Finding Ojai Magic in a Cup of Tea
It’s the day after Ventura County issued its “Stay Well at Home” order mandating that people stay inside except for essential needs, and Magic Hour tea company owner Zhena Muzyka is hosting her first virtual tea circle, christened Saturday Sips. Along with tea drinkers from South America, Europe and Muzyka’s hometown of Ojai, I’ve logged in to Zoom to take part.
The camera is trained on Muzyka as sunlight streams in through the windows of her recently opened—and now temporarily shuttered— tea studio on East Ojai Avenue. She starts by boiling water for some Jasmine Moon tea, noting jasmine is the smell of divinity, then pointing out the hair-like thread on the end of a shriveled bud.
“I call myself the friendly neighborhood drug dealer,” she says with a chuckle. “I find myself speaking about buds a lot.”
It’s a typical Muzyka move, gliding effortlessly between the profound and the profane, and no sooner has she said it than she’s lighting a candle and clearing the space for us by wafting some sage.
Next she reads a passage from her latest book, Love in Detail: “Love is our true identity. As we lose our footing in the world, we are reminded of this reality.”
The quote is meant to offer solace to a virtual room collectively grappling with the recent realization of just how seriously COVID-19 is going to impact our lives, but it also has a thudding resonance with Muzyka’s personal experience as a tea entrepreneur.
That journey began in 2000 when Muzyka launched her first tea company, Zhena’s Gypsy Tea, driven by the need to pay for her young son’s critical medical care. She grew the business into a $12 million fair-trade, organic powerhouse with a mission to end poverty for tea workers. Then, in 2014, she ceded control to the investors whose financing she had relied on to drive its growth. She had literally lost her identity, the business that bore her name.
In the face of this crushing loss, Muzyka turned to her first love: writing. She had a memoir/business guide, Life by the Cup, in the works with Simon & Schuster. At the meeting with the publisher where she had to fess up to having been ousted from the company that featured so heavily in her forthcoming book, she got an unexpected offer. Not only did they still want to publish her book, they wanted to give Muzyka her own imprint (or publisher trade name). In the coming years she would use that spiritual-and-wellness- themed imprint, Enliven, to provide a platform for other Ojai writers.
And yet the pull of tea leaves never really left Muzyka. Considering how to make a return to the tea business, she resolved that this time she would do things differently. Instead of going through grocery stores or distributors, she would connect directly with her customers by offering a tea subscription service, with tea and teachings brought to life via online tea ceremonies. In 2019, Magic Hour—named for Ojai’s famed dawn and dusk pink moment and the power of tea in creating time and space for connection—was born.
After about 10 months, she decided to complement her online shop with a bricks-and-mortar experience, launching Magic Hour tea studio as a pop-up. I first met Muzyka in late February, shortly after she had signed a five-year lease on the space and before the coronavirus shut down non-essential businesses.
The Magic Hour flagship feels like the living room of your most stylish new-age friend. We drank Almond Matcha Green tea in a seating area at the front of the shop overlooking the centerpiece of the room, a large Persian rug dotted with pillows, singing bowls and an hourglass (also an emblem on her labels). Shelves along the walls featured Magic Hour teas packaged in the brand’s distinctive violet glass—a material, Muzyka notes, that was found in Egyptian mummy tombs—and a label design evocative of tarot cards.
The Sri Lankan—sourced teas are organic, biodynamic and fair-trade. Muzyka draws on her aromatherapy background in creating her blends, which may feature local mint and lavender, oil of bergamot from Sicily or rose oil from Bulgaria.
In addition to her own teas, the studio sells stationery, books, candles, cups, chocolates, pashminas and jewelry from other local, women-owned businesses.
“The mission of the company is to build community, and so having a community gathering space has been such a joy,” Muzyka tells me.
Whether the Magic Hour tea studio will be reopened by the time you’re reading this remains to be seen, but thanks to her online roots Muzyka’s mission to create connection is alive and well. In the age of social distancing, it feels more urgent than ever.
The Magic Hour tea studio is located at: 928 E. Ojai Ave. Ojai Magic Hour teas and subscription boxes can be purchased online at clubmagichour.com. For more information about Zhena’s online tea circles go to clubmagichour.com/pages/events.
During our interview and her Saturday Sips session, Muzyka answered questions about which teas to drink…
To help you sleep: Child’s Pose, a caffeine-free herbal blend originally crafted to help Zhena’s insomniac daughter.
At work: white teas, like Raspberry Earl or Silver Moon, are lighter in caffeine so you can drink them throughout the day.
To help you focus: ground yourself with Bohemian Breakfast, a black vanilla tea.