• Modern Herbalism from Traditional Medicinals

    Traditional Medicinals is a Northern California-based botanical wellness brand rooted in modern herbalism that inspires active connection to plant wisdom in serving people and the planet. Formulations of more than 60 teas, lozenges, and capsules are strictly limited to science-based botanical ingredients without added flavors and in quantities that meet pharmacopeia standards for efficacy. The company’s single blends and single-herbal infusions are organic, sustainable, and ethically sourced. Traditional Medicinals was launched in 1974, and in recent years, the company has experienced exponential growth as consumer demand fills the sails, expanding distribution from niche natural food stores to mass market outlets. Joining us is Chief Marketing Officer Kristel Corson. She says, “Our teas have been around what seems like forever, but herbals are having their moment, and it is important to educate folks, not just on what has been, but on what medicinal herbalism is today, and it’s very different.”

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    Kristel Corson, Chief Marketing Officer
    Kristel Corson, Chief Marketing Officer, Traditional Medicinals
    Kristel Corson, Chief Marketing Officer, Traditional Medicinals

    Harnessing the Power of Plants

    By Dan Bolton

    Kristel joined Traditional Medicinals in 2022 “to focus on building the brand for its next phase of growth, rooted in purpose, and delivering amazing products that harness the power of plants and their many wellness properties.”

    She spent more than 30 years helping beloved brands like Clif Bar, Jamba Juice, Clover Sonoma, and LeapFrog exceed business objectives through a combination of innovative new product launches, strong retail presence, and marketing programs that create positive, lasting consumer connections.

    As chief revenue officer, Kristel helped transform the century-old Clover Stornetta brand from a values-based regional dairy to a nationally recognized conscious-consumer and mission-driven product innovator. Kristel earned a BS in Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing from San Francisco State University.  

    “We’ve got a full innovation team thinking up all the different ways to bring these amazing herbs to consumers, make them more accessible, and help them understand the benefits that they can bring.”

    – Kristel Corson

    Dan Bolton: I am delighted, Kristel, that you joined us today on the Tea Biz Podcast. Will you tell us just a little about yourself?

    Kristel Corson: I’ve worked on consumer-packaged goods for over 30 years. About 20 years ago, I found my passion through working for brands driven by multiple bottom lines, more purpose-driven brands that have an impact, and a mission to do better in the world.

    I started with Traditional Medicinals about 15 months ago, and they are the most purpose-driven, impact-driven brand out there, at least that I have come across.

    It is primarily tea. However, our focus is plant medicine and bringing plant medicine out into the world in an accessible way to help with everyday wellness.

    We’ve recently launched lozenges and are looking at different ways to bring this plant medicine, but our mainstay is teas. That’s what started the company about 50 years ago.

    High quality herbal wellness

    Throat Coat

    Dan: Good Housekeeping recently named Throat Coat a category winner in coffee and tea. The kitchen lab experts and more than 1000 consumer testers were tasked with finding the most innovative, high-performing products. They chose a tea that has been around since the 1970s. The citation by the judges encapsulates several modern trends: “Warm liquids can be soothing, and this blend from Traditional Medicinals is designed to support throat health. It smells sweet and like licorice. It’s also slightly woody. It’s organic, and the brand is B-Corp certified,” said Good Housekeeping’s team of experts.

    Kristel: Consumers look to Good Housekeeping because they use consumer panels, they really do their research, and to have Throat Coat called out, as, you know, one of the best teas out there is amazing.

    Throat Coat is a product that has been around almost since its inception. It wasn’t one of the original teas, but it came out soon after. The tea helps your throat while you’re sick or when you’re hoarse, but it’s a tea that’s just for overall throat health.

    Throat Coat has been getting much recognition lately, but for many years, several artists out there, musicians in particular, seem to love Throat Coat.

    Throat Coat
    In 2020, the company announced plans to build a distribution facility in Virginia. Construction was expected to start in late 2023, but the facility has not been built.

    Dan: The uplift from niche natural grocery and health food stores to the mass market was underway before the pandemic but has since accelerated. What is propelling the brand forward?

    Kristel: Well, Traditional Medicinals, as you noted, have always been rooted in plant medicine. We only use medicinal-grade herbs in our teas. We don’t use any flavorings or anything but the true herb.

    This is one of the things we pride ourselves on in trying to introduce the true taste of herbs to consumers. We have a full staff of R&D [Research and Development] scientists and naturopath doctors who understand these herbs, their qualities, and their flavors.

    We create our medicinal herbs, formulas, and blends like Throat Coat, whose key ingredient is the slippery elm, a tree bark from Appalachia that soothes throats. It’s a blend incorporated with many other herbs that provide medicinal benefits, like licorice, which also gives it a nice taste. And so we’re very proud that we can bring that efficacy to our teas with blends that consumers like as well.

    Early 1970s range
    Early 1970s range

    Dan: In its Food Trends for 2024 report, Whole Foods Market named Traditional Medicinals as an example of a women’s health trend labeled “From Taboo to Top-of-Mind.”

    “We’re seeing more brands making products to support periods, pregnancy, postpartum, menopause, and even sleep that address life stages and symptoms previously swept under the rug,” writes Whole Foods.

    Traditional Medicinals co-founder Rosemary Gladstar was selling Mother’s Milk lactation tea 50 years ago. The line now includes Raspberry Leaf Tea for menstrual relief, Pregnancy Tea, and Morning Ease for morning sickness.

    Advanced R&D
    Advanced R&D capabilities

    Kristel: Medicinal-grade herbs have been used for thousands of years to help women through the different stages of their lives. Herbs help with hormonal balance. You mentioned Mother’s Milk, which is one of our original teas. It helps women who are nursing to produce more milk. One of the most recent trends is an herb called raspberry leaf. That is our very popular tea to help women with their menstrual cycles.

    One of the things we do at Traditional Medicinals is develop products that can become part of your everyday wellness cycle.

    Going to the doctor and getting pharmaceutical drugs is necessary from time to time, but daily for overall wellness, herbs have a place in today’s world.

    Dan: So, how’s business?

    Kristel: Our business is going wonderfully. We continue to see double-digit growth, year on year. I think it is about being in the right time and place. Post-COVID, people have taken a hard look at their overall health and wellness and have made changes.

    The younger generations are much more into plant-based products in general. Herbal tea is one of those. I think that herbal tea is something that consumers, for a relatively low cost, can bring into their daily lives and take better care of themselves.

    What’s unique about Traditional Medicinals is how we source the product.

    We’re organic, but many of our products are also Fairtrade certified. We try to bring to light how important it is for the producers and growers and the people who collect the herbs to be treated fairly. Within the retail space, consumers are asking for not only good quality products, but also products that are made fairly and ethically.

    As we turn 50, we are seen as offering a product that connects with consumers’ needs. And when you connect with consumers, retailers want you. Our roots were in the natural products industry. We were in health food stores originally, with little mom and pops, and then Whole Foods took us on, leading to other retailers like Sprouts. In the last ten years, we’ve stepped into the mainstream with the likes of Kroger, Publix, Walmart, and Amazon.

    It was old school to think that if you were a true natural product, you would stay in the natural channel. We believe we’re trying to bring plant medicine to the world, to all consumers, so that they can bring it into their daily lives.

    On display
    On display

    That connection and working with retailers to prove the case over the years that herbal teas deserve a spot on the shelf is something that we’re very focused on and very successful. Today, we’re the number one herbal wellness tea.

    Dan: You’ve seen significant online sales growth. Will you describe the role online played in transitioning to mainstream? Sales spiked in 2020. How are online sales now?

    Kristel: online sales definitely went through the roof during COVID. Selling online offers a different experience for the consumer versus brick and mortar.

    When they find you online, you can often tell the story of your products. You can go deep with pictures, articles, and videos so the consumer can be much more educated. And so, by being educated, especially with something like a Traditional Medicinals tea that has so much behind it, you know, it’s a dietary supplement, which FDA regulates. We have several certifications, which are all third-party accredited. People can read about this, get steeped in that information, and make a much better choice.

    Online retailers make it easy for you to subscribe. A lot of them offer discounts if you subscribe. And it becomes part of a consumer’s pantry.

    Convenience is a huge part. You can go online at any time to buy a product, but for us, what we’ve been able to do is tell our story. We’ve provided consumers with in-depth information about how we make our teas, where we get our teas, our ethical sourcing, and everything that we believe in that supply chain side.

    Consumers get to read reviews. And so you know, not only do you hear from the company and everything they bring forward, but many of our top products have amazing reviews that help consumers hit that “Buy Box” when they’re shopping online.

    Active website
    Educational website

    Dan: Renewed interest in herbal infusions and condition-specific and functional teas are trends that will be long-lived. And how do you see the evolution of Traditional Medicinals?

    Kristel: We talk a lot about new products within the four walls of Traditional Medicinals. We are rooted in plant medicine and bringing that to the forefront for consumers.

    Tea will always be the core of the brand because of its ability to deliver plant medicine in a way that people can consume easily. It also gives you that sense of daily ritual to take care of yourself; tea provides an entire experience.

    But as we look to the future, we also see that we can bring plant medicine to consumers in our organic lozenges under the Throat Coat brand, which is already amazing at retail. People recognize the Throat Coat as something that they’ve had in their pantry for years to help with their throat, but now in a more convenient way.

    A lozenge is the perfect product, but there are so many more.

    The future is this combination of continuing education, fair and ethical sourcing, and finding new ways to bring plant medicine to consumers. 

    And so, we’re excited. We’ve got a full innovation team thinking up all the different ways to bring these amazing herbs to consumers, make them more accessible, and help them understand the benefits that they can bring.

    We categorize our teas in two different areas; we have the ones that we’re most known for: Throat Coat, Smooth Move, and Mother’s Milk; these are all teas that the herbalist formulates. They’re all blends. And they are put together to provide specific medicinal benefits.

    But we also have a whole line of what we call single herbs. These we bring straight to the consumer. Peppermint is an example. We educate them on the fact that peppermint is amazing for digestion. We state that on the packaging and discuss the functional benefit each of our teas brings.

    Consumers can study the shelves and figure out what they need most in their daily lives. When Traditional Medicinals brought forth these medicinal-rated herbs, they honored traditions passed down for thousands of years. In addition, we explain ethical sourcing and how we respect collectors and producers. We’ve been a leader in the Fairtrade movement.

    The next level is our Fair for Life certification, which examines the entire supply chain and how we bring products to market. The emphasis is on “responsible supply chains” that incorporate long-term vision. Fair for Life was created in 2006 by the Swiss Bio-Foundation and taken over by Ecocert in 2014.

    As we look to the next 50 years, in addition to educating consumers on plant medicine, we strive to be a role model for other companies doing business in the most ethical way possible. We’re very proud of that.

    Photos are courtesy of Traditional Medicinals. Thanks to Kristel for sharing.

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    Episode 151 | Traditional Medicinals is a Northern California-based botanical wellness brand rooted in modern herbalism to inspire active connection to plant wisdom in service of people and the planet. Formulations of more than sixty teas, lozenges, and capsules are strictly limited to science-based botanical ingredients without added flavors and in quantities that meet pharmacopeia standards for efficacy. Chief Marketing Officer Kristel Corson says, “Our teas have been around what seems like forever, but herbals are having their moment, and it is important to educate folks, not just on what has been, but on what medicinal herbalism is today, and it’s very different.”

  • World Tea Academy Partners with Australian Tea Masters to Refresh Online Curriculum

    World Tea Academy is making a fresh start in the new year, unveiling a new website and a refreshed portfolio of online and on-demand classes at lower fees. The curriculum spans the interests of tea enthusiasts and offers five certifications for those employed in tea. Australian Tea Masters Founder Sharyn Johnston designed the new curriculum and developed the website. She is with us today to talk about joining forces with Questex, owners of the World Tea brand. “This partnership marks a landmark moment for us, offering an extraordinary opportunity to showcase our deep commitment to tea education on a global stage,” she said.

    • Certifications include Tea Specialist, Tea Professional, Tea Sommelier, Tea Health Expert, Tea Blender, and Tea Aroma Expert.

    Listen to the interview

    World Tea Academy Head of Tea Education Sharyn Johnston
    World Tea Academy Head of Tea Education Sharyn Johnston
    World Tea Academy Head of Tea Education Sharyn Johnston (CEO Australian Tea Masters)

    Low-Cost Foundation Course is Key to Training Baristas

    By Dan Bolton

    Sharyn Johnston is the newly named head of education at World Tea Academy. She was the founder in 2011 and remains CEO of Australian Tea Masters, a global resource for tea training, tea blending, tea consultancy, and tea education in Australasia. Sharyn has authored two handbooks on tea, one defining the role of the sommelier and the other explaining the basics of tea blending. She is a skilled taster who buys, sells, and blends millions of kilos of tea annually as the head of Australian Tea Masters Wholesale and Blending—the company’s trading arm. With offices in Singapore, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia, it was launched in 2017.

    Sharyn is a member of the advisory board and Head Judge of “Tea Masters Cup International.” Sharyn has traveled to more than 20 countries, where she often speaks at conferences and festivals attended by tea enthusiasts and professionals. Tea Masters offers a portfolio of approximately 30 tea courses across all sectors with a strong focus on specialty teas.  Australian Tea Masters has organized and will operate the newly updated education platform the World Tea Academy uses.

    “This partnership marks a landmark moment for us, offering an extraordinary opportunity to showcase our deep commitment to tea education on a global stage.”

    – Sharyn Johnston

    Dan Bolton: What do you enjoy most about teaching people about tea?

    Sharyn Johnston: Number one is the people I meet worldwide when we run a class; they’re all so different. They’ve all got different likes and dislikes in tea and different backgrounds. It’s just a great opportunity to travel, meet people, and learn more about tea every day; I always learn something new myself.

    I’ve gone to origin in so many different countries, I’ve trekked around the tea farms, I’ve met the small farmers, I have put a huge amount of energy in the last seven to eight years with at least half a year each year I have spent traveling to tea farms and meeting the people at the ground level. I wanted to experience making tea with them and understanding the processes. I want to be able to share that through education. That will probably be my big focus, showing the real world of tea, not the commercial world, but showing the real world of tea through education.

    Dan: Tim McLucas, VP and Market Leader of the Bar & Restaurant Group at Questex, writes that Australian Tea Masters is “uniquely positioned to support the growing demand for online tea education, plus provide new opportunities for professionals to meet and learn in person and connect face to face with the tea community including producers, retailers, suppliers, and other key industry stakeholders.”

    I hold World Tea in high regard, and as the first editor and publisher of World Tea News, I have followed their competitions and education programs since they were created.

    It sounds to me like you are well-paired in this new venture.

    World Tea Academy Head of Tea Education Sharyn Johnston
    Sharyn Johnston

    Sharyn: Oh, thank you. I’m honored to have been asked to collaborate with The World Tea Academy. Twelve or 13 years ago, when I started in tea, I went to the World Tea Expo to try and learn more about tea. I was so impressed with the classes; having people together all love tea was such a great experience.

    I’ve attended almost every World Tea Expo since then, and I’ve always loved it, so I can’t believe I have this opportunity to work with and collaborate with World Tea Academy. I see great opportunities in the education side of tea.

    Dan: How will you differentiate your program from others? I’d like you to share your vision of how the academy might evolve with readers.

    Sharyn: We’ve built a new website that is very modern, enhanced all the content, and added more than 1,000 new photos, images of tea plantations, and things like that. We’ve got a long way to go.

    We’ve got some amazing ideas for the future, and we want to build on that. One of the things we’ve already introduced is a new Basic Foundation course in tea.

    That was one of the important things missing from the academy curriculum. We developed the world’s first tea 101 course online about nine years ago before it was the thing to do. And we’ve just had so many positive comments from that course over the years.

    World Tea Academy Foundation Course
    World Tea Academy Foundation Course

    Dan: The Foundation Course is only $85. It is a self-paced course in eight lessons that covers a broad range of topics from tea types and origins to cultivation and processing, brewing techniques, and tasting tips, as well as ceremonies and culture, serving etiquette, health benefits, and even food pairing.

    Why is basic education in tea needed more now?

    Sharyn: If you look at coffee, the specialty coffee industry has gone from instant to granulated freeze-dried coffee to professional baristas.

    When people walk into a cafe and want to know about a coffee product, where it comes from, how it is processed, and how to prepare it, all that information is available.

    We’re still so far behind in tea. Go into a café and the only thing you usually get offered is English breakfast, Earl Grey, Peppermint, or Chamomile. And that’s why education is critical to the tea industry moving forward.

    We want to change that. We want World Tea Academy to be the best education platform in the world and to have a lot of exciting content so that we inspire younger people. I think that’s the key to moving forward. So that’s one of the things we want to focus on: how can we make tea a bit trendier and easier to understand? We want to share the amount of different teas out there and how fascinating tea can be.

    We’ve got some really good ideas, especially on the specialty side, that we’ll release in the next month or so. That’s one of my key focus areas.

    World Tea Academy Core Courses
    World Tea Academy Core Courses

    Dan: Retailers rely on well-trained staff. Kevin Gascoyne, a partner at Camellia Sinensis in Montreal, told me that the amount of information most clients need is quite small. But he said, “All this in-depth information helps to drive the company culture and inspire the staff to sell it.  It keeps their geekiness and enthusiasm for the product alive. It also drives that percentage of the tea-drinking population that is really thirsty to know more and more because it’s become an intellectual, learning, and collecting hobby, not just a gourmet hobby of consuming.”

    Sharyn: We are so grateful to the coffee industry because the baristas are already there. They already understand what it takes to educate people in specialty coffee. If we can educate the baristas, many are already doing pour-overs, and they are using AeroPress. They’re using all the modern tools for serving coffee to brew tea. We’ve been doing this now for, you know, for four or five years in Australian Tea Masters. We’ve been educating our students in using the alternative brewing methods that they use for coffee with tea. So, you don’t need to go and get an extra tea person. Often, these businesses can’t afford to hire a tea specialist, so we must try to train the hospitality staff.

    We want to show them their options without changing how they do things in the cafe.  For example, they can serve tea using coffee equipment. When I did one of the classes last year in Singapore, we put tea in the group heads on the espresso machine and ran some trials, and it was quite an amazing experience. So, there are lots of things that just haven’t been done. And I think once you show the baristas or the staff in a cafe, they’ll be excited when they realize what can happen with tea.

    It becomes easy to serve tea with just a bit of knowledge. This is where the Foundation Courses are very important because the Foundation Course will give a barista some good basic knowledge about tea, and that’s why we’ve chosen that to be one of the priorities. It is also a great tool for beginners in tea and the public.

    So yes, I think the people are already there — they just need to be educated. We don’t need to go and look for people; we need to utilize the people already there within the hospitality sector. Of course, don’t forget the bar staff. The idea of integrating Bar and Hospitality with the World Tea Expo is a great opportunity to cross over into education.

    Dan: I experienced that in Australia, where shop owners present themselves as specialty beverage retailers instead of dedicated tea or coffee shops. There was always an expresso machine and a selection of high-quality tea. Retailers assume their customers prefer premium beverages of all types.

    Sharyn: The American market is very different. I’ve educated tea enthusiasts and professionals in many countries, and consumer preferences in each country are very different. Take Singapore; we have offices there, and flavor profiles for clients are very different than flavoring levels in the US. Australia, in contrast, prefers minimal flavor levels. You also have as much as 30 to 40% higher flavor levels in the US and Canada. There’s a big gap compared to the specialty tea market, where you’re trying to have pure teas. Flavored teas are a great stepping stone to more sophisticated teas. I think there’s a massive opportunity for the specialty tea market now.

    World Tea Academy Advanced Courses
    A sample of the 14 Advanced Courses offered by World Tea Academy

    Dan: You’ve designed it to be broad-based. Who benefits from this training?

    Sharyn: I think the hospitality sector, you know, number one.

    The basic course is for the general public and the hospitality sector, so they will start asking questions like: Why can’t we have good quality tea?

    So, education in general. Just educate them to realize that tea is quite an easy beverage to serve, and hopefully, with a bit of knowledge, there’s some new excitement happening. Also, educate them about the varieties; I mean, we literally have thousands of different tea types available, so we have so many opportunities to excite people.

    Dan: In announcing the refresh, Questex said there will be new opportunities to conduct face-to-face training. I owe a lot to STI volunteers like Suzette Hammond, who invested thousands of hours in face-to-face instruction. Norwood Pratt once told me that to really understand tea, “each one, tea one.”

    Sharyn: I’ve been teaching mostly face-to-face for the last ten years. We did develop the online course about eight years ago, but, you know, all our courses are about tea mastery in the modern sense of tea mastery. You know, this is one of the reasons I got involved in education. I tried to learn about tea. It was just so difficult to learn about the global perspective of tea in one location, and that is where we really want World Tea Academy to be the best education platform in the world.

    You could go to China and learn about their teas, and you could go to Sir Lanka to learn about their teas, but pulling it all together was very difficult.

    So, I think that has been helpful. And we will continue with those face-to-face classes. We still hold those classes in Singapore, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Australia. But you know, the thing is, people are busy these days. So online is very helpful. We want to make the courses much more self-paced so they can really sit and relax and enjoy their education online.

    They both have their place. They’re both very important. And, well, the World Tea Expo is still a great venue for people to come in and have a great experience, cram knowledge for two to three days, and learn a lot about tea.

    I will be there. This year is exciting, of course. And it’ll be exciting to see the new speakers that they’ve got because they always manage to pull a good lineup of speakers. Anyone interested in tea will find it a great place to go.

    Photos are courtesy of Australian Tea Masters — all screenshots are from the World Tea Academy website.

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    Episode 150 | Australian Tea Masters CEO Sharyn Johnston, the new Head of Education at World Tea Academy, says her company built a modern online education platform with enhanced content for the Academy to train waitstaff and advance the quality of specialty tea in food service. “One of the things we’ve already introduced is a new Basic Foundation course in tea. We’ve got some fantastic ideas for the future, and we want to build on that,” she said.

  • A Humble Titan in Specialty Tea

    In 2023, the tea industry said farewell to several notable figures. In this episode, we pay tribute to David C. Bigelow, Jr., an industry icon who died in June at 96. A member of the silent generation born in the roaring 20s, David was a World War II veteran and 1948 Yale University graduate who transformed the specialty tea segment. He steered a boutique tea blending business launched in his mother’s kitchen into a multi-million-dollar mass-market brand. Joining us today is David’s daughter Cindi, President and CEO of Connecticut-based and family-owned R.C. Bigelow, a $250 million B-Corp known for innovations that redefined tea service in restaurants and grew the company to become the US market leader in specialty tea.

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    Bigelow Tea President and CEO Cindi Bigelow reflects on her father’s innovations in specialty tea.
    David C. Bigelow
    David C. Bigelow, at Avon Old Farms School in Avon, CT

    David Bigelow’s Tenacity Established Specialty Tea in US Grocery

    By Dan Bolton

    The 55 million members of the Silent Generation were hardworking and humble. Survivors of the Great Depression and the horrors of war – they were careful with their money, patriotic, and ambitious. The generation displayed characteristics of thrift, simplicity, patience, and a need for financial security and comfort. Cindi Bigelow is the third generation to lead Bigelow Tea, founded in 1945 by her grandmother, Ruth C. Bigelow. During her years as chief executive, sales have increased from $94 million in 2005 to more than $250 million. Bigelow Tea produces over 100 million-units of tea boxes annually and employs 450 people.

    ““My father was my mentor for my entire life, personally and professionally. He never wavered from the traits I admired the most. He was a humble, grateful, and kind man. He leaves a big hole for my family, our extended family at Bigelow Tea, and far beyond, but we will continue with the lessons he taught us all… think about others before self.”

    – Cindi Bigelow

    Dan Bolton: I speak for many who admired your father for his business success, the life he shared with your mother, Eunice, the family he reared, his philanthropy, and the quiet impact he exerted at a time of transformation. He was a man who led by example.

    Cindi Bigelow: I just hope to share with the world, especially those in the tea sphere, the story of how my father and my family were so influential in bringing the specialty tea category to where it is today.

    Dan: Let’s begin the interview there. Could you talk about his role in expanding distribution and pricing? He pioneered a way of looking at tea that forced it up higher on a shelf in grocery stores. There was always an expensive tea from England, but this isn’t an import; this is tea blended and packaged in the United States – and your dad was doing something quite extraordinary.

    Cindi: Well, first, it goes back to him expanding his specialty tea category. My grandmother introduced specialty tea when she created Constant Comment in her kitchen. She also expanded it to include many different flavors. Now, all of those teas were sold in gift shops.

    When my father took over, he modified the tea offerings in the specialty tea category as well as their flavor profile.

    He was the one who transitioned into the grocery stores, where he had to build an entire shelf presence. With his broker team and distributors, they carved out space for the specialty tea category, which was priced at a premium level because it was not a commodity tea. There was a lot more that went into it.

    But it was a very slow build.

    His tenacity is why we’re now number one because when it started, no one even knew what specialty tea was, and no one wanted to spend that kind of money on it. They had to go through all kinds of creative ways to get it on the shelf and then keep it on the shelf — it was completely new in the industry.

    David C. Bigelow with his mother Ruth and father David Bigelow, Sr.
    David C. Bigelow, 33, with his mother, Ruth, and father, David Bigelow, Sr.

    Constant Comment
    Constant Comment

    Dan: In 1945, a 2.25 oz jar of Constant Comment sold for less than 75 cents, a “premium” price point. The price had more than doubled by 1960, at a very early stage of consumer awareness of the specialty tea category retail. R.C. Bigelow blends were “top shelf” packed in tins with premium Ceylon tea and ingredients. Sales, however, were a modest $1 million. By 2005, under David Bigelow’s leadership, sales increased to $94 million as the brand transformed into food service and a mass-market favorite that retained its appeal as a premium blend.

    Cindi: Well, it wasn’t until the ’70s that my parents started to put the product into foil and then fold cartons. That started because my father’s forays into the food service arena with the individual product team went back. He had been at the University of Hawaii, and they had our product in loose bags in a basket.

    They came back and said that just doesn’t seem like the right way to sell it. So, they found a company that could put it in foil. It was not ever done before. And we started producing foil-wrapped tea bags going into boxes that we could now sell in the food service.

    That’s when he realized this would revolutionize the tea industry if we could get this on the retail shelf because you can bring the ring down so it’s a little bit within reach of everyone to enjoy a cup of tea, which is still our motto. We want everyone to be able to afford a cup of Bigelow tea, but it is still premium and is no longer in a canister.

    So, he moved us into foil wrappers to be able to handle the food service arena brilliantly. At the time, we were first into the food service and away-from-home marketplace.

    Then, with that, they recognized that these cartons and foil individual wraps could make a big difference on a grocery shelf, so they started in Arizona and tested it down there, and it was a huge hit. Sales went up three times. From there, it was rolled out throughout the country.

    We went from pneumatic machines to IMA machines and Teepack Constanta. He completely revamped the organization in the 70s and early 80s.

    Dan: Something else he did to encourage the selection of tea was to put those foil packs in tea chests on the counter or bring them to the table, where the waitress would say, “Please choose from our selection of fine teas.” There may have been a selection of 8 or 10 in the chest.

    Cindi: He had a great team of people in R&D (research & development), one who also passed away a few years ago was brilliant in creating the tea display chest, which again completely revolutionized the way the restaurant business, the catering business, everything about it they were not afraid to really push into industries with products with packaging that had not been seen before.

    One of the points of this article is to let people understand the impact that he and his team had. If he knew I was giving this interview and using his name and not listing everyone who did all the work, he would be very upset with me, Dan. It’s under his leadership and his drive that our company was able to transform the tea business.

    Dan: Who did he pal around with? Was it the guys at the grocery chains like Kroger and A&P? 

    Cindi: Believe it or not, my parents established really close relationships with the distributors. He was huge down in Florida. I can’t think of the names of all the distributors and brokers. They were so close, so close. Also, they had really good friends in the tea industry.

    My father was wonderful, but networking wasn’t part of his MO. And I always admired that about him. He let the brokers and distributors do the work. He believed in letting them take the lead and do what they excel at. He made sure they were educated, they knew who we were, and then let them go.

    Dan: Will you help readers better understand the breakthrough years when Bigelow expanded from a niche gift shop and regional brand to reach markets in the big cities and eventually saturation across the country?

    Cindi: Well, we weren’t dominant anywhere in the 60s. We were in California, which was a big market for us. It wasn’t a national brand. If you have no sales, you dilute it. Moving into the big cities, there are even fewer sales. So, there was no market where Bigelow was dominant.

    We were in gift shops in the ‘60s and on university campuses. A lot of the college kids enjoyed Constant Comment. It was cool to drink, Constant Comment* ” But sales were so small. We finally achieved $20 million in sales in 1985. So, we were a very small company. In the ‘60s, sales were a million and a half maybe.

    David and Eunice Bigelow
    David and Eunice Bigelow in the tea-tasting lab at Bigelow Tea

    Dan: There was a business breakout, though, during the ‘80s

    Cindi: Part of that growth was the foldable cardboard packaging and carton boxes on the shelf from the late 70s to the early 80s. At that point, we took off because we were now very stackable. We could have a price that was more thoughtful of the consumer. Then, there were line extensions. My father really got into the herbals in the ’80s and expanded to green teas in the ’90s. There weren’t even any green teas out there. Bigelow tea is the one that would put green tea on the shelf. I still think it is such a great product to consume. It is so helpful. But to be honest, there are many green teas out there that are very hard for the average consumer to enjoy. We are very blessed that our green tea is number one. We have a 40% share, and that is because we believe that our taste profile is a very drinkable, enjoyable tea. The 90s was a real rocking time for us for sure.

    Constant Comment in tins
    Constant Comment in tins

    Cindi: Truth be told, Mo Siegel started the herbal business with the launch of Celestial Seasonings. He pioneered the herbal category.

    My father looked at it and wasn’t quite sure. He asked, “What is this? Is this where we want to be?” Because he was a tea guy. He was a camellia sinensis guy. And you know camellia sinensis people are camellia sinensis focused, and so he, you know, waited a few years and then with good counsel said, “You know what, I do think we want to get into the herbal arena.”

    Today, the herbal category is the largest in specialty tea, hovering around almost 60%. So, we are the number two player. We’re number one in the tea arena, within one specialty tea the number one tea, but in the herbal subset, we are number two, but we are gaining and getting a lot of attention for the good herbs we are launching in that arena. They are experimental.

    My father’s foray into the foil wrap, which protects the vulnerable oils, whether it’s the Camelia sinensis or the volatile oils of a chamomile or a mint, that’s what gives you the health profile. That’s what gives you the taste profile. So, putting that into the foil allowed us to put those kinds of mints in there to protect them from losing it and getting exposed to light air moisture. And so, when we did move into the herbal category, we were able to, you know, move in in a big way, and it’s a big part of our business now.

    “He didn’t have to pass away for me to appreciate him. He knew I appreciated him every single day, and that’s one thing that I’ll be able to carry with me forward even though he’s gone. He knew how much I loved him.”

    – Cindi Bigelow

    Dan: So, let’s discuss his character, integrity, and worldview. David is admirable, in part because of context, as these guys were beaten down by the depression and fought a war. Your dad was a Japanese military interpreter. The survivors came home, earned degrees, started businesses, built companies, and prospered. The death and destruction, fears and dreams, and experiences changed their point of view and made them better human beings. In the family business, you describe your dad as a mentor, someone you admire. That’s a good starting point.

    Cindi: Well, I think, watching him in action, watching him listen to people, watching him ask questions, watching what an amazing conversationalist, watching how much fairness meant to him, you know, making sure everybody has a voice, watching his reaction if he was getting what he considered to be an untruth or sort of a slippery slope answer.

    You know, all of those are really what formed who I am today: having a father who wasn’t greedy, having a father who didn’t focus on making money, having a father who never talked about money, having a father who would be generous with you, but just was overall all careful with the dollar.

    I don’t say that in a way that he was afraid to spend it, but he just didn’t need to buy many things. We had one nice car. I remember when we got a Lincoln Continental in the 70s. He was very proud of himself and the Lincoln Continental, just in his own way.

    He was always there whenever I needed somebody or something. So that’s how I’ve tried to be with my own family: when that phone rings, I pick that phone up. They want me to drive up. They want me to go somewhere. They want me to fly somewhere. I do whatever it takes. Your family is first, and I learned that from him.

    I run this company where it isn’t about making money. I mean, you have to make money. You must be able to buy the things you need. Money, to me, means paying the employees a bonus.

    I learned that from him.

    Dan: So, let’s talk about his philanthropy for a minute. He cared about his neighbors, community, and schools. He established a local foundation to support local causes. Your company donates more than $800,000 a year.

    Cindi: Well, he loved to share the story of when he started the Bigelow Tea Community Challenge 36 years ago. He was motivated by me; he said, “You know, I’m watching my daughter give so much money back to the community.” He rallied this community around this event, donating more than $2 million to charities in Connecticut (See below).

    He said, “I want to do it in a bigger way.” And not in a competitive way. So he started to put funds in place that he was able to distribute to the community, with the largest being the Bridgeport Public School system. So yeah, for a good 20 years, he has been very, very philanthropic, and you know, it’s very sweet to talk about what triggered him. You know, he was not a man to have an ego, right? So he said, “I like what she’s doing. I want to do that, too. So, it became a big part of my parent’s life. And it’s something that they’re very proud of, and it is a great legacy.

    The Foundation will continue focusing on education in the Connecticut Bridgeport area. He really did love that he would always be so impressed he would go whether it was the high schools we would be putting on performances. Dad and Mom would be funding the costumes, lighting, and music, and he would be so proud when he came back about what he saw and always so impressed with the students. He would go to the STEM programs, the robotics, the girls that code, and my mother as well. They were so touched by what they saw in the community, and they got to see firsthand, and he got to see firsthand, before he passed for many years, the good work of his Foundation.

    Eunice, Cindi and David C. Bigelow
    Eunice, Cindi, and David C. Bigelow

    Dan: He made a difference in his 96 years in tea and leaves a legacy in your work.

    Cindi: Oh my God, everything I do rests on the shoulder. He’s the first one to tell you that everything we do is on somebody else’s shoulders. And you need to honor that.

    I think your original question was, ‘What was it like being his daughter?’ You know, he did do it all. He wasn’t a different guy in the office than at home. He did have a little bit of a temper when he thought you weren’t telling the truth. But he was a very kind individual that was very engaged. I always knew he had my back. He was always there for me.

    The company felt the same way. I never felt shortchanged, not for a minute, not for a minute. The company certainly felt loved by both my mother and my father. And so it truly was a family. I mean, I didn’t know any better.

    I was very little, wearing an outfit and handing out Christmas presents, as was my sister to everyone at the Christmas party, and my mother said to me, ‘You have to stop kissing everyone. You’re just going to get sick.’ I didn’t know anything except for the family business.

    He loved tea so passionately that I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do it like he did. He was passionate about the product, right? I consider myself more of a businesswoman who loves tea, and I think I’m pretty good with tea, but he was a tea person who ran a business — different story. So yeah, I was very lucky. I was very lucky.

    I was very fortunate to have good schooling leading up to my running the company, but he was a great teacher. Perhaps my greatest teacher.

    *Yes, it is true that musical composer and singer Leonard Cohen, in his famous love song Suzanne, was inspired by the brand. Cohen told NPR in 2016 that the line, “and she feeds you tea and oranges that come all the way from China,” was, in fact, inspired by Constant Comment. “She fed me a tea called Constant Comment, which has small pieces of orange rind in it, which gave birth to the image,” he said.

    Related: David C. Bigelow’s Obituary published in the Palm Beach Post

    David’s Favorite Tea

    “He loved our Ceylon Premium Tea, which was really put together for the airline industry,” recalls Cindi Bigelow.  We sold a beautiful Ceylon product in that category, and he loved that tea.  It was his absolute favorite.  And, you know, you’d compete with other companies to sell to the airline industry, and you couldn’t quite describe to them that the price they were getting for that outstanding Ceylon tea was like nothing else you would ever imagine—people who know this tea love to sell it for you. So, that was his favorite. He had that every single morning. True story: During COVID-19, we had difficulty getting that tea and had some difficulty shipping from Ceylon. What we could get was different from our gold standard, and he absolutely knew that, and he stopped drinking it just like that. “I’m not drinking it until we get the good stuff back,” he said.

    Bigelow Tea Community Challenge

    Seventy-nine sponsors contributed to the 2023 campaign, including several prominent tea industry suppliers. Beneficiaries include YMCA of Fairfield, Mercy Learning Center, Cardinal Shehan Center, Neighborhood Studios of Fairfield County, Center for Family Justice, Connecticut Food Bank, Operation Hope, Burroughs Community Center, Grasmere by Park, Caroline House, Bridgeport Rescue Mission, Janus Center for Youth in Crisis, Norma Pfriem Breast Center, Bridge House, CT Challenge, Taylor YMCA, Camp Hi Rock, Horizon’s at GFA, McGivney Community Center, Pivot Ministries.

    Photos are courtesy of Bigelow Tea—special thanks to Cindi for sharing family photos.

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    Episode 148 | In 2023, the tea industry bid farewell to several notable figures. In this episode, we pay tribute to David C. Bigelow, Jr., an industry icon who died in June 2023 at 96. David transformed the specialty tea segment in the US, steering a boutique tea blending business launched in his mother’s kitchen into a multi-million-dollar mass-market brand. Joining us today is David’s daughter Cindi, President and CEO of Connecticut-based and family-owned R.C. Bigelow, a $250 million B-Corp known for innovations that redefined tea service in restaurants and grew the company to become the US market leader in specialty tea. 

  • A Tea Historian Recounts The Act of Defiance that Cost the British Crown its Colonies

    The defiant American colonists in December 1773 who cheered the destruction of tea in Boston Harbor by 150 patriots in disguise were witnesses to history. The loss infuriated Parliament, which passed the punitive Coercive Acts of 1774, closing Boston Harbor and repealing Massachusetts’s colonial charter until the cost of the tea was reimbursed. Known as the “Intolerable Acts,” these measures convinced colonists to take up arms, leading to the deadly confrontation at Lexington and Concord, New Hampshire, that began the American Revolution in April 1775.

    The year-long commemoration of the Boston Tea Party counts down to a grand-scale live reenactment on December 16 with special exhibits and artwork, virtual presentations and webinars, theatrical performances, and the dumping of a thousand pounds of loose-leaf tea (no tea bags) donated to the Boston Tea Party & Ships Museum.

    Listen to the interview.

    Tea Historian Bruce Richardson on the 250th Anniversary Celebration of the Boston Tea Party
    Bruce Richardson
    Author and tea historian and Elmwood Inn Fine Tea founder Bruce Richardson

    Mighty East India Company

    By Dan Bolton

    Bruce Richardson, “The Tea Maestro,” has shared his love for tea with the world for 30 years. Bruce, a classical musician and baritone soloist from the state of Kentucky, said that in 1995, he “put down my baton and picked up a cup of tea to travel the world.” His son now operates the importing and blending company that he founded.

    “So now I’m probably best known as the roving ambassador for Elmwood Inn Fine Teas,” he said. Bruce has written hundreds of articles and authored and co-authored 14 books, including “The New Tea Companion” with Jane Pettigrew and A Social History of Tea: Tea’s Influence on Commerce, Culture, and Civility. He is an authority on tea culture who speaks frequently in public and is widely quoted in the national press and television. He has served as tea historian and Tea Master for the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum since 2011. Who better to recount the momentous decision to defy the British King and Parliament by tossing 340 chests into the sea, lighting the fuse of rebellion 250 years past?

    “When we talk about the Boston Tea Party, we want to put it into historical context, what was happening both in Europe and the colonies at that critical point around 1770 until the time of the Tea Party, which was 1773.”

    – Bruce Richardson

    Dan Bolton: Will you explain tea’s central role in the confrontation between the colonists and the King?

    Bruce Richardson: When we talk about the Boston Tea Party, we want to put it into historical context, what was happening both in Europe and the colonies at that critical point around 1770 until the time of the Tea Party, which was 1773.

    Many people don’t know that America was just as much in love with the ritual and tea ceremony as their cousins back in London, Bath, or even over in the Netherlands.

    The ladies of Boston, Philadelphia, New York, Charleston, and South Carolina were enamored by the tea ritual. They had furniture specially made in their living rooms to entertain their friends and have tea. So, this was what got us into trouble.

    King George III says, “The ladies of Boston will pay anything for their tea.” He later regretted saying that because he lost one of his greatest colonies over a cup of tea.

    In the 1770s, Boston was consuming copious amounts of tea brought in on board merchant ships — and some illegally. The only tea that could be brought in was through the Honorable East India Company, incorporated by Queen Elizabeth I in 1600.

    The problem began with the taxes on tea being so high that the price was going up and up. The Dutch saw an opportunity to undercut the East India Company by smuggling tea into the colonies. So, by 1770, the British East India Company was about to go under, and they told Parliament it looked like if “John Company” went under, the government would go under, and the banks would collapse.

    “We are a company that’s too big to fail,” they said.

    So, Parliament gave them the option of having a clearance sale on the tea piled up in their warehouses in London.

    All that tea came from only one country, China; no tea was grown in India then, and there was no tea in Sri Lanka. The Japanese were growing tea, but they weren’t exporting it.

    So, all the tea that went into Boston Harbor or the teacups of Jane Austen all came from just one country, China.

    The tea was coming into the London warehouses but wasn’t going out fast enough. So, it started to pile up and get old – it had a shelf life. So, Parliament, even though deeply indebted, said it would allow the East India Company to ship 544,000 pounds of tea out of its warehouses to the colonies without paying a tariff.

    On September 27, 1773, seven ships started to leave the Port of London on their way to the colonies. Now, they weren’t just going to Boston; they were also going to New York, Philadelphia, and all the way down to Charleston, South Carolina, because these were the major tea-drinking cities of the Americas. So, the ships left and made their way over to the colonies towards the end of the year.

    On November 30th, the first ships started arriving in Boston; four ships were sent to Boston  showing you how much tea was being consumed then. One Boston-bound ship, the William, was lost at sea. One ship arrived at each of the other three cities.

    Well, Boston pretty much had to make the decision. The other cities said, “Well, Boston, it’s up to you. If you take this tea in, fine. If you don’t, we will follow your lead. Whatever you do, we will follow.”

    The Polly landed at Philadephia and was turned around, fully laden, and sent back to London. The same fate awaited the late-arriving Nancy, bound for New York. Charleston seized the cargo of tea and placed it under guard in the Customs House.

    See: The Tea Maestro

    The tea coming in was actually cheaper than previous shipments because no tariff had to be paid to Parliament. There was, however, a small tax that the government retained on tea to pay for royally appointed governors in the colonies.

    And so that’s what was the rub. That was the straw that finally broke the camel’s back.

    Once people learned the tea was coming, they got together almost weekly to talk about what would happen with the tea. It all came to a head on December 16 of 1773 in the Old South Meeting House. Thousands of people crammed into that square around that building to decide what to do. They couldn’t make a decision. The ships were sitting in the harbor. Everything had been offloaded except the tea. And finally, Samuel Adams said, “We can do no more.” And that was, we think, the signal for his people he organized to go down and destroy the tea.

    And that’s what happened over the next two and a half hours. Tea valued at nearly 10,000 pounds went into Boston Harbor that night. Today, the value would be well over a million dollars.

    • Faneil Hall
      Faneuil Hall

    Witness the 250th Anniversary Reenactment

    On December 16, 2023, Boston will commemorate the 250th Anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, a moment that forever changed the course of American history. On this day, the collaborative efforts of multiple organizations will culminate in a grand-scale reenactment of the Boston Tea Party.  A full evening of reenactments will play out in 4-parts across the City of Boston at several historic locations.

    Dan: Several different teas went overboard that night. Will you describe them?

    Bruce: One of the questions I get often is, was that brick tea? We know it wasn’t tea bags, but not brick tea. It was all loose-leaf tea. All the brick tea went the northern route, through Mongolia on camel’s backs and horses, to make its way to Europe. Loose tea came through the East India Company. So that’s what went overboard that night.

    It’s interesting that the tea went into the harbor at low tide, maybe two and a half feet. And all that tea started piling up alongside the ships. And men had to go out in rowboats and with their oars to knock haystacks of tea down to get it into the water to be destroyed.

    When I talk to audiences anywhere, they are always fascinated to know this tea comes from only one country, China, but also that of the five teas tossed overboard. Two of them were green teas. And three of them were black teas.

    The major portion of the 340 chests, and when we say chest, we mean a large wooden case that held this tea, often lined with moisture out. The chests could weigh anywhere up to nearly 250 pounds. So those all had to be hoisted up out of the ship’s hold and broken open to destroy them.

    They held five different teas; we know what they were because the East India Company assembled an invoice over the next few months listing all the different teas by category, how much each weighed, and how much value they all had because they wanted reimbursement. So, the main portion was bohea, a black tea from the Wuyi mountains. The other black tea was Congou, a very well-made black tea, and then the third one was Souchong (today we know as Lapsang Souchong and then the two green teas were Hyson green tea and Singlo from the Sunglo mountains of Fujian Province.

    Dan: The Tea Act allowed the East India Company to sell tea directly to loyalists, cutting out colonial merchants and leading to a boycott of tea. Destroying the tea cost the British government, but local merchants in all the colonies also lost significant revenue because drinking tea was suddenly unpatriotic only loyalists drank it.

    Bruce: The arrangements through Parliament, through the East India Company, to go through the people who were loyal to the King. These were all loyalist merchants who would receive this tea; it wasn’t just the common everyday merchant down the street. And that, again, was another thing that rubbed colonists the wrong way.

    Bruce: It wasn’t patriotic to drink tea after the 1773 event, but even leading up to that, people got together and signed letters saying they would no longer drink East India Company tea. This caused a problem because they still had all the tea-making apparatus. They still had beautiful teapots and teacups. And the ladies of Boston wanted their tea times. So, they went out into their gardens and orchards to find whatever they could to go into those teapots to make something colored water they could serve. So, you had a great advance in people drinking herbal or fruit teas at that time. They called their teapots Liberty teapots. These teas were called Liberty teas because they contained none of the tea that George III consigned.

    They were making a statement about not drinking Chinese tea anymore.

    Dan: None of this tea was shipped directly from China to the United States; it was sent to London, weighed, taxed, and stored before sailing six weeks across the Atlantic. This meant the tea was never as fresh as tea shipped directly to the colonies by the Dutch.

    Bruce: There was never a direct shipment of tea from China to the Americas until the first January after the United States was formed. The very first ship, the Empress of China, that left the port of New York bearing a flag of the new United States, traveled to Canton, loaded with all the American black ginseng they could find in the colonies. And guess what they traded it for? They traded it for tea. And so a huge amount of money was made on that very first shipment of tea back to the United States.

    Dan: It turns out there was a huge market for the 242 casks of New England and Appalachian ginseng. American ginseng was so popular in China that that continued for decades.

    Bruce: Indeed, the Chinese could never get enough ginseng. They were delighted to have it. And, by the way, they said, you can take all this tea back with you.

    Patriots toss the King's tea overboard.
    Patriots toss the King’s tea overboard. Photo courtesy December16.org

    Dan: Let’s flash forward. This is a delightful opportunity, a first glimpse or prelude to the nation’s 250th anniversary. In two weeks, everyone in Boston will turn out to watch the reenactment. The Boston Tea Party & Ships Museum has been collecting tea from donors to toss overboard. Will you share some exciting things that will make this a fun and authentic celebration with listeners?

    Bruce: The Boston Tea Party & Ships Museum started a dozen years ago because the mayor asked, “What’s the most iconic event in our history… And we don’t have a museum to interpret that?”

    Even before they poured the first concrete, they came to me to say they wanted to get the story right. We want to know what the origin of the tea was. We think that’s important for our museum.

    So, I’ve been with them all those years, and we have the museum there rising out of Boston Harbor. We have two ships that are replicas of the ships that were there in 1773. People can go through an interactive display and immersion into the days of the colonists, go into the hold of these ships, and actually see one of the tea chests that was broken open in Boston harbor. We even have a vial of liquid tea made the next morning from some of the tea leaves that washed up on shore. Over two million people have come through the museum and finished drinking tea in Abigail’s tearoom overlooking Boston Harbor, where they can taste the five different teas tossed into the harbor that night.

    So, in Boston on December 16 of this year, the entire weekend will have events that will have reenactments of the Old South Meeting House of the discussions going on between the city leaders and the people who were or just adamant about throwing the tea overboard. And then we’ll have Fife and Drum Corps and bands, all leading people in parades down to Boston Harbor.

    The Boston Tea Party ships museum will set up viewing stands, and we will re-enact the Boston Tea Party once again, with tea going overboard. We had over 1,000 pounds of tea going into Boston Harbor that night. We have a certificate signed by the cities that says we can put tea into the harbor now because it’s illegal to dump things like that into the harbor. But we’ve got it all taken care of. Tea is highly biodegradable and there are no tea bags. Everything must be biodegradable.

    Bruce: Most colonists really didn’t want to separate from England. They just wanted representation if they were going to pay taxes, they wanted to have a representative in parliament that looked after their needs. So it wasn’t until this event, the Boston Tea Party, that the tide started to change, and people like Samuel Adams started to think, well, there’s no going back. We’ve gone too far; we might as well just go ahead and form our own country.

    If it had not been for the Boston Tea Party, the separation may have come, but it may have come years later than when it did.

    Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum
    A full-scale replica of the ship that sailed the Atlantic bringing tea to the colonies.

    Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum
    Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum

    Tour Hours: 10 am – 4 pm
    (866) 955-0667 | 306 Congress St.
    Boston, Mass.

    Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum

    Boston Tea Party Museum
    Historical interpreters, interactive exhibits, full-scale replica 18th-century sailing vessels, and historic artifacts are just some of what you’ll experience during your visit. Ticketed museum experience includes sections 1-5. Sections 6 & 7, the museum gift shop, and Abigail’s Tea Room are open to the general public without a museum ticket.

    Photos courtesy Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum | December16.org
    December 16 Boston Tea Party Reenactment

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    Episode 145 | On December 16, 2023, Boston will commemorate the 250th Anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, a moment that forever changed the course of American history. On this day, the collaborative efforts of multiple organizations will culminate in a grand-scale reenactment of the Boston Tea Party. Author and tea historian Bruce Richardson, “The Tea Maestro,” has served as Tea Master for the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum since 2011. A renowned storyteller, Bruce recounts the momentous decision to defy the British King and Parliament by tossing 340 chests of tea into the sea, lighting the fuse of rebellion 250 years past.

  • How to Entice the Passing Crowd

    Tea is well suited to experiential retail, a type of physical retail marketing that offers customers experiences beyond browsing. Tea retailers worldwide are experimenting with sophisticated sampling, live music, art, interactive displays, video walls depicting growers in the tea lands, and even making cameras available for customers to record and share experiences. Experiential tea retailers play an important role in converting commodity tea drinkers to informed enthusiasts.

    Paper & Tea’s lofty ceilings and large windows have a captivating effect on passersby attracted to their brightly lit interiors, colorful displays, and a wide variety of fine teas to sample. Eduardo Molina, Head of Tea Experience at P&T, explains, “Our main idea, when somebody steps into one of our stores, is for customers to live an experience they will always remember — an experience they will share with others.” Molina is responsible for creating an alluring experience for every customer visit.

    Listen to the interview.

    Eduardo Molina is the Head of Tea Experience at Paper and Tea.
    Eduardo Molina, Head of Tea Experience, P&T
    Eduardo Molina, Head of Tea Experience, P&T

    P&T is Not Just for Tea Drinkers

    By Dan Bolton

    Eduardo Molina, 37, is originally from Chile, a narrow coastal country whose people drink more tea than any country in South America. Eduardo embraced the tea-drinking culture, discovering his passion for tea working in hospitality at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Santiago in 2007. He has since traveled extensively in the tea lands. “The culture and history of tea is fascinating,” he says. His special focus is training. “I love training people how to present, sell, and tell stories about tea,” says Eduardo. He has ten years of retail experience, including three years as the co-founder and tea sommelier of Adagio Teas in Chile. He taught at the Chilean Tea Academy and joined P&T in Berlin in May 2018 as product manager for new business development. As Head of Tea Experience, he is responsible for marketing the new properties and training staff. He leads the team that created the in-store experience at every location, including the company’s soon-to-open 31st store.

    “At Paper & Tea, we create open spaces that celebrate community, where everyone is invited to share ideas and discover the beauty of life. We value quality, aesthetics, mindfulness, and artistry and want to offer products, experiences, and services that put a smile on your face.”

    – P&T (www.paperandtea.com)

    Dan Bolton: Why would someone operating a tea shop consider experiential retail? What benefits does it hold?

    Eduardo Molina: It depends a lot on the kind of product that you are offering.

    Not every product can be described as one of the best to put on a show, which is what we are trying to do in our stores.

    When somebody steps into one of our stores, our main idea is to live an experience they will always remember — an experience they will share with others. We want them to say, “I had the most amazing experience.”

    And that starts with welcoming. We hire “personalities,” so to speak —people who are easygoing, smiley, and full of good energy. Not necessarily tea-drinking people.

    We are opening on the main streets in downtown locations where there is a lot of flow and a lot of people passing by, which is also a positive thing; it leads to the success of these openings.

    We do have a lot of tea nerds joining our team, but for us, it’s not a requirement to drink tea. We know we will convert them anyway the same way we attract them. Yeah, it’s a given. Being inside of this environment will turn you into a tea drinker anyway.

    Browsing is nothing new for someone who enters a store and tries on shoes, a T-shirt, or a sweater.

    To be effective, you need to make a difference and that difference usually occurs with the body’s sensors. For example, when smelling something you haven’t smelled in a while, or when you smell something that reminds you of a moment you lived in the past, or when you taste something you have never tasted.

    We play with those things as we welcome somebody in the store (or grab them from the street). We attract people with the whole design of our stores, which are very inviting, warm, and welcoming.

    Our windows are very bright and positioned so that you can see inside the store, see what is happening, and awaken curiosity.

    Once they are in, the process starts with a welcome tea we created.

    So, we have something in every store right now. We have opened 28 in a year — 28 in six countries. So, it’s been crazy since almost every second week, there is an opening.

    In the center of every store, there is the tea bar — I know, I know, having a place to taste tea is not a groundbreaking idea — but the way we present it can be described as “very deliberate.” We are a modern company. Paper and Tea is 12 years old. So, we’re not a 150-year-old company. We’re not a traditional tea house.

    We are not a tiny house or a Japanese tea house. We are a European company run by young people. We want to create a contemporary concept. We want people to enjoy tea. We want people to bring tea to their lifestyle and make it part of their normal lives.

    We want to make tea a part of their daily routine.

    Paper & Tea Storefronts

    • P&T Amsterdam
      P&T Amsterdam, Netherlands

    Dan: I see your point about bright windows and an inviting storefront. Who is attracted to that? And why do you think they come into the store?

    Eduardo: It’s someone who likes pretty things, somebody with a certain level of curiosity; we’re not a place only for tea drinkers. We believe we have the challenge of creating new tea drinkers. We want people to walk into the store, and even if you don’t drink tea, you will start because you feel that the atmosphere is so nice and want to be part of it.

    I’ve seen a lot of people who say they don’t drink tea, but they buy a cup of tea, and they go home and say okay, I want to re-live the experience.

    I want to do it with my friends because I’m surprised I want to do it with my family. So it’s also like a little chain effect. For every store that has opened, the escalation has been exponential.

    Every week, more people come back because they heard about us from a friend or saw on social media that we were close by. It’s a very nice feeling that happens in the stores.

    We have to recognize we are in the process of doing this.

    People have come to me and said, ‘Paper and Tea is doing pretty well because you’re opening so many stores.’

    “We are basically building the plane while we’re flying, we’re still creating new concepts, and there are still a lot of standards to be established, which can be seen, of course, as a downside. But on the other hand, for somebody who has the energy to create something from scratch, it’s also very motivational.”

    – Eduardo Molina, P&T (www.paperandtea.com)

    It’s like, no, no, we’re not doing well. Yet. We have an idea. We have a commitment. We put ourselves to the challenge. And we believe that people have to experience tea. It doesn’t matter how beautiful our website is; you must experience, smell, and taste it. And that’s the reason why we’re opening stores.

    We want to be on every corner to have the chance to make you live the experience of drinking or preparing tea or talking to you.

    And that’s why we’re opening so many stores in strategic locations.

    Dan: Talk a bit about how you operate a store. You must invest in training staff skilled in tea and in helping customers understand how tea works so that they have interesting stories to share when they leave the store.

    Eduardo: Exactly, absolutely. Tea is a product that offers the possibility to create this moment and make people leave these unique experiences. But it’s also a very complex product. To make those experiences possible, you need knowledgeable people who understand the product and the nuances.

    We have roughly 80 different teas, 60% pure teas, and 40% blends. We have teas from 12 different origins and many different regions within those origins, so there is a certain degree of complexity. We manage it through a lot of training.

    The centerpiece of each store is a tea bar. “I know, I know, having a place to taste tea is not a groundbreaking idea,” says Molina, “but how we present the tea is different. I describe it as “very deliberate.”

    – Eduardo Molina, P&T (www.paperandtea.com)

    We see our stores as more than just a shop where you go in and buy tea; for us, it’s a space where you can have these experiences. We look for people who have worked in hotels and restaurants. Maybe they don’t have selling experience, but we need this blend of people who may be very good at communication and selling. We need people who move very confidently behind the bar because the whole preparation will only impress if it’s done with confidence — and if you know what you’re doing, if you know the steps, and if you do it naturally.

    Dan: Will you explain how changes in customer behavior have helped make this concept work?

    Eduardo: I’m not German, so I’ve been trying to get to know German consumers. As you say, they have a very specific taste for herbals and fruit blends. Everything that happened with Corona brought a different consideration regarding what I’m drinking, what I’m eating, and what I’m consuming. Consumers ask, Is it healthy? Where’s it coming from? More and more, these kinds of questions are relevant for consumers.

    We are listening, observing, and asking, ‘What kind of customer is coming into the store? What questions do they have? It’s super interesting because Paper and Tea, from a year ago, we had only five stores in Germany.

    The customers we were targeting then were customers with a big interest in certain teas. They were looking for something specific for something unique.

    Our concept has changed and evolved a little bit. And now, because we want to talk to more people, and talk to people who don’t know tea because we want to bring them in here. We currently have stores in Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, and Denmark. Their past dealings with German retailers were influenced by the fact Germany was one of the biggest Darjeeling buyers. They are, and I wouldn’t say they are over that, but now the Germans are also willing to try new varieties along with the Europeans. One of our stores’ most beloved varieties is Japanese green tea. We have a very nice selection of Japanese green teas, including Matcha, which you mentioned is very popular in the stores. Usually, when visiting the store, I get to prepare maybe 10 or 15 matchas, so we put up a big show at the bar. And then we show everybody how to improve it. Actually, the whole matcha market has exploded here for us. I am not a wholesale tea buyer for Paper and Tea anymore, but while I was doing it before expansion a year ago, we would sell out in a quarter of what we planned to buy for the whole year. It was crazy and extremely hard to plan. Germans are still big herbal drinkers, but they are very curious and are willing to explore new things thanks to tourism. I mentioned that Japanese green teas are very popular, but customers are seeking the benefits of drinking something healthy, that’s a big concern. And so that’s also a big priority for us as well. We are not a pharmacy, and we’re not a drugstore, but to be responsible for what we serve, we offer third-party certified teas and carefully explain how the teas are made.

    P&T Berlin
    Tea bar at P&T in Kurfürstendamm, Berlin

    Dan: So, let’s talk about the downsides. There must be additional costs. How do you recover the added expense?

    Eduardo: So there is a lot of time invested in training. A lot of resources must be invested for a store to fully run. And be confident that the store can function independently without somebody being there.

    Rotation (turnover) is pretty big. So sometimes it happens that you invested in training, and then people don’t stay. It’s part of the business. We know how it is. So we always try to be one step ahead and make the best conditions for workers.

    We are basically building the plane while we’re flying, we’re still creating new concepts, and there are still a lot of standards to be established, which can be seen, of course, as a downside. But on the other hand, for somebody who has the energy to create something from scratch, it’s also very, very motivational.

    If you visit the “old” new stores, I say that because it’s the first one we started opening a year ago, and you visit a store that opened last week. You notice the difference because, in every store, we were learning. There has been a lot of trial and error. And I think that has given us an extremely good experience. And now we feel like we’re each time we’re closer to how it’s supposed to be, we’re not quite there. We’re excited that we’re not quite there yet because it would get boring.

    Dan: Teabag prices can’t cover the cost of the kind of service, the more expensive locations, and the training. Merchandise certainly plays a part. How much do you have to charge to make it work?

    Eduardo: I have to admit, I’m not the person who sets the prices. There are a lot of pricing strategies, but as you say, what we charge is not the price of the tea. What we charge covers the whole experience. When you go to a Michelin-star restaurant, it’s not the little piece of avocado you get but the way it’s presented, how it’s served, how it was kept before; it’s the whole experience you’re paying for.

    We want to talk to everybody about tea. We want to bring new people into the world of tea. So, within our assortment, we have different lines and categories. There are teas that are, of course, more affordable for beginners. We call these Master Blends. The price of a tin depends on the tea variety, but roughly between 70 and 100 grams cost 15 Euros.

    So I don’t know how much that is in dollars.

    Dan: It’s pretty much one-to-one right now. (EUR1.00=USD1.09)
    What’s the price of your most expensive tea?

    P&T Woori Korean Black Tea

    Grown in Korea’s Hadong Mountains, this black specialty tea relies on a unique double oxidation, rounded off by intensive roasting, for its sweetly smoky umami flavors. The resulting tea’s strong character and special aroma make it particularly suited for fine cuisine. € 59 | $65 for 60 g

    Eduardo: I think right now that might be a Korean black tea that we have. And that would be roughly, I would say, a Euro per gram. A tin of 60 grams is roughly 60 euros. And that would be the top.

    But we’re working on some other things that might be remarkable.

    To enrich life. With a positive view of life, we bring people and places together in joyful moments.

    – P&T (www.paperandtea.com)
    P&T Berlin Charlottenburg, Bleibtreustraße 4
    P&T Berlin Charlottenburg, Bleibtreustraße 4

    Paper and Tea’s First Location

    Specialty tea elitists founded Paper & Tea (P&T) in 2012. Instead of locating their first storefront along Berlin’s busy Ku’damm (Kurfürstendamm), they chose Bleibtreustrasse in the quiet, affluent Charlottenburg neighborhood. Charlottenburg, established in 1705, was an independent city until 1920 and is known for its elegant, historic architecture and high-end boutiques.

    P&T was never “staid” in the British connotation, manifesting in stores like the fabled Fortnum & Mason (founded 1707). Nor did P&T feature the popular apothecary-like retail “walls of tea” consisting of large tins from which tea was weighed and dispensed. The selection of paper products (notebooks, art prints, greeting cards, and pencils) conveyed a premium shopping experience.

    P&T’s Berlin staff differentiated the store in a crowded market by brilliantly curating handcrafted teas from distant tea lands. The tea was displayed on shallow trays in small glass boxes, inviting consumers to sniff the aroma and study the dry leaf before sampling.

    Reviewer Aarti Mehta-Kroll, in the publication Slow Travel Berlin, wrote in 2013 that the one-year-old P&T was one of Berlin’s “classiest tea houses,” likening the décor to that of a natural history museum.

    She wrote that “ethically produced ceramics from Japan and Taiwan” are displayed on brightly lit minimalist shelves.

    Notes describe each tea’s origin and unique characteristics. Tea is sold in 9, 20, 45, and 95-gram portions at prices that range from 8 to 60 Euros for 100 grams. “Korean teas are amongst the more expensive ones as they are mainly produced for local markets and are difficult to import,” she writes.

    “In addition to the pure teas, one can also find a selection of hand-flavored teas by local suppliers using natural ingredients. A third unique offering is the infusions: lavender, mint, green rooibos, and ginger,” she wrote.

    P&T’s catalog presented a winning combination, then and now.

    Canadian Jens de Gruyter founded the company, and Thomas Langnickel-Stiegler was the chief tea expert in 2013.

    BIZ INSIGHT — There are fine tea shops in every major city in Germany, with 3,804 tea companies in total. Berlin accounts for 8% market share (303 companies). Hamburg follows with 208 companies and a 5% market share. Consumers purchase 12.4% of the country’s tea at local and chain shops, including TeeGschewendner and Tee Ronnefeldt. Food retailers and discount stores hold a 57.5% market share, according to Deutscher Tee & Kräutertee Verband. In contrast, in the US, 80% of tea is purchased at grocery outlets, and only 7% of tea is sold at specialist tea retailers, according to German-based Statista market research. — Dan

    Photos courtesy Eduardo Molina and Paper and Tea, Berlin

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    Episode 144 | Paper & Tea’s lofty ceilings and large windows have a captivating effect on passersby attracted to their brightly lit interiors, colorful displays, and a wide variety of fine teas to sample. Eduardo Molina, Head of Tea Experience at P&T, explains, “Our main idea, when somebody steps into one of our stores, is for customers to live an experience they will always remember — an experience they will share with others.”

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