Brian Ritchie: Violent Femmes Bassist Turned Tasmanian Tea Slinger, Japanese Bamboo Flutist

How a few side gigs with his former band led to a post-rock career as an arts entrepreneur and tea shop owner.

Brian Ritchie

The Violent Femmes bassist has officially chosen the most non-violent alternative career path ever known to man: purveying tea. But that doesn't mean he's lost his rock 'n' roll edge. Now based in Hobart, Tasmania, with his wife and business partner, scientist Varuni Kulasekera, Ritchie and his wife are yet another example of creative and entrepreneurial folks turning to tea as a way to combine passion and business and fill a niche market. I chatted with Ritchie and Kulasekera, who own Chado the Way of Tea, at the Hong Kong International Tea Fair last week. The two travel the world sourcing premium teas and were in Hong Kong on their way back from Kulasekera's native Sri Lanka to their home in Hobart. So how did a pioneer of 1990s alternative rock and a scientist Ph.D. end up in tea in Tasmania?

Ritchie says, "I was playing with Violent Femmes and we toured Australia a lot and came down to Tasmania to play a few shows there. Really liked it. And my wife, Varuni — she's a scientist by profession and she was sent down to Tasmania by the American Museum of Natural History to collect insects and we really enjoyed being in the countryside of Tasmania. So we decided to move to Tasmania, and then we opened the tea house, Chado The Way of Tea, because we like tea. So basically we're people who just follow our whims and do what we want to do."

Rock on, Ritchie.

Kulasekera adds, "I grew up with tea. We have been drinking tea all over the world as our hobby and then when we moved to Australia we decided to turn our hobby into a business. Australia—for the last several decades—it has been coffee. And now they are getting into specialty teas. We are introducing specialty teas from all over the world and educating the public as well."

The pair also source high-end foods from Japan to serve at their tea house, while Ritchie plays Japanese bamboo flute at lunchtime. He's a licensed teacher of traditional Japanese music and that's what he plays at the tea house, not rock 'n' roll.

Kulasekera adds, "I think our tea house is one of the best in Australia, because we carry all specialty teas. Now the rest of Australia is ordering from us as well."

For Ritchie and Kulasekera, like Nicholas Tung, who we profiled yesterday, and Donald Trump, whose new tea brand we profiled last week, tea is an avenue that combines the best of travel, luxury, history, and culture. Tea seems a natural turn for already-accomplished folks like them, when you consider that opening museums or wineries is sort of last season. But wait, Ritchie does have plans to open a museum soon...more on that later.

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