Devan Shahthe godfather of tea
Founder, International Tea Importers
Born in Bombay, Devan grew up in southern India in the city of Coimbatore. From childhood onward, he acquired an easy familiarity with many of India’s religious traditions and languages. The only boy and youngest child of a brood of six, Devan’ parents worked as dedicated educators. His father was a school headmaster who raised his family in comparative privilege. Devan spent his summer vacations from school high in the Nilgiri mountains near Coonoor on a tea estate, managed by his eldest sister’s husband. His life-long love affair with tea can be traced to these childhood summers in a Nilgiri tea garden. Here, he gradually became intimately familiar with the workers and the work involved in growing, harvesting and manufacturing tea. In college, he earned a degree in business and then swiftly climbed the rungs of the tea profession, starting as an assistant to a south Indian tea broker. In his mid-20’s, like many other young Indian professionals, Devan emigrated to the US to start a new life.
The American tea trade in 1990 was not just sleepy; it was comatose. That year Devan started India Tea Importers.That same year, he married Reena Mahesh and started life in Los Angeles. He had abandoned a successful electronic import/export business because he realized this was not right livelihood for a born tea man. He stored the first six chests of his imported tea in his father-in-law’s garage. His new friend, James Norwood Pratt was the first person he invited to taste tea, arrayed on the gleaming hood of Mr. Mahesh’s Buick. Devan’s taste for quality and nose for opportunity has helped shape America’s tea scene ever since.
In 1994, Devan and Reena acquired Chado Tea Room, barely over the border from Beverly Hills, and India Tea Importers was rechristened International Tea Importers.Then, the stage was set. Believing, as he said, “slowly the quality of tea will create some kind of market,” Devan patiently grew his business from supplying a few tea rooms to supplying many, with Chado under Reena’s management as his laboratory. ITI offered good practical advice as well as good service, fair prices, and an extraordinary tea selection. In time, Devan was stocking and selling over 300 premium teas, and retailing them through Chado to a growing clientele of tea lovers, some of them celebrities like Sarah Jessica Parker. The great goddess Lakshmi has blessed her devote Devan, always bringing him to the perfect place at the perfect time. Today, there are three Chado locations at choice addresses in downtown Los Angeles at the Japanese American Museum, in historic old town Pasadena, and adjacent to the Dolby (formerly Kodak) Theatre where the Academy Awards are held in Hollywood. ITI occupies over 50,000 square feet of warehouse stocked with over 600 premium teas available by the pound or by the ton, overnight. Along the way, Devan has proved indefatigable at creating opportunities and markets where no tea market existed before.
The triumph of chai in the US is much to his credit, as is the expansion of small tea rooms and businesses. Perhaps his greatest gift to American tea culture is as an educator. He has conducted countless tastings, sponsored countless events, and always ranked among the foremost supporters of World Tea Expo, Specialty Tea Institute, and all tea periodicals. He is the founder of the Los Angeles International Tea Festival and publisher of James Norwood Pratt’s Tea Dictionary, as well as JNP’s classic Tea Lover’s Treasury. Together, they have extended their love of tea to countless thousands. As tea educator and patron of tea writers, as a business man and enabler of tea entrepreneurs, as the father of two brilliant college students and godfather of many hundreds of brilliant tea enterprises, Devan Shah has been second to no one in spearheading America’s Tea Renaissance. No award has ever been more fittingly bestowed.