This is a tough article to write. I am so torn with regard to “chain store style” tea vendors. The best thing to do here seems to be to stick with just talking about who the people are behind this company and some other info for you, the tea drinker, to know before you dive into trying their teas or to enhance your enjoyment of the teas from their stores or online shop that you already love. I’ll address the “chain store” issue in another article.
First, the founder is David Segal, who founded the company in 2008 (after having been in the tea business in one capacity or another since 1987) and aggressively grew the company across Canada to a chain of tea shops and around 500 employees.
There is no shortage of press releases about the founder and the company. Whoever is doing their PR is very busy. I had to really hunt to flesh out more genuine appraisals of the teas, the tea shop experience, and the company in general. The big issue I kept seeing online was about tea store staff who weren’t that knowledgeable about tea. Chalk that up to a too fast expansion. The other issue is with shipments, which don’t seem to be accurately filled and shipped in all cases. A third is that the tea flavors smell nice but steep up weaker than expected.
Several sites started out with a review of the company, but commenters soon turned to talking about how much better the teas were at this store and how much more knowledgeable the staff was at that store. These were often replied to by things like “You’re nuts” or “I love their teas!”, both of which sound like employees wrote them. When reviews either degrade into a discussion of how much commenters prefer a competitor’s products or start to sound like they were written by employees of the company originally being discussed, that company had better listen. Bad reviews are just as useful as good reviews.
Basically, this company is just another tea vendor trying to make tea what it is not: a jumbled up mess of wild flavor combinations. Educating the consumer seems to be far from their minds, as it is with many other large tea vendors. (The founder calls “rooibos” by the term “tea.”) They promote their flavored concoctions as “hip tea.”
I should state here “To each his own” – I seem to need to keep repeating this since I get comments from people saying things like how dare I try to tell others what a tea vendor should or should not be.
The founder is definitely having success with this approach, which reflects more on the tea drinkers out there than on his business acumen. I am not a big business mogul because I can’t just give people what they want, I’d rather try to help them learn and better appreciate teas through that knowledge. It seems that to be wildly successful such matters need to be eschewed totally in favor of the expediency of throwing out there whatever appeals to the lowest common denominator.
The company makes good use of social media, including Twitter and Facebook, and are quick to post a bunch of positive comments to counter anything negative said about them, whether those negatives are warranted or not. It sort of takes away from the value of comments, which may be their true intention: make all comments seem untrustworthy because of the obviously fake positives.
My buddy, Little Yellow Teapot, and his Tea Gang will be reviewing samples of three green teas they sent. I can guarantee loyal readers that the reviews won’t pull any punches. There are enough tea review sites out there that “scrub” the low-rated reviews (after a time or two of getting a review scrubbed, the reviewer learns to give the tea being tried a high rating no matter what – makes the whole process seem useless). Just giving the company a fair warning here. Quite frankly, though, judging by the teas they sent (not an odd flavoring in sight), I am very hopeful of a good taste experience. Maybe along with their flavor collections like “Summer” and “Fall” they can have more like the one they sent me (3 green teas called “Orient Express”).
Watch for my upcoming article about “chain store” style tea shops versus tearooms that have a more intimate feel and like to educate their customers about tea.