TEA JOURNEYS OF MARIAH RUNDBERG, LOGISTICS WIZARD FOR STEEP MOUNTAIN TEA
My tea story is intertwined with warm childhood memories as well as adventurous and life changing events of my adult years. Earliest memories of tea for me are from my parents’ and grandmother’s kitchens. My parents usually had the basic and widely available teas on hand like Red Rose black and Good Earth herbal. In contrast, and true to our family's food norm of buying generic brand grocery food but also growing and preserving a lot of our own fruits and vegetables, we also had various single herb tisanes picked from our garden, or more rarely, foraged from the National Forest lands of Central and Northern Idaho. My mom and dad met while they were both working as firefighters for the Nez Perce National Forest so they would enjoy telling my sister and me stories of tromping around the woods and picking things to dry and make tea out of such as rose hips and mountain ditney. My mom reminisces of picking so many wild rose hips one fall that she was able to dry and sell them to the local food coop.
I grew up in a house next door to my grandmother’s house so I was a frequent visitor of her kitchen. She always had an assortment of teas on display on a shelf behind her stove. They would vary between Celestial Seasonings standby’s to more rare boxes of teas given to her as gifts from international students from the University of Idaho that she had befriended. My grandmother never drank alcohol so tea was her go-to in the mornings and after dinner.
It was also in my grandmother’s kitchen where, as a preteen, I was first introduced to chai. A doctoral student from India, named Caroline, rented a room from my grandmother and would invite her Indian friends over to cook elaborate meals that filled the house with amazing and new-to-me aromas. Chai was an eyeopener with its sweet, spicy and warming flavors of cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, and anise simmering in milk. Those rich smells and flavors that those kind and dynamic Indian students created in my grandmother’s kitchen made a lasting impression on me as a kid growing up in an Idaho town surround by farm country.
Fast forward 20 years to when my sister and me had an opportunity to travel to India to visit and stay with Caroline and her family. We had a few days of incredible experiences seeing the sights in Central India and being fed delicious food and chai. Then things took a different turn and I ended up deathly ill in a hospital in Bhopal for 2 weeks, which is a long story that could probably be made into a mini-series, but for this blog I will keep it short. This is the point where my tea story intersects with my wife, Serena’s. We had been dating for a little over a year when these events unfolded. Without hesitation, Serena left her busy cafe in the capable hands of managers and hopped on 5 planes to make her way to Bhopal to help me heal and support my sister who had been through a traumatic time trying to get me to a hospital. Read Serena’s tea story for more details of the rest of this experience.
The eventful and harrowing trip to India shifted my perspective on life and I started to rethink my career as a fish biologist. I was trying to find a new passion and Serena and I briefly considered buying an existing tea and chocolate business in 2011. This is when I started reading the book “The Story of Tea” and learning more about the tea industry. It wasn’t until 10 years later, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, when my little glimmer of an idea of owning a tea business came to fruition. You can read more about the start of the Steep Mountain Tea Company in Nick and Scott's tea journey blogs. I currently hold the title of Logistics Wizard and carry out a variety of tasks including managing our website, order fulfillment, and generally making sure our i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed.