Tea has been bringing people together for hundreds of years, but its role in facilitating connection and celebrating culture may be more important than ever in today’s siloed, socially-distanced world.
Amber Jackson is a food scientist, entrepreneur, and the Owner and Chief Operating Officer of The Black Leaf Tea and Culture Shop, an online loose leaf tea company that uses its platform to create spaces to engage community, encourage connection, and celebrate Black culture in New England.
In this interview with host Dave Ursillo, Amber shares how her identities and upbringing in Chicago inspired her entrepreneurship, how her love of food science was born at a young age, and some of the successes and challenges she’s faced with her 3-year-old business — through praise and public fanfare, among other high highs and low lows.
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Dave Ursillo 00:00
Legend has it that the history of tea dates back nearly 5000 years to ancient China, where the medicinal benefits of boiling fresh leaves in water were said to be discovered. Over the last few 100 years in particular, though, the cultivation and consumption of tea has spread the world over through a combination of colonization and global trade. In many ways, even more than coffee, tea has shaped cultures, traditions, national identities and more the world over. And yet today in our own homes and in our backyards, tea is still a reason for people to get together to honor their cultures and identities, to identify and develop communities and to share something that altogether feels warming, nourishing and truly loving. In an age with record high levels of loneliness and social isolation, could the tea that we drink possibly be a part of the solution?
Dave Ursillo 01:00
From The New Story Company this is The New Story Is a podcast that explores the perceptions of stories and ideas that have come to shape the world today as we know it. Along the way, we speak to talented guests who are championing the new stories that may shape our collective future for the good time, Dave Ursillo.
Dave Ursillo 01:17
Okay, so admittedly, it might be a bit of a stretch to suggest that tea could cure all of the social rose in the world today. But that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have its part to play. Here to talk all things tea community culture and connection is Amber Jackson.
Dave Ursillo 01:33
She’s the owner and Chief Operating Officer of The Black Leaf Tea and Culture Shop, an online Loose Leaf Tea Company. Amber is not only on a mission to promote wellness through her teas, she’s building a platform and create spaces to engage the community to encourage connection, and especially to celebrate Black culture. Amber hosts monthly networking and social events for young black professionals in the area. And she also facilitates a discussion series called tea talk to dialogue with fellow entrepreneurs and changemakers on topics like being black in academia, the importance of therapy and breaking down traumas and racism in the hospitality industry.
Dave Ursillo 02:12
The Black Leaf Tea and Culture Shop is at best of Rhode Island 2022 Winter, Amber was named on the Who To Watch list in 2022, as well by Providence monthly magazine. And she also wrote the cover story on the state of black owned business in Rhode Island in Hey Rhody magazine this past February. Amber, welcome to The New Story Is and thank you so much for joining us.
Amber Jackson 02:35
Thank you for having me.
Dave Ursillo 02:37
So you’ve been making waves and that’s the only I promise Rhode Island pun I’ll weave into this conversation but you’ve been making waves as an entrepreneur in southern New England area since you founded The Black Leaf Tea and Culture Shop in 2019. But I understand that Rhode Island isn’t your original home. And because all Rhode Islanders are I have found are very interested in finding out why and how someone that’s not from Rhode Island has ended up in Rhode Island or come to Rhode Island maybe is a more positive way to put it. How did the tea entrepreneur with whom we’re speaking today come to Providence having grown up originally on the south shore side? Excuse me, the South Side of Chicago?
Amber Jackson 03:19
Yeah, I moved to an island November of 2017 which feels so wild because it’s yeah, it’s been five years now. It’s just crazy to think about but mine was different my job and browse I moved because there was a check with my name on it. And so I I moved different my job working athletics, I have worked in athletics at Brown University, but actually I academically my entire academic career is in food science. So I people always ask me, Oh, you don’t even trician is like, No, those are not the same thing. I actually worked in athletic business, my entire professional career, but academically my degrees are in food science.
Dave Ursillo 03:56
Very cool. And so what what is the difference between a food scientist or someone who studies Food Science and being a nutritionist? Could you just give us like an even general breakdown?
Amber Jackson 04:05
Yeah, for sure. So nutrition focuses heavily on lifestyle statistics and programming. So a lot of the programs as far as like WIC EBT, community programming as well. But a lot of it comes down to lifestyle and moderation of the things that affects those those variables, where food science is an interdisciplinary study. So it’s everything from food engineering, food chemistry, food law, proteins, flavoring product development, so it’s a very wide range of what that is specifically more technical compared to nutrition, which is definitely more based on lifestyle and lifestyle and also like just, you know, community effects on the individual people.
Amber Jackson 04:49
And so a lot of the work that we do in food science was my specific area of focus on product development, which I chose that major when I was 12 years old. As you know, being from Chicago, I initially want to be a chef. And be Chicago. Chicago is a James Beard, Michelin star cities. It’s incredibly competitive. And so my mom’s like, Oh my God, I need a job. So we didn’t always have cable growing up. But we did. I still love watching Food Network, and particularly good eats is a show by Alton Brown. And I loved how he broke down the science of cooking and flavor and food in itself. And so I legit chose food science when I was 12. And just wrote it out through grad school.
Amber Jackson 05:33
But I, in my mind, I was like, I want to be I want to play with food. I want to play with flavor, I want to work if I knew exactly what it was, I want to work in General Mills as an r&d scientist. And then I learned in grad school, my second year in grasp was like, Oh, you actually should have been a corporate chef, because you hate being in labs. It is. It’s I enjoy the technical piece of it as well, the science of it is extremely isolating. And I need to be around people. I’m not the most extroverted person. And I will say I know how to turn it on and turn it off. But we just in a lab for hours by yourself. Yeah, fine. Yeah, that’s where I where I was with that.
Dave Ursillo 06:15
I love that. That’s so fascinating. And you’re right, I mean, something that seems so essential, like I grew up in an Italian American household. So food and food culture and food history and tradition are so baked into like the stories that we tell. I said in a recent episode, that I’m pretty sure my connection to my Italian heritage is just based almost only on the food, and how we story through the food that we eat and share. So it can be as as you know, food and can be so evocative of like social connection and our personal histories and our individual histories. But like you say, like being would you say it was a corporate engineer of foods for a big company, a corporation, like General Mills would be the exact opposite, it’d be extremely isolating, and probably not altogether very fun.
Amber Jackson 07:03
Yeah, I was like, oh, I should have been a corporate chef working in a test kitchen, not in the lab. But after I’d been in school since at that point, in my second year, I was I went straight through. So I was 22. My second year in grad school. So pretty much been schooled my entire life. And just like, oh, I, there was a fork in the road. And I didn’t I wasn’t that knowledgeable of the other fork or the other lane. And I just went straight for the one that I knew of, which is Tommy, for everybody. You know, you know, she know, you don’t know what you don’t know.
Dave Ursillo 07:36
Yeah, absolutely. And you mentioned in your answer there, Amber, about your, you know, choosing this career path initially at age 12 give you a lot of kudos for the depth of self knowledge you seem to possess at age 12 That, that I’m still searching for, in my mid to late 30s. But kudos to you. But I know, Amber that you know, you you mentioned growing up on the south side of Chicago, and it being such like a Food City, Chicago as a whole. In the Hey Rhody Magazine article that you wrote on recently, on the state of black owned businesses in Rhode Island, you made this really interesting point that was very educational for me, as I often self disclosed, just so people know, listening in podcast form, identifying as a white man, about the popularity today of what we call side hustles.
Dave Ursillo 08:24
And like side hustling online, having an online business, or like working multiple jobs, but especially having like an entrepreneurial gig that we operate, you know, that’s maybe not our primary business. And you wrote that while this idea is so popular in the online world in which we live today. It’s, it’s, it’s more commonly, like, esteemed and valued and a large swath of you know, American and I would add, like wider American society, that for you, it wasn’t uncommon to see side hustlers in a black community, like the Southside of Chicago, and that that was something that was really kind of like, understood and fundamental. You wrote that it was a pillar of the black community growing up. I’m wondering how you witnessed that kind of entrepreneurship growing up and if and how it influenced your mindset and outlook.
Amber Jackson 09:12
Yeah, I mean, for me, it was everywhere. So it’d be on the south side, of course, the South Side of Chicago, so the third third largest city in the country, so that’s a very large area. So you know, we can say our neighborhood more so than the area so I from Inglewood. And so be in a space where we had the candy lady on our blackish Shri, the summertime she had retired table out there, and she would be selling snow cones, penny candy chips, even for me like I’m growing up so I can’t get in trouble for it. But no one went to school in their area in Chicago and Chicago applying for high schools as a service plan for college like we have over 150 high schools in the city alone. And so for me, I would have to take when I was in high school my freshman year Excuse me. I lived in Brownsville at the time, so I took a bus to the train station. The train from 43rd street down to 95th Street, and then the bus from there to my school, so it’ll be about an hour and a half to get to school in the morning. I don’t have to get back home. And this, you been in Chicago, the red line, once you get past about 14/43 Street is always very interesting. But I can’t read a book of the things I’ve seen on the red line.
Amber Jackson 10:20
But you know, your house had a guy on there who had like CDs, DVDs, oils, like pop up like that towel socks, like anything you could think of they would have it, you know, go into the hair salon, go into the barber shop, we had someone come in, they’re selling CDs and DVDs bootlegs, whatever. But the idea that you can make money in a sense that just needed money, but also understanding the economic repercussions of those areas in my neighborhood. This isn’t economically, this this province area. So whether you know, I’m not concerned about the person selling even believes in those type of things, priorities illegal, but it’s not drugs. It’s not, you know, so that’s the only thing is like, Hey, these are things that people that don’t have opportunities that are making money because they have to.
Amber Jackson 11:06
And so in the sense where you are concerned about is this to talk to you to one of my friends, actually, he’s also black, he grew up very privileged, so very opposite from my life, where he like in the black community, which is the financial literacy that explained to him what its financial literacy means to someone that has no money. If my priorities and make it tonight, and next week, but tomorrow, my concern is survival, not literacy, financial literacy, and that thriving is just making it and that’s what a lot of people had to do with side hustling and hustling period simply to make it.
Dave Ursillo 11:41
Yeah, yeah, the the the privilege is embedded in an idea like literacy, or financial literacy really, really comes out, especially when, like you said, if people are just trying to survive and get through day to day, the financial motivation is like, what are people buying? Click what’s available for me to be the catalyst of that sale and that profit? Yeah.
Amber Jackson 12:03
So what am I like I said, like I say, Yeah, and
Dave Ursillo 12:05
so you wrote also what? Sorry, go ahead.
Amber Jackson 12:09
This is really breaking down, like what is the term financially financial literacy mean to someone that has no money?
Dave Ursillo 12:18
Yeah, that says it all that says it all, I think you summed it up really beautifully. Yeah. And Amber, I also wanted to ask you, because you wrote in that same article, and this is a quote, you said, for many, the black entrepreneurship experience is an act of love for ourselves in our community. But then you added saying, it isn’t the smoothest path. So if we transition from then to now, you know, the roots of your entrepreneurship growing up on the south side of Chicago, and now you live in here, in Rhode Island, the makeup of Rhode Island, even Providence is is much more white than Chicago, or the South Side of Chicago.
Dave Ursillo 12:55
And I wonder what the experience was like for you, being a black entrepreneur, and starting a small business in a place like Rhode Island that is is pretty predominantly white through and through, did you find that your racial identity and your I should, you know, maybe your also your gender identity, had like an overt. I mean, it always has an experience, because it’s the only experience that you’ll ever have. But I guess if you had any experiences in building your business from the get go, that felt like you’re really being shown your identities, or being impacted by them in a in a more, quote unquote, white area.
Amber Jackson 13:34
I honestly, this is solely my own experience. I would not say it hindered me in any any kind of way, including my gender. I would say, Rhode Island, I think that there’s a lack of understanding of the formation of forming a business. And not just that, but there’s somewhat gatekeeping of set information. And a lot of it does come down to who you know, and so because of my branding, because I also identify that I too am my branding and that wow, people it’s not just my my brand, but like I’m a light you people like me and so that in itself opened a lot of doors for me where I could say like, Hey, I don’t know how to do this.
Amber Jackson 14:20
Like I didn’t even just meet it was Louise being asked to sit on panels a million times. And me saying like, yeah, that’s not level resources or how to do this. It’s like, oh, this ABCD is like what if you had never told me I would never know this. And so the there are a lot of things here as far as resources, but they’re not widely known to a lot of people. I will say for me, personally, I am not there’s not many rooms I’m afraid to go into but yeah. For a lot of minorities, not just like, you know, race or race class or even just gender wise. A lot of people don’t like to be in rooms that don’t have someone that looks like you. Oh, Um, I did attend a PWI. For undergrad, I went to HBCU for grad school so and also I was a STEM major, but so even then MTSU is when the law is it is the largest undergrad state of Tennessee.
Amber Jackson 15:13
And so as a STEM major, like Yeah, majority of my classes were full of white people, I might have just managed even then I was either the only black woman or a black person in my class. And so being in those spaces are not new to me at all. Even in high school that I we transferred to MSDN, my sophomore year of high school. So going from Southside Chicago, where Inglis particularly is all black. Like and not even like a dinosaur. It’s it’s not it’s not African, there are no Africans in my neighborhood, there were no Caribbean, it is descendants of chattel slaves, very black, we are African American. And so for me, it that was my first experience being switched into a space that was uncommon, not just by race, but economic status. And so for me, I’m this I’m not new to that space, and how to maneuver that. But that does take practice. And it’s not, it’s intimidating, so much as uncomfortable.
Amber Jackson 16:05
And I think that learning those spaces and moving past your uncomfortability as being that one by precedent and rule of being one few women in that room, it does take a lot of practice, but it’s learning to get past that space. And so I think, for me, is also learning that I’m in learning, it’s kind of like I feel no, I have no problem being myself in any room that I’m into. I’m 1,000% from Southside Chicago, I identify the Yeah, many spaces, I am the bad pitch of the room, and I’m aware of it. And so I have no problem going to those rooms. And it’s showing up how I need to as authentically as I choose to be. So, you know, I think for me, because I had professional life plus a business life plus a personal life. I don’t feel the need to co switch. And I think that that’s a fear for some people. It’s like I can’t show up as myself because yes, Rhode Island is mostly white, New England is mostly white. A, you know, there’s, there’s, you know, a lack of cultural competency in some spaces. But that does not negate the fact that in business, outside of your product, and your label, the packaging, your your website, YouTube, you are your brand.
Amber Jackson 17:24
And it is important that you show up as your true self. But that again, that takes practice. It does take having someone that you know, I do understand that for me personally, and everyone doesn’t take this route. But I do firmly believe that you lift as you rise. So there are events that are going on or resources I absolutely share with whoever I need to share it to her like Hey, girl, good to see this. Did you know about this and reduce would come come if you choose not to No, but if I will absolutely share resources. And that’s what it comes down to a lot of times it’s just no sharing the resources, sharing the knowledge as well. But I would not say that from my personal experience. I don’t I wouldn’t say that it’s hindered me in any way for me my business?
Dave Ursillo 18:04
Yeah, well, it’s such a such a thorough answer. And I thank you so much for for sharing what your experience was like through and through and through all those different levels of what the experience was like for you and relating the experience for others with whom you’ve been speaking. I love that you add that, that axiom of when you lift you rise, I think we’re going to come back around to that. And we’re talking about community and, and lifting others up as you as you do through your business.
Dave Ursillo 18:30
But I want to first ask you about this transition from the young food science, the young future food scientist and you at age 12, making those decisions then going through your education. When did tea enter the picture? You remind us on your website, that people have been coming together around tea for centuries, I’m wondering where your appreciation of tea began. And if it was also something that you grew up around or developed an appreciation for as you grew up.
Amber Jackson 18:58
I grew up drinking tea, it definitely was not the tea that I make. It was definitely more like, you know, Lipton or slst or Bigelow. So I’m from Chicago, but my family’s from down south. So Nashville, New Orleans. And so my mom was definitely more than on the holistic side of things unless you know, it was absolutely like you need a prescription. But most of the time, it’s like, hey, we drink some tea, take a nap. Summertime, there’s always iced tea in the fridge. Always, always always.
Amber Jackson 19:27
And it was lived in something that I grew up with. And even in college, my teammates that was kind of funny, but I would drink hot tea and then blistering hot a Tennessee dad every day with a grasp on Alabama. I would drink hot tea still. So it’s something that I’ve always just really enjoyed and then yeah, I think actually ironically, when I first had the idea of starting a business, it wasn’t looseleaf tea at all is actually supposed to be a sweet tea and cheesecake business, which is incredibly expensive, which is why I’ve never started
Dave Ursillo 20:00
it If it wasn’t, if it was expensive, then I can’t imagine how expensive it is now with the cost of like dairy products, and everything is going to be out of control.
Amber Jackson 20:07
There we go the egg shortage and this is yeah, so a lot of
Dave Ursillo 20:11
very interesting. So So was I mean, you are an excellent business person, we should add, at least from my point of view, I think you’re an excellent business person. It shows in the business that you’ve created, and you’re running. So a savvy for thought there about, about the cost of things. And you So you mentioned your own personal your family history, the connection to tea, that’s, that’s kind of the South, especially in those blistering hot summers. And so when did tea enter the picture for you as a business proposition? I’m wondering if there was like, some creative inspiration if you picked up on something if you’re sensing something in the culture in the atmosphere? Because I also know that you have, I wouldn’t say like an anti coffee bias. But I think you are more critical of coffee than maybe the average American like coffee drinker, of course. So I’m wondering what you were picking up on or sensing or maybe predicting in the in the culture in the atmosphere when you came up with what became The Black Leaf Tea and Culture Shop?
Amber Jackson 21:12
Yes, ironically, I’m not anti coffee. I like caffeine. We make things here.
Dave Ursillo 21:18
We make room here for paradoxes. And everything doesn’t have to be a dichotomy, right?
Amber Jackson 21:23
For me, personally, like the caffeine from coffee does literally nothing, I have no idea what happened when I was being created by caffeine, from coffee, particularly like people, you know, I’d have to have my coffee. I like the flavor of coffee, but it does nothing for me. But for me, it was something that just made sense is again, going back to my roots, and my my my learnings academically of being in product development, it’s okay, a part of that is not just flavor design. And making a product is the economic part too. So the cost of things, the marketing, who’s your audience, and so having some basic knowledge of those things was also really helpful. But knowing like, hey, I can make this dry, lightweight package product. I don’t need to heat or refrigerate anything.
Amber Jackson 22:11
Because it’s lightweight, I can ship anywhere in the world that I want to. And there’s also not a whole ton of like health department regulatory pieces to it either, because it doesn’t need to be other than me just washing my hands on my utensils, and having to clean workspace. So for me as a business model, it simply made sense, where I can have this this product alone, it just makes us and be able to have that. And so the cultural piece of my business as the name itself was like, Oh, it was merged your business, Amy. And like there’s not this deep philosophical meaning to my name at all. I’m just not. It was like, I’m black, I made it in the cultural, The Black Leaf Tea and Culture Shop. Is this not? And so I chose to add the culture piece in it. Because when I moved here, in 2017, the first thing that I looked for was an Urban League. Because being from Chicago, going to school down south is incredibly active, especially Chicago, incredibly active. So I knew I had to move somewhere.
Amber Jackson 23:16
The young black young black professionals as a subgroup of the Urban League. And so usually you just find that group may have events, they have mixers, like group outings. And so that’s really happy other people that look like me those spaces, and I moved to Rhode Island, and I’m just like, What do you mean is inactive, I’ve never heard of an inactive. And so it’s like, okay, and the next nearest one is in Boston. But I shouldn’t have to drive an hour to be around people that look like me that I can relate to culturally, you know, me asking, like, where do you get your hair done? Where do you get your nails done? My skin as a black woman like, these are things are important to me, and culturally, that I are important to me. You know, there’s some things like I can’t ask a white coworker about because we don’t have the same needs. And so I think that that was really important to me. And so I chose to use the communal traditions of teas and herbs to really create that space. But not just to create a space but also to amplify those black bees and like voices here in Rhode Island, but also as a whole that did not have a space here.
Dave Ursillo 24:30
Yeah, and you wrote as much on your website that young black professionals in particular and black folks kind of like writ large, don’t have a lot of spaces inherently in a place like southern New England, just on the basis of your your experiences and experiences of others with whom I’ve spoken. And so yeah, I really appreciate that. It the spaces didn’t exist, you saw an opportunity, but not just like a business savvy opportunity. By the way. Thank you for the free edge. Question. And I’m not going to start a Tea Company, but you just blew my mind about like, lightweight ship anywhere. Low cost of storage. I was like, wow, this is like a lesson in capitalism. I wish I had a long time ago personally, but I respect you for that. But yeah, you mentioned specifically that things like, with young young black professionals, mixers and your tea talks that you’re actively creating, and curating and creating, in welcoming folks into the spaces that as you write, where black professionals in particular, can commune and feel free to be yourselves.
Dave Ursillo 25:36
I think that’s something that, you know, especially as a white guy I took for granted for so long, that really took me a lot of traveling honestly, which is itself a huge privilege to go to places in the world where I was a minority. Or just at least not part of like the the majority group. And to feel for the first time, like, I’m thinking, I’m thinking back to the first time I went to northern India, and was like, the only white person around to feel your exteriority in a place is an is an incredible lesson. And I thought, like, if I moved here, where would I go? And how would I connect with people to feel like myself or at home or like I’m having a, you know, sharing experiences with folks? And I would say like, I would probably look for expert expats community, right, like I look for like worthy Americans hanging out to connect with them to relate to share stories, like finding someone from Rhode Island anywhere in the world remains one of the greatest sports, I think that Rhode Islanders have, like you find out you’re from Rhode Island, and it’s everyone’s everyone absolutely loses their mind. And then you find out that you’re really probably related, which is just weird. But anyway, my point is creating the spaces that don’t exist for people to come together to be able to a like you said, Be themselves have those basic like word of mouth conversations.
Dave Ursillo 26:53
And I can’t help but keep thinking back to the to what we asked you earlier, Amber, about the knowledge, how much knowledge is shared, that’s that’s gate kept just on the basis of who you know, even in a really small state where resources should be more readily available information should should theoretically flow more freely. But there’s still such a dependency. And I can speak to this from experience such a dependency on who you know, helping you to find the information that you need, that happens socially happens culture, but also happens in a business setting. So whatever your experience has been like in creating these spaces, you know, from like your tea talks to to the mixers and networking events, over recent years, and by the way, I imagined that there was quite a disruptive thing that happened called the COVID 19 pandemic, that might have posed an obstacle or two. So how has that been unfolding for you in like, what are the some of the intersections maybe between bringing people together in these spaces, and also being an entrepreneur whose product is kind of meant to bring people together? Give them some sort of connection community?
Yeah, it was It started off great. So my first one was a full house. I hosted it at the glow Cafe, which is closed now but was also a black woman owned cafe and juice bar. And so it was really schools like okay, we can find somewhere else to do this, because we’re about to fall out the door. So I’ve met a lot of great people there people’s like, Oh, I haven’t seen us so so long against Roadhouse. Everyone kind of knew everybody. But yeah, it was a great and I had to move it from the glow cafe to 148 Lounge on I think so Providence.
Amber Jackson 28:32
And so the second one that I had was actually where I hosted my first ever titop. And I chose to do it at the mixers because that was meant to be a black only space, because I didn’t want anyone to feel the need to mince words or having to over explain themselves because if someone says it wasn’t black, I was like, I don’t know how they’re gonna take this but within a room of my peers. But even with that, the tea talks were never meant to be a woowoo kumbaya moment, circle moment, this is to, you know, express yourself also challenge ideas, because that’s how growth happens. A separate question happens, you can’t have growth without some, some some, some have some pushback, because it you know, even within the diaspora because we live life doesn’t mean we have the same thoughts and agreements and things because we have different experiences because also in Rhode Island is very different from me being in Chicago, is that you have so many different cultures here within within the black diaspora as well, where you know, the term that you know, black people are not a monolith, which is very true even for myself. I have never been asked more in my life. Where are you from? And then I moved to you. And then they’re like, I’m from Chicago.
Amber Jackson 29:43
They’re like, Oh, no way it pays for it was like my family’s from Nashville and was like, Oh, you’re American, like, you know, say taken aback. I’ve never been called American as a black person, but another black person, but yeah, like they know like, Oh, I’m Haitian, or I’m Liberia. And I was like, I’m just, quote unquote, just to work. So even in those spaces, when you have culturally may look similar skin tone wise, but culturally hit, we have extremely different experiences me being from Chicago come through what I want people kind of born and raised extremely different experiences, I went to both a PWI and an HBCU very different experiences for many people here where they’ve only gone to school, many long gone to school in state, which you know, is all PW eyes. So it’s a very different experience here. And I think that that’s what makes these spaces so beautiful is because you have so many different experiences, you have things to share and things that people may not have thought of or reconsider, because it’s not your own experience. And so I think in a conversation of not just my events and the spaces for Bucky but the whole MDI as a whole, a lot of it comes down to respecting someone else experiences one, but also acknowledging that your experiences are yours is unique. And so you can’t just base your entire idea off of your experiences, because it is as yours and yours alone.
Amber Jackson 31:08
And so how do you have empathy and acknowledge the fact that someone’s experience is different from yours, and respecting that. And I think that’s really important, even outside of the spaces I create, when it comes to just people acknowledging that we are not the same, even though we may even culturally race to be culturally, but race implies that we have different experiences, because we come from different places, many of us have had different backgrounds. Whether it’d be you know, cultural sexuality, religion, but you know, acknowledging and being able to listen to someone else’s experience and actually affect the question, you know, your thought process, and we’re using that to be progressive. And that was why that having that space was so important to me. And having it as just a black space was really important to me. So the very first one we had actually, the conversation topic was what black men need, and not want, what did you leave. And so having that conversation, I actually started it by having it’s talking directly to the black woman in the room was like, Hey, this is not a space for you to be combative, I encourage you to listen to what they’re saying, you can question some of what they’re saying.
Amber Jackson 32:19
But I need you to understand that this is their experience. And we you know, we can ask questions, question their questioning or question their ideas also. But this is not a bashing session. This is a this is a learning moment from both sides, because what they see as a gender is different from what we see. And we can verbalize that in a productive way where both sides are learning. And I think because there’s traditionally has been such a gap of understanding between black men and black women, and how we can use this space to get a better understanding of each other and what our actual needs are, and how we define that how we support each other in that space. And so it was a really great conversation.
Amber Jackson 33:02
So I’ve had that one. I’ve had some talk about like sexual liberation, that the title actually was who you call in the home, you know, then how do you talk about sexual liberation where, you know, how women are portrayed in certain way that how something is not true? Like, you know, this is not 1955 I have autonomy over my body, I can do it, I want to safely you know, having the conversations that you know, are a bit uncomfortable on the one building, the last one I had in person was black enough? Because in the black community again, they are there are so many spaces in which we differ within our our racial group and our diaspora.
Amber Jackson 33:43
Whether they be you know, if you are people may consider you less black, if you from the suburbs, if you’ve never had a little bit before, if you have both parents and so kind of having the conversation of how and why we associate so much of our blackness to trauma and even more trauma abuse theories and more black and white questioning that and how we dismantle that idea. So these are really important conversations to have I can have up to challenge each other’s experiences and experiences, challenging our ideals, by sharing our experiences, and then having the end of that conversation as like, Okay, how do we use this to go forward and progress?
Dave Ursillo 34:25
Yeah. Yeah, what I’m hearing Amber is like the thing that happens in person when you’re able to bring people together and to facilitate these conversations, these sharing experiences. And also as you do, I’m hearing you say, like, we’re going to put a couple of rules in place not to be authoritarian, but to like, have some guideposts like, challenge yourself to think about this in this way. Think about this from their experience. What I’m hearing you describe is something that I think we all lack in our social media silos, right? Like, though these kinds of experiences don’t happen when we’re on Twitter or on Instagram we can find people and kind of learn from them. But I think by and large, the combative nature that we are all familiar, all too familiar with in social media and on the internet nowadays, and maybe, by extension, you know, 24 hour news services and like this kind of contrived, constant, contrived, like debate and competition of ideas gets really unhealthy, and people get siloed and kind of like entrenched in their defensive postures, and try to win. Right? And
Amber Jackson 35:27
that’s okay. But yeah, that that defense, again, it comes from not acknowledging your defensive because what someone says does not match your personal experience, by not thinking outside of your personal experience.
Amber Jackson 35:44
And so I think that that’s really where it comes from, and where people have a hard time removing themselves, because when things happen to you, it does feel a person because it is personal, they ask, again, acknowledging that your experience is unique to you. And that’s not the only experience.
Dave Ursillo 35:59
Yeah, and I do I, my personal belief is that it’s something it’s easier to empathize. I think when we’re together in a room with people as uncomfortable as it can be as challenging as it can feel something that of course, we all kind of lost. And at least speaking personally, again, I think I’m still trying to like acclimatized myself to being back in rooms with people and just remembering what it’s like to have these experiences. But you know, as we as we keep an eye on the clock, Amber, I want to be respectful of your time. I also want to talk a little bit more about your teas specifically. Because because that’s where the magic happens also in the cup, as well as in the rooms where we’re bringing people together.
Dave Ursillo 36:35
So let’s talk a little bit about like the creative side, because listeners to the show know that I’m a big nerd for creativity in general. And I know that you personally design and formulate all of your tea blends, we went over your history, all the science behind it. But it also strikes me as being such a creative process. And also something I know so little about. Can you tell us a little bit about what goes into crafting a tea blend? Maybe where you source inspiration from? Is it? Is it much less artistic and woowoo? And then I’m imagining it could be and is it much more brass tacks in business and cost of things? Or is there a beautiful harmony between the two?
Amber Jackson 37:13
No, it was initially definitely more Woo is becoming more tax bracket and that hands were blade like cost efficient now. That was fun. However, this all everything costs something. So we can’t keep doing like going the way I’ve been doing. But initially the guests so I do consider myself a creative in the sense that I curate an experience in a sip. And I think that’s what is so beautiful about being a culinary creative, is the storytelling and the experience this through a bite or a sip. And so for me, I do try to create the blends in a way that invokes a feeling. There’s certain kind of is subtler than, like, yeah, there’s a lot of Sibbett there are certainly like core memories that come when I’m have some of my blends. But ultimately, my goal is to create an experience. And so some of them may start with ideas like okay, I want something targeted, I want something more freedom, and so the calming. And so the one I actually have is actually always in my home called Shy Town, it’s a black pepper, chocolate Chai. So they all have different ways that I start knowledge start to listen, it’s just an idea. And honestly, it’s just a lot of trial and error. It’s just like, Okay, what flavor do I want? What kind of goes along with this? And how do I make this and the real challenges for me, because at the time, all my bloods are natural, so I don’t use any flavoring at all. And that’s the hard part. Because I will just have people that I do have like a salted caramel. Like there’s no herbal tea that tastes like salted caramel.
Amber Jackson 38:45
So now. But that’s that’s the hardest part where it Yeah, it’s easier to use a flavoring and just spray and you just, that’s easy. But to actually make something with just the natural plant. That’s hard. And so that is the actual trial. The challenge is a lot of trial and error is really just sparks an idea or a feeling that I want to evoke and just moving from there. And then comes the business part of like sourcing and like find the most cost efficient one, like can I buy this much you get this much off? A lot of my blends. If you look at the 1213 that I have available, some of them have similar flavor ingredients. So like I have a few that have came up we’ll have a few that have orange peel, because yeah, it’s cost efficient for me to have more than one blend, use more than one at a single ingredient can break like no, I buy this ingredient. This is just for this. That’s expensive. And again, my business is only three years old, and this is a lot of my pocket. I don’t have investors, I’ve only gotten one grant. And in three years, that’s a really interesting part of the pandemic where my business skyrocketed in the pandemic.
Amber Jackson 39:57
So I couldn’t apply for ppb because I I’ve never paid myself. So I was like, what pay check are you protecting. And then I made too much money and heavy quotations to actually show a need of assistance do too. So I was like, this is a growing business and just started the year before the pandemic, but grew, so much of the pandemic was like, Well, I don’t see where you need assistance because you made money. So it wasn’t really strange space where like, people are getting grants and loans left and right. And I got not a single one. I think it was a little bit later on, because I could show demand like I needed, I needed funding because of the higher demand for the pandemics. I needed more for increasing money for ingredients. Because yeah, I needed as this because the pandemic, I made more sales, which means I need more ingredients. So it just showed that was helpful. But yeah, so now being three years in, I left my job at Brown last December. And I was full time in my business for about six months, I actually saved money. So the good part for me in the pandemic was I work remotely, so I save enough money for six months, we really brown eventually. And this was the absolute worst year. This was a really hard year. And so I started working again in July. So that worked full time again plus my business. And so is taking the time right now to prep for next year. So I think while sales were down, which is across the board for everybody this year, I did a really great job and just learning and making connections. And so being able to in my mind, like offset, those kinds of things have been really helpful. But yeah, right now it’s just my priority is cutting from 14 blends to five signature blades, and then everything else will just rotate as seasonal items just because yeah, everything’s expensive right now. And packaging is not cheap. So right now I order at 100 packs for packaging over 100 per SKU.
Amber Jackson 42:08
And so my average cost for packaging is about 345 a pack, where if I was able to drop to five and order 1000 at a time, it drops from 345 to 67 cents. So yeah, so it’s like, you know, I think that people are really entertained by my business, which as we proved this, you’re like, Yeah, I was on magazine covers, I made list, I’ve done lifting awards left or right. But it didn’t cover to sales. And I think the other issue is the really worth part where people feel like oh, I don’t need to support you because clearly someone else because because, quote on social media, you look like you’re doing great. But if you assume someone’s important to me, and everyone else is assuming that as well. That means no one is. And that’s pretty much what happened this year was like, Okay, I have to go back to work because I was exhausted my six months and save a little jet came to the pennies at six months. And I was like, Okay, I have to go back to work because rent a day and no one’s helping me at all either. So every I want to operate alone. So every T is blended by hand myself packed by hand off the all the social media posts, emails, that’s me. I did have some help before this year about to cut costs, because at the end to do that now, but I was on my own this year. So it was a very interesting year, but definitely helpful and helpful going forward and planning.
Dave Ursillo 43:27
Yeah, I really appreciate you sharing that with us. And thank you for for telling your story. And I definitely relate to the mean, first of all, like the high highs and the low lows, but a dirty secret that I had with a dirty secret that I had dirty secret that I I heard from people not that I had maintained with people throughout the pandemic, especially in 2020 Especially like a lot of life coaches, small business owners. The dirty secret was, we’re making out like gangbusters. And I just think it was like there was so much money flying around because people were so anxious.
Dave Ursillo 43:56
And also there was nothing to do, which isn’t to discount the work that’s being done or the products that were out there. But the costs hadn’t caught up yet. People were people were spending money because they had fewer costs, all of a sudden they weren’t commuting, they were stuck at home, they wanted distraction that wanted to support different businesses, right. And then 2021 came around and continues you know the economic and financial situation for so many people continues today where that’s the only conversation we’re having with with entrepreneurs and small business owners Now meanwhile, these huge corporate giants are making like gangbusters everybody else, like the top 1% is making out like gangbusters now. And there’s a lot of adjustment to be had but and I appreciate you sharing that about your experience.
Amber Jackson 44:39
Yeah, so like I said, I my business more than doubled every year in the pandemic. So in 2019 I first started starting April so April to December me like $5,200 just like getting my feet wet. And then in 2020 I closed at 32 grand. Last year I’ve closed at four so it was a lie. Okay. little bit I can do this full time, but also, again, my backgrounds in science, not business. So learning to work off of numbers and not emotions, where I had no idea how to operate full time as an entrepreneur just running a business, but how to be a full time entrepreneur. And that was something that I think have not backfire. I just didn’t know. And I had no one guiding me or how to do that either.
Amber Jackson 45:22
So like, now, I am planning two quarters ahead. What does that look like? How do you plan these things out partnerships, product placement? How is the market shifting? How are your consumers shifting? And I think this year, particularly 2022, that everyone had a hard time with because there was no answer. No one knows the name, and now was the holiday season. No one knows what the hell’s consumers are doing. And we are all confused. This is like, you know, what we will see? Everything is right, let me target sales dropped.
Amber Jackson 45:53
When my friends works for PepsiCo, and he was like, we have an entire team of strategists that we pay very well, and they can’t figure it out. This is a power 25, multibillion dollar company. And so do I expect you you whose business is three is just you to figure this out. Now, and I think that was something that as a business owner, it was really frustrating for me being at US endlessly. Uh, why do you think is now like, fucking no one’s no one else? Please pay me to figure it out for you? I don’t know. So yeah, I think it was a really interesting years really stressful, you’re like I, I, you know, it gets my points in like at a car wreck in May. And I, I feel like I’m not fully recovered as a dancer knowledge also, like, this is dramatic as me. And being able to acknowledge that I am still recovering from this year, there’s still going also, is I think when it comes to entrepreneurship, beyond the business piece, we don’t talk very much about the holistic size of it.
Amber Jackson 46:55
Also, the fact that beyond this entity of a business, there’s a person behind there, there’s a small business, you know, some people have a partner, maybe it’s just me. So when they came down to six months, and I’m like, Oh, shit, and how am I gonna pay rent, I didn’t have a husband or a partner or whatever, to really fall back on. It’s just me. And so this was a really, really stressful year, because I do I do feel like I’m recovering now, months and months later, but good people will talk about that. I think people they have a very monolithic idea of when entrepreneur is what they should be. And I don’t follow that line at all. I enjoy I should like working full time. On my business. I like that my titles a director, I like the my corporate growth as well. I like paying my rent, I like it, this hearing is done every six weeks, these nails every three to four, I my skin does not come clear with just Juices and Berries. This requires chemical. So it’s like hi, like, I have a certain lifestyle at 31. I’m a grown ass woman, I have a certain lifestyle, I tend to maintaining at all costs.
Amber Jackson 48:03
And it actually improving from that. And my business in itself does not support that is if people ask me, why don’t you go back to work? What are you gonna? Do you now have bills to pay? I like going to vacations to I have to put gas in my car. I know, it’s very interesting that the standards that people will place on entrepreneurs, especially small businesses, like this is not a fortune 500 entity with a whole warehouse full of people running around like this. Isn’t that and also like it’s a solid? Three year old. mattify 2010 is a toddler still. All right. Yeah.
Dave Ursillo 48:43
Well, Amber just like. Yep, teetering pattern fallen over? Been. They’re still there. I went, I’m back. I’m back in graduate school myself. We could talk about this for hours. I want to be conscious of your time. But I went back to graduate school last year, and I’m going to be 37 in January and shifting gears and Yeah, going back to be a mental health counselor now. And finding the connections.
Dave Ursillo 49:08
But it’s also Yeah, it’s like, how long do I can I do this? How long can I do this on my own? Do I really do I want to do it on my own. There’s so many myths, misconceptions, and idealizations in American culture about like being self employed, being your own boss. And I think, you know, we all have to figure it out for ourselves. There’s the story, the story changes.
Amber Jackson 49:30
Yeah, and I was I have plenty of time to say you’re fine, but it does come down to personal but not everything. For me. Also, it’s not just me having a business is creating the life that I want for myself. I’m not super high maintenance, but no, I have no intentions of working past 25. That’s because I have a Roth IRA that put money into every I have a like a very hefty life insurance policy. Again, I am working now. So I can live very comfortably in my future. And I think that for some people, they have to Focus on the right now. And that’s perfectly fine. If that works for you. Me personally, again, there’s a certain lifestyle that I live, that I plan on maintaining, but also like, I don’t, even in my professional life like so like, yeah, I enjoy them my title as a director, but it does not define who I am at all by any means. Even me having a business, it doesn’t define who I am in any means. And so when it comes down to it, it does come down to what I want them lifestyle, but the life and the lifestyle I’ve created for myself and how I choose to show up in the whatever space I choose to show up and whatever ampere I choose to show up, and also, and I met, whatever that is, it’s also okay, if I’m having a down day. And that’s true. That’s really me. And I think that that’s, you know, something I talked about on panels on a couple weeks ago.
Amber Jackson 50:50
And it’s like, when you have these moments, you need to be in these moments, especially as an entrepreneur, people expect you just like, like, you know, buy power through and struggle through. And people kind of put these like smiles on their face, and it’s just like, oh, everything’s fine. But you need to sit in those spaces, because it’s true, isn’t real, that smile on your face is not real, and it may be covering up but that emotion is still there. And it may not come in the moment, but it will manifest in many different ways. And that can be very dangerous, right for me like I, I crashed a rental. And I people like you fell asleep. No, I legit went to a daydream and my brain left me and I just woke up in the median. And the driver’s side was completely gone. I heard I felt none of it. I’ve never like I said for me, I can drive my god was lived in the South. So driving home was minimum 1210 12 hours. So me driving for hours was nothing. It’s just like, you know, it was stress induced. And as well, where? Yeah, again, me working full time. I have good health insurance now where when I have state insurance, I couldn’t get checked up because not my physician that I had before I was working at Brown did not take state insurance. And I couldn’t find anyone to take new patients.
Amber Jackson 52:08
So I’d never get checked out and never get screened for anything. I couldn’t. So even it comes to quality of life. That’s why it’s really important for me to have that balance and not even just my stress wise. For me personally, I have to be able to compartmentalize I have to have a work life, business life, personal life and they do not intertwine and so for me that’s really important.
Amber Jackson 52:33
But again, it’s creating the life that you want for yourself create those boundaries that not you know, you don’t just say for other people but you respect for yourself as well. And being true to yourself if this you know if you want to dive in and be full time in your business. Go ahead. If that doesn’t work for you, that’s also okay is etc. Again, social media does American culture as a whole to create this facade of what things are supposed to be but that does not work for many people are most I think this is this of a size. That’s exactly what it is.
Dave Ursillo 53:05
Amber Jackson is the owner and Chief Operating Officer of The Black Leaf Tea and Culture Shop. She’s currently based out of Providence, Rhode Island. You can find her and her teas at the black leaf. tea.com. Amber, thank you so so much for joining us. You’re You’re an inspiration in so many ways. But I’m a big fan of you and everything that you’re sharing, creating and putting out to the world.
Dave Ursillo 53:27
So thank you for joining us on The New Story Is thank you. And thank you for listening to this episode of The New Story Is We hope you enjoyed what you heard today. We’ll be back soon with a new episode. In the meantime, share this episode with a friend or leave us a rating and review which goes a long way to helping other listeners find and enjoy our show. Until next time, I’m Dave Ursillo. This has been the news story is bye for now.