Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Mighty Leaf introduces whole leaf
tea packed in hand-sewn silk pouches
Want to get a retail price of $42.00 per 100 teabags? Want to see a beautiful teabag product that lies silky smooth in your hand and the urge to feel it is as strong as the urge to brew it? Well, the Mighty Leaf Tea Company has done exactly that. Shunning teabag paper, CTC teas – partners in life and business – husband and wife team, Gary Shinner and Jill Portman, have launched a whole leaf tea packed in hand-sewn silk pouches.
Native Chicagoans, Portman and Shinner first discovered the pleasures of whole leaf tea in 1990 while they were shopping for their engagement rings in Chicago’s Diamond District. “The jeweler served us whole leaf oolong tea that was absolutely delicious, “ recalls Gary. “My first reaction was ‘wow,’ it was the first time both of us had tasted tea of such high quality.” That first taste of oolong sparked their passion for fine tea. During the next two years, Jill and Gary slowly developed their interest in tea; first rare estate teas and then blended teas – whole leaf tea combined with botanicals, fruits and other flavors – which they discovered during their travels in Europe. At the time, Gary and Jill were self-described workaholics. They both wanted a change of pace. So, they quit their jobs, packed up their wagon and moved out West to tackle the tea frontier.
In 1993, they started researching the tea market. To continue their tea education, Gary and Jill traveled to Europe for intensive study with a master tea blender. After three years of tireless research, study, blending and tasting, they prepared for the launch of Tea & Company World Tea House on Fillmore Street in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights. The teahouse opened in 1996 and became a Mecca for tea lovers. This teahouse, in fact, became a lab, where Jill and Gary received firsthand customer feedback, which has proved invaluable for business. It is also where they perfected their distinctive tea blends and developed their innovative Tea Pouch and Tea Top Lid.
What Jill and Gary found troubling was that while consumer awareness and appreciation for fine estate and blended teas was increasing, the chances were slim of getting a perfectly brewed pot or cup of tea in a food service environment. “Chefs and restauranteurs were coming to us to develop their tea programs and train their staff on the basics of tea and how to prepare and serve it,” says Jill.
After realizing the need to improve the quality of tea used and served by hotels, restaurants, cafes and other foodservice establishments, they decided to close Tea & Company in January 2000 in order to devote their full attention to their wholesale division, known as Mighty Leaf Teas. At Mighty Leaf, Gary and Jill simplified tea selection by recreating the whole leaf tea experience nicely packaged in a teabag. “After running a busy restaurant, we knew the challenges restauranteurs faced,” says Gary. This insider’s knowledge helped them in developing the Mighty Leaf Tea Pouch, a sachet-like clear silk mesh bag filled with their most popular varieties of loose whole leaf tea blends. “The clear mesh Tea Pouch’s size and durability allows for full flavor expansions of the tea,” says Jill. “In addition, the mesh’s open weave allows for virtually free-flowing water to surround the leaves while they steep.” Mighty Leaf Tea Pouches are sealed in foil overwraps to ensure freshness. Gary and Jill found that conventional paper teabags couldn’t accommodate their whole leaf tea blends nor did they allow for full flavor expansion. Instead they use a clear food grade silky mesh for their tea pouch.
At the teahouse, Jill and Gary discovered that the majority of their customers made their selections not based on flavor, but on caffeine preference. So they color coded packaging to indicate caffeine level (purple = more caffeine, green = less caffeine, yellow = no caffeine), tea category ( purple = black tea, green = green tea, yellow = herbal ), and flavor identification.
To complement their tea pouch, Gary and Jill designed and patented the Tea Top lid and disposable paper cup – a traveling teapot – for use with the Mighty Leaf Tea Pouch. The Tea Pouch string is threaded through a second hole in the Tea Top lid’s raised compartment so that when the tea is done steeping, one simply pulls up on the string to lift the pouch out of the liquid and enjoy the beverage. This design eliminates the undesirable over steeped tea taste. The Mighty Leaf Tea Pouches come in 14 varieties of black, green, and herbal blends including Organic Darjeeling Choice Estate, Green Tea Tropical, Chamomile Citrus, and African Nectar, made from the Southern African herb rooibos.
Mighty Leaf Tea is now available in a number of locations including retail outlets, many hotels and fancy restaurants. While it wasn’t the partners’ first intent to enter the retail market, the constant requests for a take home version of their unique product created a demand. In fact, their introduction into the retail market helped sales increase from 10% to 23% within one year. From the tea selection to the silky wrapping to the tea top lid, Mighty Leaf Tea delivers a delicious cup of tea.
Mighty Leaf Tea Company
136 Mitchell Blvd.
San Rafael, CA 94903
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