Sunday, April 11, 2010

Cha Dao Tea

Recently I was at Met Mart and strolled past the counter on the side of the deli where they usually have taste tests of various recipes and new products.  That particular day it was Cha Dao Tea, which is brewed in Seattle.  I stopped for my free sample and would up chatting with an enthusiastic intern named Matt about local foods.

Matt eventually asked if I'd be interested in chatting with Cha Dao's founder, Ghim, about the teas.  Frankly, I thought it was more an issue of whether Ghim would be interested in talking with me!

Turns out he was.  And thus my first interview as a blogger was born (omg I typed that as "globber" 3 times in a row... helloooo 2nd glass of wine!).

Before I continue, let me say that I didn't get anything for doing this interview other than a few minutes of Ghim's time and a few half-ounce cups of Cha Dao Tea at Met Mart.  Matt did give me a bottle of tea at Met Mart but I think he was hitting on me (just kidding, Matt).

Jenn: What challenges had you faced in today's recession in terms of growing Cha Dao Tea as a brand?
Ghim: (big pause) I thought this was an interview about local foods.

J: (I laughed and explained.)  It is.  Except that I used to work for the UW business school in Seattle and one of my former colleagues wanted me to ask you that.  He also wanted to know what lessons you will take forward as the economy gets better.
G: Oh, OK.  By far it's a questions of capital.  In this recession, all of the capital has dried up.  It's extremely hard to do marketing and product development because nobody is investing.  Going forward my lesson learned is to be better capitalized before starting a small business.

J: I'm curious.  You've developed flavors that are new to the American palate, like the tea/coffee mix and the herbal chrysanthemum.  How did you pick these flavors and then develop them for this market? (holy crap, I've worked for business schools too long, eh?)
G: I didn't want to be just another bottled tea product.  I'm originally from Singapore and these are flavors I grew up with so I thought that I could offer a unique flavor profile to Americans to experience.  These are really commons flavors in Asia and I thought that the cultural melting pot in Seattle would be open to them.

J: Why Seattle, versus other distribution centers?  I noticed that you ship your teas as far away as Texas.
G: Seattle is where I've made my home.  When I was researching business opportunities, I didn't find a bottled tea that I liked so I decided to create one.  In addition, the Seattle market is very open to and aware of locally made products.

J: One thing I struggle with as I make choices about what is local is the issue of whether a food whose ingredients are not local can be considered local if it's assembled here.  For example, if I make homemade bread from flour I get at the store, is it local?
G: There are no tea plantations in the USA.  If there were, we would source our tea leaves from the USA.  I import all my tea leaves [from Asia], which are very light.  By weight, 99.9% of our product is water from Seattle.  The carbon footprint of our teas is lower than a tea that was made across the country.  All of our teas are brewed here in Seattle right now and some are shipped as far as Texas by various distributors.  Our goal is to have multiple bottling locations as we grow in size.

J: Do you have a favorite?  What's open on your desk right now? 
G: Do you have kids?  Picking my favorite would be like choosing a favorite child.  When I drink which flavor depends upon the time of day.  For example, I might drink the oolong or the sencha in the morning and have the chrysanthemum in the evening because it doesn't have any caffeine.  After a meal I would probably have the Yin-Yang or jasmine.

J: Any parting words?
G: Think of us as the Odwalla of tea.  We're the freshest bottled tea.  Our teas are never concentrated or made from concentrate, they're always chilled (no presevatives, so they're not shelf-stable), and we put an expiration date of 100 days on every bottle. 


I liked the teas that I tried.  They're made with cane sugar rather than HFCS.  The teas are not grotesquely sweet a la Snapple.  I didn't try the coffee-tea mix called Yin-Yang because it was not a flavor mix that appealed to me.  My favorite, which I found to be really drinkable and refreshing, was the herbal chyrsanthemum.  It was slightly floral but not like you'd been hit upside the head with a bouquet of flowers.  It's very nice.

I did seek out Cha Dao teas the last time I was a Met Mart.  Unfortunately I experienced some sticker shock: $2.49/bottle.


I thought about asking Ghim about the price point but figured that the answer would be that cold-brewed, locally bottled, high quality tea is expensive to make and distribute, and that the profit margins were slim on products like this.

Overall, the teas are good.  Light, fresh, and crisp.  I wish they cost less but I suppose that can't be helped too much.

As for me, I'll probably keep drinking my Washington State wine... [hic!]

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