Chi-San Wan is the co-founder of almond-milk-making experts, The Pressery, who have spent the last two and a bit years making it their goal to get people drinking fresh, activated almond milk. And they’re succeeding. Stocked across London and in a few sites outside of the city, The Pressery have recently relaunched with a range of organic, long-life almond milk in a variety of flavours.
However Chi is about to substitute 5am almond-milking sessions for a wake up call of a different kind. We chatted to her and took some pictures at 7 months pregnant, as she prepares herself and her home for the arrival of her and her partner’s first baby.
As a young founder of a creative culinary start-up, and an all-round source of inspiration when it comes to food and drink, we’ve long been in awe of Chi. And now we find ourselves in her Hackney home, cup of turmeric latte in hand, chatting about how life has changed since becoming pregnant (and admiring her pretty potted succulents at the same time).
“I am more of a homebody now” she says “Towards the end of May my friend had her birthday party in a bar. I was just hanging outside with everyone when they all decided to go back in for a dance. I went in and everyone was dancing and jostling around - I needed the toilet and there was a massive queue. I suddenly thought ‘I can’t do this anymore.”
We’re sure she’s not the first mum-to-be to find herself in a distinctly non-bump-friendly environment, nor will she be the last. And for women used to a busy work and social schedule, the prospect of being pregnant and carrying on like normal isn’t always the easiest to pull off.
However Chi seems to have found a balance. A self-confessed “grandma” who’d rather “stay at home, make a nice meal with a glass of red wine or go to a nice wine bar and have nibbles”, Chi approaches her life holistically, taking care of her mind and body and embracing slowness wherever she can. For her that might mean starting the day slowly with her Sleep Cycle app or ending it with some meditation.
Slowness was something she was aware of when her and boyfriend started trying to conceive (Chi hates the word “trying” and we’re with her on that one). “It’s like an orchestra, everything has to work” she says, “By the third month I realised that ‘shit, this can actually be a really stressful process.’ I can see how people’s relationships and patience can be tested. Something that should be quite romantic and intimate turns into homework!.”
Thankfully Chi didn’t have to wait long and found out the good news two days before the first (and now probably the last) Christmas day spent at home, just her and her boyfriend.
“Some of my friends have said the funniest things” Chi says with a mini eye-roll as she talks about sharing the news with her friendship circle, “One said “Was it a mistake?” and then another comment I got was “Was it on purpose?” Isn’t that the funniest thing to be asked?”
Just like being shoulder-to-shoulder in a packed bar with a toilet queue the size of the cocktail menu, getting the ‘was it an accident’ talk from friends is something we’re sure Chi isn’t alone in experiencing. For a successful business co-founder such as herself, living in a capital city known more for its workaholics than its baby-friendliness, the question of ‘why’ is probably an all too familiar one - and one best left ignored.
Before The Pressery soaked and squeezed its way onto the whole food scene, Chi was working as a stylist in the fashion industry, with food sitting firmly as her favourite side hustle. Feeling disillusioned with fashion and keen to make food and drink into a 9-5, Chi partnered with a fellow foodie with an aim to bring pure, fresh almond milk to our shelves and lattes.
“We found one ingredient and ran with it,” says Chi, “There’s one bottle, one label, one of everything we do. It made more sense for us to strip it back and not overcomplicate. There were almond milk companies selling on the shop shelves but it was full of rubbish. So we thought why isn’t anyone making a raw organic product with actual almonds in it?”
A year into the business and The Pressery crowd funded £150,000 under 5 hours on Crowcube which allowed them to make the product more available. And available it is. You can get your Pressery fix at The Detox Kitchen, La Pain Quotidien and Tiosk amongst others.
Work aside and Chi is beginning to think about the kind of parent she hopes to be, as well as the influence that her childhood will have.
“I’m first generation Chinese - my parents came over from Hong Kong and they were quite strict when I was growing up. I probably lied to them a lot about what I was up to” she says, “For Chinese families you show your love through eating and sharing food together and I think that’s what I’m into. The best thing that I can do is to have people around and socialise over a good meal.”
On a more practical level, Chi tries hard to live sustainably and we can’t help but admire her optimism about continuing to do so when the little one arrives.
“Recently the thing me and my boyfriend looked into are washable nappies. I know it’s a lot of hard work to begin with but you save money and lots of landfill in the end. It’s important to at least try instead of opting for disposable nappies which are easier - I might find that within a week or two and scrap the washable nappies.” This attitude is typical of Chi’s roll-up-her-sleeves mentality – something we’re sure she’s developed from starting a business and something that will definitely come in handy with a newborn.
Chi also approaches life with a conscience - whether that’s through the organic ethos of the company or her own views on diet and wellbeing, so it’s no surprise she is planning a natural home birth, aided by hypnobirthing techniques which she has been practising with her partner. Previously reluctant to have children as she was worried about giving birth, discovering hypnobirthing (a form of self-hypnosis for labour and childbirth) made her less fearful about the birthing process: “It made so much sense to me in the way I like running my life. It sounded like the most natural thing ever and really empowering. I thought that if this is how I can give birth then I’m happy to have children.”
On a similar note, she tells us that she has a doula (a woman equipped to give help, support and guidance during pregnancy and birth). Originally Chi was told by a few doulas she initially met up with that they often come with a “Mary Poppins bag of tricks” which can include reiki, acupuncture, massage - all sorts. After a handful of meetings, she organised one with (her now current) doula Liliana to find out more.
“I was blown away by how much I loved being in the presence of her” she says “My last question to her involved asking what she can do. And she said ‘nothing’. She looked at me as if I was crazy and said ‘I don’t need to do anything to you, you are the only thing you need to birth this child. You need to give birth and I am there to protect your space. If I have all these ‘things’ with me then you will feel weak’. That actually blew me away.”
Spending time with Chi in her home and talking about health, food and family is definitely a therapeutic experience. Her natural black hair, neat bump and soft linen dress by The Acey all paint a rather lovely picture of calm and serenity. Despite her admittance that she’s been “stressed” recently, you wouldn’t be able to tell and looking after herself seems important to Chi. This naturally extends to eating - an intrinsic part of her life, both for the business and for her breakfast, which usually consists of “just fresh avocado, cucumber, tomatoes, herbs, seeds and then maybe a boiled egg on top. Perhaps with spring onions as well because I like something punchy. And then lots of lemon juice and olive oil.”
Skincare comes courtesy of homemade treatments, a generous amount of dry brushing and magnesium oil for those inevitable pregnancy body cramps. Sesame oil pulling is something Chi does regularly to draw out toxins, although a recent experience where she tried to hold the oil in her mouth for 20 minutes whilst meditating - “I couldn’t do the breathing, obviously, so stopped that quite quickly” - shows that we’re all guilty of taking wellness multi-tasking a step too far.
As we tear ourselves away from Chi’s plant-dotted den, it’s clear to us that every first pregnancy is in equal parts exciting and entirely unique to the individual. Approaching her’s with the same beliefs she applies to her life and business is a technique that seems to work for Chi, and one we’re sure will continue into motherhood. But what about her final thought on being a parent? “You can only guide and your guidance is always based on expectations of which you’ve had of yourself. I’d like to empower them with the knowledge of everything you can, hoping they will make their own choices in life, for the good.”
On that note, we leave Chi in tranquility. Peace and quiet may be a thing of the past soon, but what comes in its place is an extraordinary replacement we know she’ll cherish.
Chi’s pregnancy recommendations
Do Birth by Caroline Flint
Expecting Better by Emily Oster
Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin
Gentle Birth Method by Dr Gowri Motha
Why Doulas Matter by Maddie McMahon
Why Hypnobirthing Matters by Katrina Berry
The Hypnobirthing Book by Katherine Graves
I discovered acupuncture in late 2015 and felt that it kept me on an even keel. However having found my latest acupuncturist (Natasha Tauber based in Stoke Newington), I look forward to my sessions a lot. They include reflexology, cupping, massage, moxa sticks and a little therapy too! It’s an all round holistic approach to ailments of the body and mind, treating the root of the cause and not just the symptoms.
I only got into (guided) meditation when I discovered the ‘OMG I Can Meditate’ app (silly name, I know!) It was the only one I can stick to, so I have signed up to pay a really small amount per month to keep using the programme. I also listen to the CD that comes with The Hypnobirthing Book by Katherine Graves.
Pre-pregnancy, I really enjoyed Andy’s classes at Refinery E9, but since 20 weeks, I have been dedicated to going to Ann at Yoga Body Centre in Lower Clapton for her prenatal classes which are both practical and relaxing.
Anything else you’d like to share to expecting mums?
Try and chill and enjoy the pregnancy as much as possible! Be active (as long as you are able to!) and affirmations really do work (even if you feel a bit silly doing it).
Words: Lucy Vincent
Images: Jessica Maccormick for Glasshouse Journal
Thank you to Chi for letting us into her beautiful home.