T. Kettle: A tour of Canada’s newest tea retail chain

T. Kettle founder Doug Putman, a turnaround investor recently opened 45 tea retail locations in nine Canadian provinces and six U.S. states.

Jessica Natale Woollard takes us on a tour of the new T.Kettle retail store in Coquitlam, in BC, Canada

“In tough times, and this is certainly one of them, opportunities present themselves,” writes 36-year-old T. Kettle founder Doug Putman, a turnaround investor who recently opened 45 T. Kettle retail locations in former DavidsTea storefronts in nine Canadian provinces and six US states. He plans to expand to 100 stores in 2021.

I’m Jessica Natale Wollard, based in Victoria, BC, Canada. I’m going to take you on a tour of the T.Kettle experience from a visit to the location in Coquitlam, British Columbia, a city east of Vancouver.

Canadian company T.Kettle expanded overnight in October to become one of the largest tea chains in North America. Taking over more than 45 shuttered DavidsTea locations, T.Kettle stripped away Davids’ sunshiny, turquoise and summer popsicle colors and replaced them with sleek dark blue and a retro vintage Great Britain feel.

The store is located in the Coquitlam Centre shopping mall. Here’s what you’ll see upon approaching the store:

The storefront is wide open, with the archway painted in the brand’s dark blue, evoking stability and tradition. A pillar and accent wall in that same blue are visible too. Walking in, you’ll see built-in shelves on the right-hand side. They hold teawares, but the stock was extremely low. The salesperson explained there had been shipment delays due to COVID-19.

The shelving appears to be former DavidsTea units but with tea kettle branding in the tops promotional spaces. To the left is the main counter, and behind it, you’ll find that classic wall of tea, a signature feature of most shops. It looks striking as it always does to me. So much potential in every tin. Something for peacefulness, energy, serenity, stress relief, or a delicious treat.

The tins are matte black and displayed in three long rows. The salesperson said the black tins will soon be switched out for dark blue to match the Tea Kettle brand.

Colored labels adorn the front of the tins color-coded by type, red for rooibos, blue for oolong, green for green tea, and so on. Each tin has a metallic band of color matching the tea type. The band catches the light and shines.

The in-store lighting is very white and crisp. That warm sunshiny feel of DavidsTea has been replaced with, what I interpret, as sophistication meets hipster or hipster chic.

I think that feeling could come to life through the kinds of teawares they’ll be selling. The lack of product and bare shelves interrupted that potential. The hipster chic feeling is best captured in T.Kettle’s main graphic, the one it’s using in its branding online and throughout the store.

It’s an illustration reminiscent of vintage Great Britain. Picture this: the profile of a mustachioed man in a morning suit and top hat and wearing a monocle. Think Sherlock Holmes, but instead of the figure cradling a Victorian-style pipe, as you might expect, he’s holding a steaming cup of tea.

The retro feel of that monochrome graphic illustration is matched by the aesthetic of vintage board game additions showcased on a tower display in the middle of the store near the entrance. The games include Clue, Candyland, Boggle, Chutes and Ladders, and Mystery Date.

Packaged in vintage style, they look like antique books. The look and feel of those games compliment the T.Kettle brand experience not only aesthetically but also as a nod to that old-worldly feel. The idea that you can slow down with a cup of tea sipped while playing a board game.

The teas are all blended in Toronto. The staff will bring out the canisters and let you smell the tea as long as you keep your mask in place and follow COVID protocols.

Similar to DavidsTeas in its style of blends, T.Kettle’s features quirky ingredients. The Movie Night blend, for example, contains bits of popcorn and smells just like popcorn. The birthday party blend contains candied confetti in blue, green, yellow, and orange and smells just like chocolate cake with vanilla icing.

Some of the names of the teas are fun and quirky. Similar to what DavidsTea does. They always remind me of OPI nail polish names, where the name brings the polish color to life with a story. So despite the tea naming being a little gimmicky, I’m drawn to them and intrigued by what they promise: Cha Cha Cherry, Mindful Medley, Madame Butterfly, Go Go Goji.

You’re probably wondering, but what about the taste? I will save the tea tasting and reviews for another day.

T.Kettle was launched incredibly quickly, and they’re still working out some of the kinks like stock, for example. I anticipate a stronger brand performance across the board over the next few months, in terms of the variety of teaware sold, as well as graphics, visuals and packaging, and the in-store experience.

Business Insider reported that owner Doug Putman anticipates opening 100 additional stores by April. You can start your T.Kettle experience through their online store until one opens near you.

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