Tea and Inspiration at the Top of the World.
Photos by Jeni Dodd ~
Sometimes it takes a health scare to make us change our ways. These experiences often lead to unexpected, fulfilling paths. For Jeni Dodd, a journey to find healing and balance brought her into a community of kindness high above the world.
A Kansan by birth, Dodd spent most of her career as a corporate litigator in New York City, where she still practices law. A loss of vision in her left eye led to a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis in 2004.
Dodd felt reducing her stress might help her symptoms abate. She knew the reputed health benefits of tea and recalled her first encounter with it as a law student in London. There, she was exposed to what she calls her gateway tea, Earl Grey. Following her diagnosis, she began studying tea in depth. Her education soon included trips to producers and growers around the world.
Dodd began attending the World Tea Expo, which is where, through the Tea Flights program, Dodd first sampled tea from Nepal. While the tea was spectacular, it was apparent the Nepalese tea industry was not well-organized. Shortly thereafter, Dodd had the opportunity to visit Nepal on a trip organized by the Tea Association of the USA.
It was a transformative experience.
“I fell in love with Nepal and the teas and the people who are kind, generous and welcoming,” Dodd said.
Since then, she traveled to the Himalayan nation up to four times a year until the Covid-19 pandemic closed its borders. Through her business, Jeni Dodd Tea, she works tirelessly to promote the Nepalese tea industry, which only found its footing in the early 1990s, and those who work in it.
With its different growing climates, each of Nepal’s regional teas are infused with a sense of place. For Dodd, the spirit of the growers comes through each cup.
“The most important terroir element is the people themselves,” she said. “Their personalities and characteristics influence how the tea tastes.”
Since the country was never colonized, she said: “There is a pride of independence in the tea.”
Working with Nepali growers and producers has not only been physically restorative but has also provided Dodd with a sense of community.
“I feel like I have a whole family that I didn’t know I had before,” she said. “That’s such a unique thing with tea. It is a whole different way to approach business and that is something we so need.”
These psychological benefits, she said, can offer a blueprint for unity in the world.
“There should be something called tea diplomacy,” Dodd said. “It is hard to sit around a table drinking tea and to have hate in your heart.”
While Dodd is helping to propagate new markets for Nepali tea, she is also focused on giving back. She founded CulTEAv8, a community service initiative, to address acute needs within Nepal. It is currently raising money to help alleviate the financial burdens brought about by the dual challenges of the pandemic and climate change.
CulTEAv8 is one of the ways she feels she can reciprocate the generosity of spirit shown to her.
“My exposure to Nepal makes me want to be a better person in the way that [the Nepalese] are,” she said.
For Dodd, the journey that began to restore her health has brought her full circle. Since 2019, she has represented Nepal in the Tea Flight program at the World Tea Expo, as she will do again at this year’s event.
“It’s my job to create a market so [Nepali growers and producers] can be rewarded for these beautiful teas they have,” she said. “We work together and try to encourage one another. Whatever I can do to achieve that goal, that’s what I’ll do.”
Dodd concluded: “I hope I can inspire others the way I was inspired.”
Learn about CulTEAv8 HERE.