Tea for All Seasons

SEATTLE, Wash.

If you had to pick a season that best embodies Remedy Teas, it would have to be spring. It could be bright green walls that defy the dank Seattle weather or the light streaming in from floor-length windows or the rows and rows of bright, white tea containers that hold the shop’s 150 organic teas.

From the test tubes of loose leaf tea (for sniffing) that line one wall to the lazy Susan twirling on the counter with cups of morning and evening tea samples calling out for a taste, this Capitol Hill tea shop not only invites, it draws customers to its happy home. Owner Anthony Arnold describes his 1,600-square foot shop as a contemporary, urban tea retailer and cafe. “It’s more than a teahouse,” he says. “The original idea was to make it more of a cafe and reflect that same culture found in the coffee world.”

Tempo of Tea

Arnold and owners, wife A.J., and his brother Chris, each day observe their shop’s predictable pattern. It reflects both the neighborhood’s character and the rhythm of tea. Tea generally starts later in the morning with a few diehards arriving at 7 a.m. It’s due to the more gentle nature of the drink, according to Arnold. Foot traffic ramps up all day. A bustling lunch business sets the tone for the remainder of the day. From 2 p.m. to closing, the shop is packed, and the energy shifts from calm and meditative to buzzing and animated. Long days that begin at 7 a.m. and end at 11 p.m., provide ample opportunity for Arnold and staff to court their customers.

Customers from the progressive patch of Seattle spend an average $12-$14 for cafe and retail pieces combined. A generous display of teaware dominated by For Life and Bodum items keep tea lovers happy outside of the shop. Arnold sees a fair amount of customers stocking their offices with teaware to prepare their beverages off-site. He sees it as a sign of tea enculturation creeping into our coffee-powered society.

Bunn water boilers help brew tea to Remedy Teas high standards at low temperature for greens, medium temperatures for whites and oolongs and high temperatures for herbals and black teas. Fine filters from For Life keep tea leaves where they belong. A signature Remedy look adorns the wooden tables– wire stand tea warmers set over small votives that keep tea just warm enough to sip for a long spell. Customers wrap their hands around double-walled, light-as-a-feather, glass mugs.

Good for You

Remedy Teas wasn’t named on a whim. Health is on the menu in a “come-hither” rather than an “eat-your-spinach” tone. It’s no surprise that Immunitea (#85) is a top seller followed by Early Grey Cream (#72) and their functional Wellness tea blends (#01-10).

Tea also gets gussied up with herbs and spices for immune-boosting tonics that Remedy regulars make a beeline toward.  Their TNT Detox mixes turmeric, chili, ginger, lemon and honey to warm and cleanse the coldest body. A cider and hibiscus warmer is another choice to deflect the vagaries of the Pacific Northwest weather. These seasonal drinks join a menu of greens, whites, pu-erhs, oolongs, herbals, blacks, roobios, botanicals and yerba mates that add up to 150 organic tea choices. If a customer can’t find what they want from that list, there are always tea smoothies, lattes and, the espresso of green tea, matcha.

The food menu is equally comprehensive. Healthy with enough gourmet flair to make it a foodie destination, Remedy Teas’ menu includes the requisite tea sandwich selection with a Cucumber Classic alongside a Nutella Crisp. Salads, soups, oatmeal, and granola, round out the menu with a thoughtfully crafted kid’s selection for the finicky taker of tea. Full tea service is offered all day replete with scones and jam, truffles and other treats. Serving and selling loose leaf tea makes up about 70% of overall sales, with food reflecting about half of that number.

Staying True to the Brand

Approached by Whole Foods Market to develop a retail tea line, Arnold and owners, wrestled with how to sell a high-quality tea at grocery store prices. “We chose to sell what we sell at Remedy Tea and not meet a lower price point. “We’ve been blown away by the [positive] response of the Whole Foods customers.”

Their commitment to product quality is the main reason they haven’t aggressively pushed further into the grocery channel. “We love working with people one-on-one, turning them on to tea, having them smell and taste it, and watch them enjoy it. It’s a personal connection that we treasure,” Arnold explains. “You lose that in grocery. Yet it was a great experience to get out on the shelves in front of more people.”

Arnold chalks up the experience as a useful lesson in not getting to far away from the essence of your business. Remedy Teas is now found in several of the regions’ stores in white tinned containers with vivid floral, herbal and tea leaf photography.

Uncharted Waters

Online was a frontier that Remedy initially resisted but has wholeheartedly embraced as of late. “We have greatly expanded our social media presence, with Facebook and Twitter accounts, which have happily surprised us,” Arnold says. “Since so much of our work is based on one-on-one sharing of the tea experience, it felt impersonal at first.” Today, Arnold and Remedy owners feel like their community of tea aficionados has grown and provided more opportunities for connection, not less.

Their online marketplace is also a new addition. This revenue stream contributes roughly 10 percent to overall sales. About 90 percent of their online business hails from out of state, the result of far-flung friends and families of Remedy Teas fans.

A healthy wholesale stream sees Remedy Teas’ programs in restaurants, spas, and coffee shops, in the Northwest, New York, Sun Valley and California. Yet the same amount of intention is applied here as to other aspects of the business. “We cherry pick our wholesale clientele and don’t let it overwhelm the business,” Arnold says. Select Tom Douglas restaurants in Seattle and Maria Hines of Tilth fame (the country’s first organic restaurant) are Remedy Teas’ clients. They have also created spa tea lines and local Two Beers Brewery recently infused one of their brews with Remedy Teas Floraberry tea (#102).

Following spring’s anthem of growth and potential, Remedy Teas continues to grow and stretch while holding tight to their fundamental mission.

Organic: A Personal Philosophy

Arnold’s commitment to an all-organic line of teas is natural for the owner/entrepreneur who embraces the organic lifestyle personally and professionally. It makes social, economic and health sense for Arnold. If pesticides are used on tea, they stay on the tea. You can’t wash tea. “If you are choosing a beverage for health, why would you put chemicals on the tea if there is a choice not to do it?” he wonders.

Some argue it’s a challenge to find good-tasting organic tea. Yet Arnold amiably disagrees. “Every year we find more and more organic farms. Six years ago it was harder to find organically grown tea,” he explains. “It takes more research. You have to be prepared to taste thousands of teas.”

Kathleen Finn is a Portland resident and frequent contributor to World Tea News.

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