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Two Leaves and a Bus

An Interview with Sina and Marten Verch and Lady Baker's Tea

By Sandy Nicholson

In early November, Lady Baker’s Tea received a visit from German travellers, Sina and Marten Verch. Marten works for Mount Everest Tea Company and had been in touch with Katherine before coming to PEI. Marten and Sina are at the beginning of a year-long expedition across Canada, and we are very happy that we have gotten to know them during their time on Prince Edward Island. They are currently staying at an inn in downtown Charlottetown. We sat down with them over tea at Leonhard’s Café to have a chat.

Lady Baker’s Tea:  When did your love of tea start?

Sina and Marten:  (both laughing) Uh oh.

LBT:  Were you a reluctant tea drinker?

Sina:  Ya, I was.

Sina:  I got to enjoy tea through Marten. I enjoy green teas, especially genmaicha and matcha.

Marten:  Hmm. I can’t really recall when the first time was. I hadn’t been a tea drinker as a teenager, but after school or in my last year of school I had to decide what to do afterwards, and I wanted to do something with natural products. I was thinking food-related things – spices, coffee, and I was thinking tea. So I applied to different companies, and eventually it was just one tea company that first offered me an interview and first offered me a job. It was the first time that I thought that I could be a tea person.

LBT:  It was a career-driven interest.

Marten:  Kind of. I grew up with my parents drinking tea. Weekends in the afternoon just to calm things down. I was used to the smell at least, but hadn’t really tried it. They had simple, plain black tea mostly. Some green teas. I remember them having Darjeeling a lot, which is kind of a thing in Germany. They call it the champagne among teas. The Place of Thunderbolt is a translation. There was supposed to be lots of thunders and lightning where there is Darjeeling now.

Beautiful Darjeeling, Northern India

LBT:  So you come from not really drinking tea to now, when I showed you one of our teas – Heaven on Earth, and you just looked at it and started listing the ingredients. You can just look at a tea now and tell what is in it?

Marten:  Pretty much. It usually takes years of practice. In Germany, they call it a tea taster, if you are someone who can tell all of the ingredients and tell by the taste and smells what a tea has. I don’t have as many years experience as my colleagues who are tea tasters have but I would still consider myself a tea taster or a junior tea taster maybeTo round this up a bit, my parents and grandparents were into gardening and agriculture, and at some point when I was 14 or so I started growing my own chili peppers. So there was the point when I thought oh, well natural products. That’s what I feel attracted to. It is a coincidence that I ended up trading tea. It could have been coffee. I am glad it’s tea. I am really glad.

Sina:  I really enjoyed coffee as a teenager. Plain, black coffee. I eventually got to drinking tea through Marten. My parents didn’t really drink tea. I learn more. It is a really interesting product. I enjoy green tea a little bit more than black tea. 

Marten:  We made Gin-maicha the other day. We have had this bottle of gin at home and we cold-infused genmaicha in the gin so we called it Gin-maicha. In a cocktail it might be good.

LBT:  So you have worked for a few different tea companies now?

Marten:  Two tea companies, and then the German and European associations for tea and herbal infusions. I was a student and started working there. I started working in 2009 for this one tea company. I did an apprenticeship there which is probably a bit different from your apprenticeships here. So I was in business school part-time and working for the tea company part-time for 2 ½ years. Then I worked for them afterwards for 1 ½ years, and then I decided to go to university and I just tried to open up my horizon and see what else there is food-wise. I knew it was food that I wanted to be engaged with. At some point I thought what can I do scientifically with tea, and there was this association which I knew existed, but really hadn’t got into it that much. I just tried to apply there as a student, and they took me, and that’s how I got into that. After my studies I worked there for another 1 ½ years, and then I decided it's about tea, yes, but I don’t have tea in my hands at all. I just wanted to get back closer to the product and that is when I started to work for another tea company then. My trainer in my first company works for the company that I work for now. He was the one that introduced me there. I told him that I needed to get closer to the product. Then I told him about our plans to go to Canada, and he said Canada, that’s interesting. We don’t have that many customers in Canada. Why don’t you start working here, and then after half a year you can go to Canada and promote us. Tea Company, then studies, association, then another tea company, Mount Everest Tea Company.

LBT:  Have you been in contact with other tea companies in Canada?

Marten:  Yes, in quite a few locations across Canada.

LBT:  What made you decide to travel to Canada?

Sina:  We both love to travel. But it is hard to book a big tour when you only have 3 weeks. I worked in a job that I didn’t feel that happy with, so when we decided, I was working as an occupational therapist and we wanted a change.

Marten:  I was leaving the tea association, but then I started working for Mount Everest Tea, and Sina started working for 2 other companies so we delayed travel for half a year. So then Why Canada?

Sina:  Yes, why Canada? It was on our list. We had traveled to the US. We thought that Canada must be beautiful and Canada would be a great place to do this. We have friends in the West Coast of the US.

Marten:  We have been to California a couple of times. And this one time was 2 years ago. It was actually the first time we did a road trip there and stopped at Lake Tahoe. We thought it was such a gorgeous place. We thought is there a place like this that we could stay for an extended time? So that is when we started researching. Canada has been on our list for quite some time. We just thought, is it possible to spend time there?

Sina:  And we were lucky.

LBT:  And you had a sprinter van that you renovated for the trip?

Marten and Sina's converted "bus" Frida, overlooking the Bay of Fundy

Sina:  We always wanted to convert a van for regular trips. But when we decided to go to Canada we thought that it would be great to do at that time. We could be more flexible.

LBT:  How difficult is that to send a van? You just ship it ahead?

Marten:  If you fulfill all the requirements, it is easy. One of the difficulties is to get insurance for a car that is not Canadian or American. There is only one insurance company that insures foreign cars in Canada and the US. I converted the van, we both did, and we eventually got short on time, and we were still not sure if we could get the van insured or not.

Sina:  We both had our jobs so we didn’t have much time to work on that.

Marten:  Luckily, this American insurance company was easy to work with. The shipping company in Germany was pretty easy too, as long as the money flows.

Inside Frida

LBT:  So you have already been to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick?

Sina:  Yes.

Marten:  And after that we came to PEI where we are staying 7-8 weeks in total.

LBT:  You didn’t spend nearly as much time in Nova Scotia or New Brunswick. What made you decide to spend so much time in PEI?

Sina:  You can’t plan a whole year in advance. But we looked up some places that we definitely wanted to see. Prince Edward Island was on our list, so we thought it would be nice to stay for longer.

Marten:  I don’t actually know why PEI. Well, of course, there was Katherine. I had contacted her before coming to Canada and she seemed so nice. Katherine was the main reason that I wanted to go to PEI, but didn’t know for how long. I was lucky to have this contact and now I am even more happy about meeting you guys as well, and that we got to know each other, and I don’t want to think about leaving. It will be hard. 

Marten and Sina with the Lady Baker's Tea Team 

LBT:  When you left on this big long trip, did you take tea with you? Do you pack favourite teas?

Marten:  No. In this case there is just one big reason which is customs.

Sina:  They don’t like you to bring tea to Canada. We didn’t bring food or anything, just in case.

LBT:  What was the first tea stop of your trip?

Marten:  We went to the World Tea House in Halifax. We met Phil the owner. He is such a great guy, and we had a really fun time together. So that was our first tea stop. So eventually we bought our first teas there. It was good timing. I ran out of his tea when we arrived here.

LBT:  What teas are you drinking now? What did you get at Lady Baker’s Tea?

Sina:  Harmony Holiday Spice

Marten:  Keemun, Pai mutan [Lady Baker’s White Peony]   

LBT:  What are your impressions of Canada so far? Differences? Similarities?

Sina:  Everyone is so friendly and nice. So welcome. It kind of feels like home.  A different mentality. More laid back, not so much in a rush. And we love the nature. It is stunning.

LBT:  Have you been visiting other areas on PEI?

Sina:  Brackley Beach, Cavendish Beach. We want to see Panmure Island.

Marten:  Time is ticking.

LBT:  You are planning to go all the way to the West Coast.

Marten:  Yes.

LBT:  And is it a full year of travel?

Marten:  Yes, exactly. Since we are going east to west, shipping the car back from the west is too expensive so we need to go back east, so we thought that we might go from California to Baltimore to ship it back.

Sina:  And we really want to visit our friends there because they are moving.

LBT:  I was hoping that you would come back to PEI.

Sina:  Oh, we would love to.

Marten:  Talking about differences again. More space.  More distances from town to town.

Sina:  If you want to go to Berlin from Hamburg it is a 3 hour drive and we would say no, it is too far away.

Marten:  Maybe for a weekend, but never for a day. But now we were lucky to have accommodation for our time in Ontario and it is 3 hours away from Toronto and caught ourselves talking and saying oh, that’s close. South Hampton on Lake Huron. We will be sitting a house and a dog there.

Sina:  For 5-6 weeks. We will be staying on a farm in Quebec for 2 months. They have horses, cats and dogs. We will stay there and help them out. [Sina and Marten will be WWOOFing (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) during their farm stay in Quebec.]

Marten:  I am still stuck with the question about differences and similarities. On both sides there are so many things. Everyday things – like in Germany they do not use credit cards very often. Bigger cars and houses here. The way houses are built. We enjoy the architecture downtown [in Charlottetown]. Food is different, of course, although PEI is a potato island, and where I was born there is lots of agriculture and potatoes grown, and the food made with potatoes is very similar. Fish, where we are from in Northern Germany, is an essential thing. The same here. There are some things that we find hard to find in stores here. Also measurements – cups. 

Marten:  So many similarities and differences on a small scale that aren’t worth mentioning. The biggest difference is that people are not rushed here as they are in Germany. They are more friendly and open. It takes longer to get to know people in Germany. Especially in the North. In Southern Germany, they have this Octoberfest mentality – lets have a beer together and you are friends. In the northern parts, just like the weather, people are colder and it takes a while to get warm. People love beer here in Canada. More craft beer. It is just starting in Germany. I think that people love to experiment more with tea here than in Germany. I think that people in Germany started to appreciate loose leaf tea earlier; more recently in Canada. When it comes to certain trends, I think that Canada is ahead of Germany tea-wise and beer-wise. Iced tea is more popular in Canada.

LBT:  What part of Quebec are you heading to first?

Sina:  Quebec City and then Montreal, and then a small town to work on the farm.

LBT:  Do you have experience on farms?

Sina:  Yes, I have been horse-riding since I was a child. I am really looking forward to that.

Marten:  No. Not necessarily with horses. The town that I grew up in had 375 people so it was really small.

Sina:  The "town" (laughs)

Marten:  The village. So I am used to small, and had agricultural surroundings. I have never worked on a farm before.

Sina:  It is exciting. It will be fun and cold.

Marten:  Should be fun. I mean, why Quebec in the dead of winter? It is going to be a lot of snow shovelling.


We wish Sina and Marten well on their adventures across Canada. They will be leaving Prince Edward Island on Christmas Day. We are hoping that they will check in with us from the road, so stay tuned for updates!

Marten and Sina's Instagram: twoleavesandabus

Two leaves and a bud – the standard for plucking tea.

Photo by Katherine Burnett from her travels to a tea estate in India.



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