I discovered Natalie Friedrich through her tea, Philosopher, and her company, Gnat & Bee, when I purchased a sample-sized packet at Thirty-two 8 Inspired & Co. It was love at first sip, and I immediately knew that I wanted Natalie to be part of my book launch party for my recently released novel, Realm.
Fortunately, Natalie agreed, and the process of working with her was most pleasant and educational. I’ll allow her answers to the Artist’s Corner interview questions to be her introduction as I’m sure her passion for all things tea will shine through.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I am thirty-two years old, a first-generation Japanese American, and grew up on Kauai, Hawaii, and California’s central coast. My husband and I met in the west, and we moved to Ohio together where he grew up. I have now lived in Wooster for over 10 years, and we are so grateful to be on a beautiful five acres in the countryside with our two daughters. On our homestead, I love to garden herbs and vegetables, forage wild ingredients, and enjoy caring for chickens.
What has your experience been?
I attended Monterey Peninsula Community College where I took a wide variety of art classes and studied psychology. My favorite mediums that I continue to practice include watercolor painting and ceramics. I have always loved cooking and I have had many years of experience as a vegan and conventional baker for cafes, restaurants, events, and freelancing. I began my self-studies in herbalism when I moved to Ohio. Most recently, I worked for a food and art co-op where I helped with daily operations, digital marketing, in-store design, and product management with local producers.
Did your work experience lead to the pursuit of tea blending?
I consider myself to be an independent creative. I created my own bakery business, then transitioned into making teas and body care with my knowledge of herbalism. In my last job, I often coached people with new business ideas on how they can be successful in a local marketplace. There, I learned the importance of branding, marketing, consistency, and sourcing quality (local or self-produced) ingredients when possible. These are all important components that I apply to the work that I do now, as a tea blender.
Do you put yourself into your tea blending? If so, how?
Absolutely. Blending tea is very personal to me, it is an activity that captivates every one of my senses. Every ingredient is carefully selected, some grown and harvested by my own hands. Stirring the components together is a peaceful ritual and creative outlet for me.
How did you develop your passion for blending tea?
As a culinary creative, I have always enjoyed producing unique flavor combinations and experiences to share with others. Many moons ago, one of my favorite small tea companies, Altar and Leaf, taught a wonderful and intuitive tea blending class. Lindsay’s course was so inspiring! This is when I began to blend, experiment, and discover my own style and tastes. It was such a joy to work with herbs, fruits, and spices to create nourishing and comforting cups of tea.
What or who is your inspiration?
I am inspired by the four seasons in nature, life experiences, and stories.
What blends do you enjoy creating? What are your favorite ingredients?
I enjoy creating teas that, upon sipping, take you to a different place. When you take in the flavor and aroma, you may find yourself in a field of wildflowers or a cottage garden, a rustic countryside, a woodland wander, or on an exotic spicy adventure.
What is your favorite blend that you’ve created?
Oh, this is a tough one! I have about 35 original recipes under my belt now. I have wonderful memories of creating Strawberry Sun. It is made with delicate white tea, dried strawberries, and citrusy spruce tips that I love to harvest every spring.
When creating for yourself, what is your process?
When I create for myself, it is a very natural flowing process because I have a feeling or story in my head and heart. It becomes translated through the jars of botanicals in my apothecary and mixed in a small pottery bowl. Usually, it will take a few cuppings and adjustments to get a blend exactly how I want it to taste. It is so satisfying to match a flavor to a feeling.
Do you work alone or with a partner?
I used to work alone. Now I have one full-time helper, and she really keeps me motivated, on task, and we are so productive together. I would be a mess, and so far behind without her.
Where can someone find you online?
I am most active on Instagram. I love visual storytelling and sharing my work, processes, and nature around me.
Do you have a website?
I do have a website where we sell our goods and sometimes share a blog with a tea recipe or seasonal inspiration: Gnat and Bee
For whom do you create teas?
I create teas for all kinds of people from all walks of life.
How does a client contact you?
What is your process when creating for a client?
We will discuss the purpose and intention of the blend. We talk about likes, dislikes, and medical conditions. I will provide samples, and we will decide together when the blend is perfectly finished.
Any complaints in the tea blending business?
Through working in this industry for a handful of years, I see companies that are built solely on buying tea blends that are made by another larger company and then repackaged with their own brand name. I think this is dishonest, lazy, and unoriginal. I could never imagine calling someone else’s creation my own. There are also a lot of artificial or heavily flavored teas in the blended tea category, I think this is a crutch and a shame. I like to honor the individual plants and ingredients, they have so many health benefits and beauty to offer us. It can be challenging to source or grow so many different single ingredients, but this is how I can ensure the highest quality for the best-tasting teas. I think this care and attention sets our teas apart from other companies.
Do you work full-time as a tea blender? If so, how do you see your business growing?
Yes, I resigned from my last job in March of 2022 and now run my business full-time. We are currently a home-based cozy apothecary with dedicated workspaces for efficient production and shipping. I have a goal to renovate a building on our property for the business to move into. This would include a welcoming space for a tea house that would be open to the public with indoor and outdoor seating overlooking the gardens. I would love to host events and classes for guests here.