Featured Company: Utopian Tea
Q – What’s the history behind the company, how did you get your start?
A – Utopian Tea is relatively new, as far as our site going live this April, 2010, however planning started about 9 months prior, sometime in 2009. As someone who has had an entrepreneurial mindset and experience since the age of 10, I’ve put years of reading all of the business magazines, books, practices, and past experiences into full gear the past few years, trying my hand at looking for something about to get big, specific to this day in age, where creating a business on that something would put myself ahead of the game, before it’s too late.
Last summer, I realized that that something is one thing I’ve always loved, loose leaf tea. I was on a roll, ready to learn the business end of the tea industry – I spent months learning about every single wholesale tea company I could find in America & Asia. I talked to owners of a local tea bar about their sources of teas. After learning more about them and actually finding myself talking to actual individual tea plantation owners (some of which are not at all fluent in English), it was an easy choice to stay far away from wholesalers, and only do business with real tea providers in Asia, directly from the plantation. During this time, I tested several teas that American-based online tea companies offer, and decided that I’d only obtain higher quality tea, for competitive advantage, and simply to only provide excellent product to fellow tea enthusiasts.
I also created my second tea site, TeaHacker, that would exist for several reasons, mainly to force myself to research tea to an even deeper level, while sharing my finding with new and seasoned tea enthusiasts. Once I narrowed down the samples I’ve received from my chosen tea providers, I was ready to order several kilograms of the highest quality of each type of tea I found would suit best as the first wave of teas to start Utopian Tea. I develop my own sites, and learning the ins and outs of an e-commerce style site while applying psychological understanding to the design details was a project all of its own. After nearly a year of gathering information and putting it into use, Utopian Tea was born.
Q – Where are you located?
A – We’re based in Charlotte, NC and the surrounding area of Lake Norman. The behind-the-scenes work takes place in a few prime spots around here, whether it’s the facilities we store the tea (long-term & short-term locations), which of us are packaging tea for the given week, maintaining the website, and keeping relationships at full with our great tea providers. I take care of making sure that everyone who orders our teas has the best experience and speedy shipping.
Q – From what Country’s do you get your tea from?
A -Our current oolong & green teas come from plantations based in the Fujian Province & Wuyi Mountains in China. We’ve got plans to expand our tea selection, and depending on which kinds we choose, new locations will be added to this list.
Q – What are some of the difficulties with selling tea?
A – The biggest difficulty isn’t so much the actual selling of tea, but the fact that tea is an international industry, communicating with tea suppliers in Asia isn’t as efficient as it would be working with American tea suppliers, primarily due to language and time differences. Collaborating a new purchase of certain teas from certain suppliers, or building relationships with new plantations can be a tedious and timely process. It’s a game of its own, really. Luckily, I’m fascinated with this type of interactions, seeing that there’s so much to learn, and they’re always very well-prepared, professional, and very happy to let us sample new teas before we buy them. It’s well worth the extra effort, since tea quality is extraordinarily high-grade.
Q – What does everyone order?
A – Our oolongs sell more than the greens we now offer, but everyone simply orders what they are more into on a personal level. Since everyone has their different tastes and expectations, some claim our Green Spiral or White Monkey Paw teas are their favorite teas for life, while others say the same about our oolongs. Our tea’s are very special in their own ways, however our premium grade Iron Goddess of Mercy has gained the most hype as most peoples’ favorite.
Q – What is the companies mission?
A – Utopian Tea’s purpose is to provide two things better than anyone else: Exceptional Service, and Premium Quality Tea, at better prices. Modernizing tea, while helping people ensue a minimalist approach towards tea, as well as life, is another goal. Too many companies have fairly mediocre tea, bought from American wholesalers, wrapped in commercialized, flashy packaging, given a catchy name, then sold for a price well beyond the actual tea’s worth. These places target consumers who don’t know better. We do the opposite – provide the highest quality tea in very simple, minimalist & eco-friendly pouches, keeping the price of our better stuff easily accessible. This is to keep focus on the actual tea itself, without any unnecessary distraction. We simply obsess about providing excellent, sometimes surprising service to fellow tea enthusiasts, while inviting more people who are new to this wave of tea culture.
I’ve personally been amazed by green tea in 1st grade, when our teacher brought back some sencha and steeped some for our entire class, and shared about her trip to Japan and some history on tea. I was fascinated with tea at an early age, and since then I’ve been in-the-know about this sub-culture of Asian tea, direct from the source. Now I enjoy providing this tea at Utopian Tea, and sharing what tremendous teas we’ve come across.
Thanks for giving me the opportunity to answer your questions and share some of our culture at Utopian Tea.
– Stephen Wise
CEO of Utopian Tea