ecosystem service perspective. Science Advances, Vol 5. No. 7)


Working with tea plants

An initial study examining the impact on workers having plants in the office have suggested that caring for a plant in the workplace helped mitigate stress and fatigue. Working with growing and nurturing plants provides a task with minimal emotional demands (unlike being a parent) but allows us to find satisfaction in seeing something thrive as a response to our care. This gives a sense of achievement and pride.


Walking around the fields and seeing how the tea plants are flourishing gives me great pleasure. When some of the plants have struggled, it provokes my curiosity and a desire to experiment and find a solution, but it does not cause me the stress of “failure” or trigger self-critical thinking that often can happen when parenting or working in other environments. (Toyoda, M. et al. (2019) Potential of a small indoor plant on the desk for reducing office workers’ stress. HortTechnology.)


Working alongside my children

I am sure I am like many parents who are constantly worrying about whether their parenting is “good enough”. In particular, the ongoing endless battle with gadgets. I am definitely not an advocate for banning technology, but being able to provide the children with other experiences has been important. I often drag them unwillingly to the tea fields, for them to spend some time engaging with something much slower and less immediately gratifying than computer games.


Some of my fondest memories are blackberry picking with my father. We often didn’t talk whilst we picked, but there was something about completing a simple repetitive task together that was meaningful and important for our relationship. When I am in the field with my children, weeding or picking the tea alongside each other, I am grateful to have time with them in shared purpose. Task sharing has been demonstrated as important in connecting people and enhancing attachments. This need for shared purpose and activity has possibly seemed even more important after the pandemic, where many individuals felt socially isolated.



contributing to the community

At The Jersey Tea Company we are certified organic with the Soil Association and use regenerative farming techniques. We are very passionate about trying to improve the quality of land and farming in Jersey and aim to: improve biodiversity (pollinator patches; rewilding); improve water quality (no leaching of chemicals as we do not use herbicides, pesticides, or artificial fertilisers on our crops); increase carbon sequestration via the tea plants; be plastic-free (our packaging is plastic free and compostable), and be sustainable (minimising our carbon footprint).

Engaging in a business that contributes to the community has been another important aspect of improving my wellbeing, and also helps to challenge feelings of being overwhelmed and out of control of some of the more significant issues, such as climate change. Engaging in environmentally-friendly behaviour has been associated with a more positive self-image and thus elicits positive emotion. (Venhoeven et al. 2016)


Enjoying the tea!

There has been much anecdotal evidence and many preliminary studies that highlight the benefits both psychologically and physiologically of drinking tea. Tea does contain antioxidants and nutrients and can be part of a healthy lifestyle. There are, of course, many other less direct psychological aspects to drinking tea, such as the impact of taking a “tea break”, the soothing aspects of a warm drink, and even the use of a favourite sentimental mug. Research from BRITA Professional (2020) found that two-thirds believe taking time to have a cup of tea positively affects their mental health, admitting it helps them to feel relaxed. Almost half agree that it helps them calm down and reduce stress levels. This research study also found that a tea break can increase our productivity, with nearly half agreeing that they can concentrate more on their work after a cup of tea and over a third can perform better or to a higher level.


For me, stopping to brew a pot of tea is about pausing from the usual chaos and time pressures in order to self-indulge. I enjoy the fact that it takes time, and I try and use that time to be in the moment, but I also value using tea as a chance to connect with others. In the workplace, a “tea break” in the staff kitchen allows us to informally chat to colleagues – not over e-mails or in a meeting where minutes are taken but in a more creative informal space.


CONCLUSION

Though the establishment of The Jersey Tea Company has been a conduit to improving my psychological wellbeing, it is not because of the company itself but due to the small changes it has made to my life. These changes do not require a tea field but can involve: a plant in an office or kitchen; time in a park, beach or on a balcony; spending time with those we love completing a shared task; engaging in small changes that benefit the community around us, and taking time to pause and maybe even enjoy a cup of Jersey tea!


Find out more about The Jersey Tea Company at www.thejerseyteacompany.com

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