I never met Drew. Not in person, at least. We did write to each other extensively, throughout 2015 and early 2016, and his enthusiasm for teas was quite affecting, let me tell you.
Drew Bednasek, founder of the blog teaxplorer.com and an avid tea enthusiast, passed away last May. His wife, Maria, wrote, in a tribute, that he had been battling Crohn’s disease and cancer. I didn’t know he was unwell and didn’t come to know of his death until a week ago. The news of it has struck me personally.
Most of us in the tea community knew him. His blog’s a light and unintimidating journal about his encounters with different teas from around the world, which he picked up during his travels. I came across his blog while researching Assam teas. He’d reviewed a second flush Assam black tea, his writing style quite friendly and unhurried. I went through a couple of his reviews, and the ease with which he’d capture the experience of these teas (some difficult ones, too) hit a chord with me. ‘Nobody writes like this about teas’,’ I kept thinking. But maybe they should.
We exchanged many emails after that. He reviewed some our products and, quite taken by this work, we even featured him on our blog in the May of 2015. I interviewed him for it. We were to have a Skype call, but he was hospitalized around the same time. I didn’t know why. He assured me, though, that he’d still want to go ahead with the interview and could he mail me his replies to my questions. He had a lot of free time, he wrote in his mail, and it’d be good for him to be occupied with something. There was happy emoticon at the end of that note.
Drew’s interview was one of my first big writing assignments at Teabox. I was barely four months into the job then. When I look back to it, I remember the team having a smile on their faces going through the notes he’d sent across. Drew spoke of his time in the US where he’d grown up and had his first tea. He wrote of his love for travel and a trip to Kenya where he drank chai made from fresh milk from the cows in the yard. He wrote, too, of Maria whom he always introduced as ‘the one who drinks coffee.’
We collaborated with Drew again after that, to review teas. He saw teas more humanely. And he brought a fresh approach to tea writing. Between his reviews, he’d sometimes write to me just to tell me how much he’s enjoyed a certain cup and that he couldn’t wait to blog about it.
His emails became infrequent around late 2015. The last time we spoke, I asked him if he’d want to review a new batch of teas for us. He replied, many days later, saying he’s been unwell but he’d be back to teas very soon. There were two exclamation points at the end of that sentence, possibly to reassure me that he was ‘on’ it.
In his last days, Maria says, tea was very much with him. He was working on a piece titled ‘Me, tea and cancer.’ Maria has shared an excerpt from the unfinished post on his still-active blog. ‘Cancer is just a wake-up call, a chapter in my life where I needed time to re-access me and correct my life path, through loves in my life, such as my unbelievably supportive wife, my family, fully taking in life (rethinking life – both good and bad) and taking more time to explore things that I love, like tea. Blogging about tea has kept me busy, it provides normality in my life.’
So much humility and such a lack of pretension. “The great thing about tea is that you could live a thousand years and not know everything about it,” he’d told me once. And this humility showed in his writings. I guess that’s how he was in real life too – simple, carefree, and without pretension. He never struggled for recognition. It came to him naturally, as with anyone or anything authentic.
Drew saw his teas with a lot of optimism. He could spot something fantastic in each one of them, no matter how seemingly average it could be to others. I guess he led his life pretty much the same way, chasing possibilities. I take this optimism with me as I write this tribute, over a cup of Assam black tea, one of Drew’s favorites.