Pearl Dexter: Tea Publishing Pioneer


Pearl Dexter’s true love of tea began when she was a small child. The 11th of 12 children, she has fond recollections of the time when her older siblings had left home and everyday life was suddenly quiet and calm. Pearl and her mother would settle down to peaceful cups of tea together and enjoy each other’s company in a way that wasn’t always possible when the house was filled with a brood of brothers and sisters.

Then, in her early 20s, Pearl set off on her own adventure and went to live in England for a year.  While there, her tea experiences widened as she discovered all the local tearooms, hunted for tea ephemera in antique shops, and started to piece together the story of tea drinking in Britain.

During the 1980s, Pearl divided her time between the US and England, visiting as many tea rooms as she could, importing tea antiques from England to America, and giving talks in museums, libraries, clubs and adult education centers about tea history and tea culture.

“I had opened the Olde English Tea Room in an 18th century house in the quiet village of Scotland, Connecticut.  And gradually, all my tea experiences and my love of talking about tea evolved into the idea of publishing North America’s first glossy magazine for tea consumers,” she says.

Pearl DexterWith Pearl’s husband James Churchill Streeter as the publisher, the first edition of TEA – A MAGAZINE was printed in 1994.  The pioneering pages contained articles on the opening by the Queen of a new production facility owned by the Dexter Corporation (distant relations), tea bag paper manufacturers, on Chinese tea writer Lu Yu, and on Miriam Novalle’s new T Salon tea store in New York City.

“My aim was to educate the consumer about the history and pleasures of tea and to take them on a journey to tea-producing regions of the world. We wanted readers to realize that tea was more than just a beverage and that the drink has health benefits and cultural significance in art, music, literature, history and society all around the globe,” says Dexter.

The publication received a major boost when John Harney encouraged Pearl to take 3,500 copies of the second issue to the Fancy Food Show in San Diego.  While there, Pearl met other tea room owners who were happy to start selling the magazine through their network of tea consumers and, as the tea world expanded, so the number of subscriptions grew.

“TEA A MAGAZINE has been my passport around the globe.  I’ve learned so much more about tea since I naively published my first issue.  It’s been a thrill every time I’ve visited tea-producing countries and touched those beautiful tea leaves growing in the field and smelt the aroma of tea being processed in the factory.  I’ve met so many people – pickers, factory workers, owners of estates, brokers, importers, and tea industry leaders and it’s been like walking through a landscape of fields and faces,” she says.

But it hasn’t always been easy and Pearl’s personal and publishing life has been challenged in many ways over the years.  As her husband Jim’s illness slowly took over his life, he could no longer travel with Pearl as much as he wished; and although he had great ambitions for the magazine and wanted to see it continue and thrive, he couldn’t be as involved.

And yet, there was Jim at the first of the World Tea Expo shows, as determined as Pearl that their professional life should not suffer because of his debilitating illness. At first Pearl supported him while he managed with walking sticks and then she pushed him in his wheelchair. Both of them were always full of fun and as cheery as they had ever been, laughing and joking with tea friends such as John Harney, Bruce and Shelley Richardson, James Norwood Pratt and everyone else who now misses Jim every year and is sad when Pearl simply can’t make it to the shows.

Publishing too has presented many problems over recent years, with costs of paper, printing, and distribution all rising rapidly and the new world of electronic publishing eating into sales of hard copies of the publication. But with her usual determination and willingness to adapt, Pearl has moved forward to meet the challenges and has recently made the magazine available online.

In her efforts to attract new readers, she has always kept an open mind about the mix of the magazine’s content, but admits that she is still looking for a way to reach younger readers. She still travels the world, exploring new tea places and looking for new stories, but before she heads off each time, she must first organize a team of caregivers to look after Jim while she’s away.

What has tea meant to Pearl over the years?

Pearl Dexter in India“I believe that courtesy and kindness touch the hearts of people and embraces the diversity that surrounds us. Tea brings people together in joy and sorrow and it is the beauty of tea that enhances our celebration of life,” she observes.

“Simply drinking tea with others may contribute to the welfare and well being of individuals and of humanity in greater ways than we realize. When readers tell me that they love the magazine and that sometimes they pour themselves a cup of tea and sit down to read it from cover to cover, it really gives me a lift and keeps me going. Many people have told me that they travel vicariously with me and my other writers on our tea journeys.”

On one occasion, when she was speaking at a tea event, Pearl used the words of a famous Spice Girl song to express her greatest ambition for her favorite drink:  “I’ll tell you what I want, what I really really want,” she said.  “I want tea to become the most embraced beverage in the US!”

She has certainly dedicated a huge amount of energy and time in trying to help achieve that and she is still planning, travelling, writing, and speaking her way towards reaching that goal.

What is she most proud of? “Being able to let others tell their story through our publication of how tea adds beauty to their lives!”

Tea A Magazine Tea A MagazineA consumer quarterly magazine all about tea, both as a beverage and for its cultural significance in art, music, literature, history, and society. Click to subscribe or email: or by phone toll-free 888.456.8651 or 860.456.1145.
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