enviable in-store events and a love affair with japanese sencha: james bowman of halcyon tea

I first came across Halcyon Tea a little while ago and have featured one of their beautiful tea-tasting photos before, in this post.  They have so many elements that I really love in a tea store, they run lots of in-store tea events and tastings, they blog and take wonderful, wonderful tea photos.

James and I had a chat about tea, everyday rituals, striking a balance when it comes to the environment and about his introduction to Japanese sencha.




Tell me about Halcyon Tea, how did you get started and what do you see for the future.

one of halcyon tea's 5pm friday tea groups

We are an independent shop located in San Diego, California. The shop opened in 2008 and has quickly become a destination for people seeking high-quality tea and tea-ware.

We stock teas from Japan, China, Taiwan, India, Sri Lanka, Africa and beyond. Rather than a massive selection, we prefer a tightly curated list of around 60 teas with a clear focus on well-crafted single-origin selections. We also offer plenty of fine blends and herbal tisanes.

All teas are packed to order for each customer, and we are absolutely committed to providing warm, sincere service. We really appreciate people being interested in what we’re doing.

As for the future, we just launched our online store at www.halcyontea.com, so that is a clear focus for us right now.

You guys have a real fair trade, organic and environmental focus – can you tell me how did you came to be on that path and how you came to be so passionate about it.

The bottom line for us is that we are always striving to reduce our impact. This can be hard when we constantly receive and ship packaged items like tea-ware. I mean, the teas come from halfway around the world! Whether by air or boat, it’s a long journey. Like many things, we try earnestly to strike a conscious balance.

Our shop is built with FSC-certified formaldehyde-free materials, zero VOC paint and floor stains. We re-use most of the packing materials from items we receive. We have very minimal waste leaving our shop due to recycling and composting. I think most of the waste comes from the sealed bags used for shipping teas. High-barrier bags are essential for freshness, but they aren’t biodegradable. This is something we would love to see improvement in. You can learn more about our commitments here.

Tell me where in the world you are, what do you love about the place you live and where would you like to go next.

We are located in the historic San Diego neighborhood of South Park (yes, you read that correctly). We are supported by an incredible community of open-minded people who care about quality. For example, our immediate area has become known as one of the country’s premier craft beer destinations, and we continue to see excellent new restaurants sourcing seasonally, locally and organically.

As far as where I would like to go next, that is a great question. I have a particular fondness for southwest France and northern Spain, but Japan continues to beckon as well.

What does tea mean to you.

Okay, stop me if I go too far. For me, tea is a truly holistic endeavor. It has perfect gestalt. Even though it can be as simple as adding water to leaves, there is so much more to it than the sum of its parts.

It is nature, history, lore, culture, design, seasons, region, varietals, crafting methods, climate, sharing, community…it has it all! Besides family, it is what my life is based around. I feel very fortunate for this, and I never take it for granted. Tea is a direct connection to people and culture, and I love that.

What’s the best perk of your job, because working with tea seems like a dream to me!

Having a wall of amazing tea behind me everyday is pretty darn nice! Still, the absolute best part of my job is sharing my love for tea with others. I have always loved turning people on to things, whether it be tea, music, design, etc.

the wall of tea at halcyon tea

one of halcyon tea's great in-store events

I taught at local colleges for several years and never grew tired of showing my students how deep a particular subject can be.

Just like tea, it is the stuff people often overlook or take for granted that can actually be amazing if they just stop and really explore the details.

Even with customers who have been into tea for a long time, the shared passion and dialogue we can have is just so rewarding for me

What’s your favorite tea related memory or location and why is it special to you .

It’s a combined event from my second semester of college in 1989. I was in the middle of reading a book called The Empty Mirror. It isn’t necessarily about tea, but tea is woven throughout the story. There was consistent talk of the “bitter green tea and sugar cakes” they had as part of daily life in a post-war era Zen monastery. I still remember the minute I was struck with an intense need for green tea. As this was pre-internet, I quickly got into my car and drove to a local Asian market. That in itself was memorable as it was so foreign to me at the time. I stood in front of the Japanese green tea aisle forever before finally choosing a sencha. That the tea was merely a decent supermarket grade didn’t really matter; it was a revelation for me at the time.

To this day, Japanese green tea is my first tea love.

What do you drink where you’re not ‘working’

I really am a tea person all day everyday. To change things up, I’ll make some really nice shaken iced teas at home. So, it’s usually tea or water for me.


In the evening I enjoy a frosty glass of beer. Stone, Anchor Steam, Lagunitas, and Deschutes are some favorite breweries.

If there is one tea you could introduce to everyone in the world, what would it be.

Per my answer to the question above, I want to say a nice quality sencha since Japanese tea is dear to me. But, if I remove myself from the equation, I would say it is often a good quality oolong that will catch people by surprise and reveal what tea can really be.

Taiwanese and Chinese oolongs all along the spectrum always seem to have this impact. If this helps people want to explore tea further, then I’d have to go with that.

Can you tell me three of your favorite tea or travel website or brands.

  • For tea websites I am often searching the CCTV.com archive for tea videos. I can watch this type of stuff all day long.  You can find them here
  • Though it hasn’t been updated in a while, I love the Chai Pilgrimage blog. Aside from loving a nice masala chai myself, this blog is chock full of beautiful images and lovely content:
  • And, this last one could kind of be considered a travel blog. As a long time surfer, I often find myself making a pot of tea and sitting back to read or watch clips on Korduroy TV.

Can you tell me your favorite tea shop, other than your own, and what made it totally wonderful.

My wife and I were recently in the Bay Area, and I really enjoyed hanging out with a pot of charcoal-fire Lishan at Far Leaves. It’s such a humble, unassuming place with a very comfortable rustic austerity that really took me out of the city.


Halcyon Tea are located at 3009 Beech Street, San Diego, CA 92102. You can find their tea blog here, and say hello to them on Facebook.  All of the beautiful photos in this post are from the Halcyon Tea website.

2 Responses to “enviable in-store events and a love affair with japanese sencha: james bowman of halcyon tea”
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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Halcyon Tea, Deb H.. Deb H. said: New post: enviable in-store events & a love affair with Japanese sencha with James Bowman of Halcyon Tea: http://t.co/UP5KeBb #tea #sencha […]

  2. […] fun taking time with the great questions she asked. If you want to check that out, you can find it here. If you haven’t been to her blog and you’re into tea, it is a must visit. She posts […]

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