The salty crispness of a craggy, windswept shore. The heady scent of damp wood. The warmth of sweet sunshine. The San Juan Islands have long been a refuge for weary hearts and creative minds — and it’s this wildly scenic and peacefully unimposing beauty Bobby Ryan is capturing in a cup.
His handcrafted tea blends are a collection of island-grown and specially curated ingredients. The flavor profiles range from sweet to spicy. And the use of tea bags? It’s a controversial move among many tea-drinking enthusiasts who swear by their chosen brewing technique. For Bobby, the decision was one made out of love.
“I find dancing the teabag while it steeps a deeply ritual moment. It’s a chance to be fully present and engaged. And that’s something I wanted to share,” explained Bobby.
Founded in June of 2021, Bobby debuted his collection of Inspired Earth Teas at the San Juan Island Farmers Market. At the time, he’d created five unique blends. Today, his offerings feature the same staples — including the wildly popular Madrona Sencha, which features a hint of ocean breeze mixed with earthy Madrona Bark sourced on San Juan Island.
But Bobby is an artist to his core. Before moving to San Juan Island with his husband, Tyler Ryan, he earned his Masters in Contemporary Performance, spent two years as a puppeteer at Disney World, and several years pursuing a life on stage as an actor in Portland, Oregon.
“I told myself when I started this that I would only do it if I absolutely loved it. And I do. I can confidently say, I LOVE every product I make,” said Bobby.
And the products have expanded. Bobby released his first seasonal tea blend in 2022. He partnered with San Juan Island Salt to create a unique sea salt bath. He’s developed tea-infused lip balms. Plus, he’s started dabbling in tea-infused artisanal chocolate, a venture he shares with Tyler.
Why Tea on San Juan Island?
A tea business wasn’t the original plan when Bobby and Tyler moved to San Juan Island. Bobby came to continue his art career. But when a local tea business, Salish Sea Teas, was looking to close up shop, Bobby felt called to the cup.
“I’ve always trusted my gut. That’s been true my whole life. And this just spoke to me,” said Bobby.
Salish Sea Teas gave Bobby the structure to get the business up and running as he spent hours upon hours in product development. “I knew I wanted the flavors to speak for themselves. And I knew I wanted to source as much on-island as possible. If I was going to do this, it needed to be completely and authentically me. And that’s what it is,” said Bobby.
Tea’s As Old as Time
According to legend, tea was discovered by the Chinese emperor Shen Nung. It’s believed that around 2800 B.C. a servant dropped tea leaves into the emperor’s boiling water — spearheading the deeply influential practice. Whether the story has any legs, there’s no denying that tea wove itself into China’s cultural fabric, eventually spreading throughout the world.
Japan turned it into an art roughly 800 years later. In the 17th century, the Dutch tea craze permeated prosperous households. And in the mid-19th century, the English established the concept of ‘afternoon tea.’
America took a bit more circuitous route to its tea love affair. The infamous Boston Tea Party of 1773 stifled the practice some. But in 1904, Americans went on to invent iced tea and, just four years later, introduced the tea bag, albeit by accident. (Clients of tea merchant Thomas Sullivan believed the small silken bags in which he shipped tea were intended for putting straight into the pot.)
Perhaps the biggest American tea movement of them all began when folks were forced to stay at home. While the culture of going out for coffee had become integral, The New York Times reported that many an individual discovered, “there’s something to be said for staying in for tea” during the pandemic.
Selecting the Right Blend from San Juan Island’s Inspired Earth Tea
One could make the case that the best way to find your favorite tea is to try them all. And if you’re anything like Bobby, you’ll likely discover you like multiple different teas. “Which one I drink is often dependant on my mood and the weather,” said Bobby.
Some teas are better suited for the morning, like his sweet and zesty Island Basil Chai. While caffeine free, it offers a pick-me-up that’s delightful both day and night. It also readily welcomes a touch of milk and a hint of sweetener (such as raw honey).
Sipping on a hot day? Bobby’s Dandy Mint is arguably better chilled than warm — offering a mix of bright minty notes and mellow, honey-like sweetness. While on the other side of the spectrum, his My Spicy Lover blend is a soothing yet provocative mix of rose petals and chili pepper extract that gets spicier the more you sip.