Steeped in Wisdom

Leo Hickman tea
Leo Hickman

Have a question about tea? Leo Hickman likely has the answer. The tea sommelier and owner of Classy Hippie Tea Co. is a world traveler and Air Force veteran with a boundless zeal for tea and the culture that surrounds it.

How did tea first become a part of your life?

Several years ago I was backpacking through Guatemala and I got sick. A lady gave me one tea bag and I was cured within 24 hours. That’s when my journey began as an herbalist, because I wanted to figure out what was in that bag. I eventually got certified as an herbalist and later was certified as a tea sommelier by the International Tea Masters Association. 

Why the name Classy Hippie?

Class and hippie, they’re oppositesthe yin and the yang, the light and the dark. To me, it’s everything that tea is. It can take you up and bring you down. It can comfort you or get you revved up. It’s the contradiction that lives within all of us.

How does tea differ from coffee, in your eyes?

Tea was traditionally used as a medicinal plant. It has the ability to heal. We don’t use coffee as a medicine; we use it to get up and go in the morningI think coffee plays such a big role in our economy because we are capitalistic and we’re trying to find more energy so we can make more moneyPeople who drink tea have figured out a way to implement selfcare and to slow down. Generally speaking, tea drinkers are not hustleandbustle type of people.

Do you have a favorite tea you turn to again and again?

Yunnan pu’er is my go-to tea. It’s a fermented tea that has probiotics. It can take you up or it can take you down. It’s like it has an intelligence. It’s known for being a tea that’s great for hangovers. It has just as much caffeine as coffee but way more balance. I love it.

What has tea brought to your life?

It’s brought me more tears and more life than I’ve ever experienced in any other career. I can travel the world with tea and it’s nonconfrontational. Love and attention is very, very easily communicated when you give a bag of tea to someone. That’s the beauty of it for me. It allows me to go in and out of cultures. It allows me to learn and be curious about other people. Most importantly, it’s not intimidating at all. There’s no ego in tea. It also allows for controversy: You can be drinking tea at opposite ends of the table and disagree and it’s OK.

Classy Hippie Tea is sold online ( and at Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op.