Through his time spent building one of the world’s most respected tea brands, John is credited with helping to reintroduce luxury tea to palates across America and contributing to the steady rise of tea drinking in the United States in recent decades.
His legacy in tea began in 1960, when, after serving in the US Marine Corps and graduating from the Cornell School of Hotel Management, John began working at the White Hart Inn in Salisbury, Connecticut.
Under the guidance of Stanley Mason, a veteran of the London tea trade who had left the corporate world to start a small tea company in the region, John quickly learned that tea—good tea—could not be overlooked in the hotel trade. Stanley mentored John in tea brewing and blending, inspiring in him a passion to eventually start his own company. In 1983, he launched his eponymous tea brand out of his Connecticut home.
During those early days blending in his basement, John worked to educate others on quality tea, converting tea drinkers from bags to loose leaf, from staple blacks to more nuanced leaves. His first customers were guests at the White Hart Inn, though he eventually held tea services and seminars in hotels like the Waldorf Astoria and the Ritz-Carlton. He started with six teas.
Today Harney & Sons has more than 300 blends, many of them consumer favorites. Harney & Sons teas are sold in luxury hotels around the world, and the company produces proprietary teas for the Historic Royal Palaces in Britain. In the decades since it’s founding, each phase of the company’s growth was guided by John’s passion for educating others on tea,and making quality tea more accessible.
Harney & Sons remains family run. John’s two sons, Michael and Paul, are both vice presidents of the company, while his daughter-in-law works as manager and buyer. His grandsons Emeric and Alexander Harney manage Harney & Sons two East Coast teashops. He is survived by his wife Elyse, five children, and ten grandchildren.
More than a master blender, author, and mentor, John was one of the tea world’s kindest voices; modest, jovial, and always seeking to inspire greatness in others.
—Regan Crisp is the associate editor at Fresh Cup.