Funeral put tea lover on path to new life
The Tea Lounge in London is a place to learn about and experience teas of the world.
When Michelle Pierce Hamilton walked out of her best friend’s funeral in 2005, she knew she had to change. The mother of two had been living a high-stress corporate lifestyle for years. She travelled constantly. Dinner always came from the drive-thru. And breakfast was usually coffee and a cigarette. “The day I walked away from her funeral, I said to myself, ‘I’m done. I’m going to change today.’ And I did,” she says. “In that moment, I quit smoking. I quit drinking coffee. I stopped going to fast food restaurants. It was very, very drastic.” It wasn’t long until Pierce Hamilton fell head over heels in love with her new beverage of choice: tea. “You slowly awaken to the fact that there’s more than English Breakfast,” she says. “I was blown away when I found out that all tea comes from the same plant.” She enrolled in the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition and the tea sommelier program at George Brown College in Toronto. And she began visiting teahouses around the world while travelling for business. But it was a trip to the World Tea Expo that set off Pierce Hamilton’s entrepreneurial spark. “I became awakened to how huge the tea industry is, but also at the same time how in North America, the market is still really quite small,” she says. “There is only a handful of people who do tea really well in North America.” In 2012, Pierce Hamilton founded beTeas, an online tea store that sells quality loose leaf teas from around the world. But her dream was still to open a teahouse of her own. “Tea is such a see, touch, smell experience that the Internet can’t really do it justice,” she says. But in 2016, the stars aligned. While on a research trip to China with her current business partner, Tang Yixing, a friend texted Pierce Hamilton about a space that had just opened up on Piccadilly Street in the Richmond Row area of London. It was meant to be. The Tea Lounge officially opened in November 2016 and features nutritionist-approved and sommelier-sourced teas from around the world as well as light lunches and snacks. Their vision was to make it a place of the world. The interior is decorated with ornate family heirlooms that Pierce Hamilton, who was put up for adoption in the 1960s, received from her Scottish birth mother and Indo-Pakistani birth father. They also hold workshops and tea tastings from a variety of different cultures and traditions. “The Tea Lounge is the experimental manifestation of everything beTeas stands for. This is where you come to experience the world of tea,” she says. “I know there are a lot of popular tea companies out there . . . but it’s like fine dining or fine wine. Life is too short to drink cheap tea.”