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Greta Rybus

Greta Rybus is a photojournalist and photo editor living in Portland. She started her blog, “Who I Met," as a way to begin juicy conversations with interesting people she meets. The blog has migrated with her from Montana, Europe, and, finally, to her new and dearly-loved home in Maine. You can see more of her work at

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Who I Met with Greta Rybus
Posted: February 25, 2013

SARAH RICHARDS- tea maker, owner of Homegrown Tea and Herbs

Sarah’s teashop is cozy, colorful, and roomier than you’d expect. The walls are lined to the ceiling with wooden boxes of little drawers and spice-filled jars. Sarah, warm and smiling, always chats with each of her customers. Most of the time, she knows them well. And meanwhile, throughout every conversation, she is mixing small batches of tea, pulling herbs from drawers on the highest shelves, scooping aromatics from their gleaming containers, and chopping fresh produce to flavor bowl-like mugs of tea.

She is making tea, but she is also making medicine. Her main goal, she says, is to heal people. To change them for the better. Some customers sit at the bar, telling her their physical and emotional feelings. Some customers bring their book or knitting, just there to be in a place that feels like a second home.


Health and happiness is what is important to me. Being well, physically and emotionally. Being joyous in what I do. I would love to have an easier financial time in life. I think that’s the sacrifice I have to make to do what I want to do. And I’m figuring it out. My retirement plan is to take one more week of vacation every year until I die. This is my five-week year. So this year, I’m going to spend five weeks not working. That’s my plan, and it’s exciting to achieve.


My biggest lesson that my teashop has taught me is that you can do anything you want to do in life. You know, I worked for someone else my whole life. I was a waitress then a bartender, and then I became a Spanish teacher. And all that time, as much of a free spirit as I am, I felt very obligated to a system. Having broken away from that system has been the most marvelous thing I’ve ever done. It’s just awesome. If you do something with truth and integrity and from the heart, it will work out. It doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. It doesn’t mean you can be lazy; you have to be practical and smart about it. And I don’t think that fulfilling your passion necessarily has to be what you do for work. There’s so many ways to cut that cloth. I think every day you spend being miserable at a job you hate, eight hours a day, is a waste. An absolute waste of life.


To quit teaching and open my tea shop. It was a big one. I had a very frustrating, disappointing final experience teaching. I was so angry that I got a six-pack of beer and there was a John Wayne marathon on TV. And I was crying and drinking beer and watching John Wayne, and I thought, “That’s it! I’m opening my tea shop.”


Someone gave me a medicinal herb dictionary when I was very young; I was about nineteen years old. I was off to college and I was fascinated by it and started looking up herbs for things that I was going through and would make little blends for family and friends. Each time in trying the medicinal pieces, I’d choose other herbs that would make it taste good. Then I would look up aromatic herbs that would compliment the medicinal herbs. It was from a very western perspective initially, definitely based on the chemical components in each plant that would help each illness. I did that as my sort of underlying philosophy for probably fifteen years. That’s how I blended tea. And then I discovered Ayurvedic medicine. So, I always compare it to learning to play the guitar or speak Spanish. First you learn chords, then you get to play a song. Then you practice that song and bring in nuances that make the song more meaningful and complex.


You have to understand your ingredients, firstly: know what properties they are used for, know their taste, and when you blend something that you are creating a culmination of flavor. So you have to try it many times before you get a so-called recipe down. Knowing your ingredients helps you understand ratios so when someone comes in and has an ailment and I’m making them a personal custom blend, because I understand how each of the ingredients I choose tastes, how powerful their medicinal value is, I understand how the overall ratio of the blend will be. I think that’s the trickiest thing to teach someone because it comes from making tea. You have to experiment over a long period of time to do something that’s truly meaningful and is going to be delicious. One of the reasons I love tea as a therapy is because it’s about taking time to enjoy the taste of something and that blissful experience in itself is therapy. It brings joy to us and that emotion is therapy. It is my belief is that tea is an enjoyable ritual.


Well, tea has energy just like food has energy and an emotional experience has energy. That can either be balancing or unbalancing. Every plant is either cooling or heating or drying or emollient. It has its medicinal action, as well. So all of those things contribute to how it might actually make you feel better. The thing about tea is there’s nothing else that we do in our life that makes us stop and do nothing but focus on this very intentional thing. They tell me what they are going through with great intention. I make their tea with great intention, I explain to them what is going into it and why I’m choosing that. Then they are in this very comforting place after a meaningful discussion, and they have something delicious. 100% of the time, they will feel better. There are all the pieces of healing there. What people are dying for and from is a lack of opportunity to reflect on their life and what’s making them sick. There is a lack of honesty about it. Everyone turns to this very Western way of, “Oh I have this symptom, I must take a pill and get rid of this symptom” as opposed to “What is going on? Why am I all of a sudden sick?” I think people can be well through thoughtful, open and honest and committed to making changes that will make you feel better.



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