For years, Scout Urling’s trajectory was, go to school, study pre-med, become a naturopathic doctor.
But somewhere along the line, she veered off course.
The result? Flying Bird Botanicals, Urling’s successful, Bellingham, Washington-based tea company that offers a variety of organic herbal blends and traditional teas to be enjoyed hot or iced.
“I was all set to go to med school to study naturopathy,” explains Urling, a graduate of The Evergreen State College, “but after college, my husband Eric and I decided to spend some time traveling.”
The couple headed to Mexico and Guatemala, where Urling met a group of local women who were working with traditional herbal medicines. “I had apprenticed with an herbalist in Bellingham while I was in college,” she explains, “so this was appealing to me.”
Urling spent time working with the Guatemalan women, learning from them and teaching them what she knew.
The experience enriched her, but also made her doubt her career plans. “I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend another seven years in school.”
Back in the United States, she was at loose ends and decided to enroll in a medical massage program. Pregnant with her first child in 2009, Urling also began blending herbal teas, packing them in containers affixed with labels created by a local artist and selling the blends at farmers markets. Flying Bird Botanicals, as she called her teas, proved to be popular.
Urling soon became a regular at the markets, proffering her loose-leaf blends made from herbs, plants, spices, fruits and flowers that she selected and hand-processed. “When I was in college, I spent summers working at organic farms in the area,” she says. “I knew which farmers grew what. I’d go to one farm to gather raspberry leaves, another place for red clover oats or other ingredients. Some of the farmers even grew things for me.”
Her family home became a fragrant production facility, with bundled herbs hanging from ropes to dry and tables covered with sheets, screens and dehydrators as she experimented with blends. “My family was very tolerant,” Urling says, “and Eric totally supported this.”
The hobby quickly became a business. “Everything just took off,” she recalls. “I think I started writing several business plans, but I never had time to finish them.”
Urling hired her first employee in 2012 to help mix the loose-leaf tea blends. Not long thereafter, she met someone locally who could bag her teas to her exacting recipes, and moved the tea production out of her home and into a commercial space. “Bagging the tea opened up new avenues. It’s just so much easier for most people to make a cup of tea with a bag instead of using loose-leaf teas.” In 2013, she reached another milestone when her products were certified organic. Ulrich also began offering organic black, green and white teas, sourced directly from overseas growers.
The main reason for Flying Bird Botanicals’ success? Taste. “All of our teas are tonics in nature,” Urling notes, “but I don’t care how good a tea is for you. If it doesn’t taste good, nobody will drink it.” Urling crafts each blend herself, instinctively adding ingredients that are harmonious–blending, tasting, then tweaking the balance several times to get the right flavors. She’s also always thinking of new blends to test.
At the end of the day, there’s still tea at the Urling home, which now includes two children. “The kettle is always on, and we have a carbonated water-maker to make tea sodas for my son and daughter. They put honey in the sodas, so what’s not to love?”
Does she ever fall off the tea wagon and crave, say, a Diet Coke? “No, never. But a good Mexican Coke in Mexico? Oh, yes. I’d think about that.”
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