Inner Banks Tea Company

IBXteaSquare“You need to stop drinking coffee.”  This statement from a doctor in eastern North Carolina was the beginning of a quest that rang in the back of the head of Inner Banks Tea Co’s owner, Austin Smigel: “Find your inner tea.” Two years later, Inner Banks Tea Co., originally Inner Banks Tea and Spice Co., was founded.  Not known for its tea trade, Washington, North Carolina, located on the Pamlico River, is known for being a boating and recreation community; its laid back atmosphere and is as unlikely location for an internet start-up company as any other rural community in the US.

“ I was devastated over loosing one of the staples of my diet – coffee. I started to panic. How was this going to work?  Coffee and I go back over thirty years.   I love coffee and coffee loves me.”  Then the breakdown of the beverage began. Smigel mused, “Coffee: caffeinated, morning drink, afternoon drink, evening drink, has many flavors, etc… What would be a suitable and healthy alternative: water, too boring; carbonated beverages: too many chemicals; and tea: too high-brow, or is it?”  His quest began.

“I started with what I knew – Lipton individual tea bags and then went on a tea bender.”  After Lipton, the progression was one that has been followed many times by many tea drinkers before: Lipton, Biglow, Twinnings, Tetley, Celestial Seasonings, Tazo, Stash, etc…I could not find the tea for me,” Smigel said. “So after I exhausted the bagged teas, I went au-natural: loose.  After my first cup I knew this is where it was at.”

Soon after spending hundreds of dollars on loose tea from premium sites, sellers, and shops, Smigel thought there must be a better way to get what he was looking for at a decent price. He elaborates, “I broke down the prices of loose tea and was pretty sure that the tea farmers and laborers in India, Sri Lanka, and China were not multi-millionaires. Someone was making a killing off of these people. I wondered if they would sell me smaller quantities, but at a higher price paid directly to them.”

Inner Banks TeaAfter that revelation, Inner Banks Tea was born.  “I realized I was not the only one looking for high quality tea a fair price and after speaking with a coupe farms in Sri-Lanka and India, I realized they were more than willing to work with me because they were getting three to five times as much from me for their tea than the brokerage houses and tea auctions,” says Smigel.  He acknowledges that all tea is not the same, nor are people’s taste they research, locate, and buy very specific teas at their customers request. Inner Banks Tea

Now after three years of operation, Inner Banks Tea Co. imports relatively small amounts of tea per year in tea trade terms (less than 5 tons), but that is not important to them.  Currently, they sell approximately 58 different varieties in five independently operated stores and on-line based on what they can aquire.  Inner Banks Tea Co does not want to be in the top ten tea companies in the US but are comfortable with being anywhere between 11th and 47th – an inside joke among employees.

“We have no plans on being a huge importer, nor are we delusional enough to think we can compete with Adagio, Teavana, or The Republic of Tea.  All we want to do is help people as they find the right tea for them.  Help them ‘find their inner tea.’  If we are having fun, helping some tea farmers, small shop owners, or other tea sellers and buyers in the process, that is a win-win for all of us,” he concludes.

Learn more about Inner Banks Tea Co.