Since its inception ten years ago DAVIDsTEA, now the largest tea chain in North America, has popularized the herbal category and continuously introduced merchandising innovations that greatly influenced tea retail.
David Segal, then in his 20s and his elder cousin Herschel Segal, then in his 70s, opened their first tea shop in the fall of 2008 in Toronto’s Queen West neighborhood. David, a McGill University commerce graduate with a flair for marketing, sought to modernize the industry’s apothecary atmosphere with something stylish, streamlined and suited to malls. At the time, tea cafes were the haunt of French aficionados, or British-inspired with dark wood, silver service and delicate porcelain. Authentic Asian teas were only seen in dim sum hideaways.
The team picked teal as their corporate identity and built a bar tended counter in front of a wall of bright tea canisters that “made it North American and modern,” said David. Herschel’s daughter Sarah was enthusiastic about herbals and Herschel Segal, who founded the Le Chateau clothing chain in 1959, understood that unique merchandise would be critical to success. A second shop opened in Montreal in 2009 and in 2011 the company expanded to New York City, eventually operating 75 U.S. locations.
Bulk tea and brewing accessories make up the majority of DAVIDsTEA sales, “We’re focused on retail; people buy our products and take them home,” David told Canadian Business magazine.
The first store, subleased from a prime retail location held by Le Chateau, immediately turned a profit. DAVIDsTEA has since expanded to 240 locations in Canada and the U.S. and offers more than 150 teas. In June 2015 the company went public. David left the company in 2016 to launch a chain of salad shops called the Mad Radish and Herschel now runs DAVIDsTEA.
Since its founding DAVIDsTEA has introduced market-first products like a portable matcha maker, tea press and quick-release steeper. A selection of teas to pair with cigars was packaged in cigar tubes and the Advent Calendar offered new tea selection for the 24 days before Christmas.
The Perfect Spoon
The classic British teaspoon is shallow, oval and short. Large volume loose leaf teas and blends with larger floral and fruit inclusions just didn’t fit well into the 1/6 fluid ounce bowl. The tip is positioned high, and the handle of the spoon unsteady. It is better suited to stirring than measuring the correct amount of tea. The remedy was a spoon in two sizes, one to make a mug of tea and the other, with a larger bowl and broad handle, was of sufficient volume to make a pot.
The spoon is a terrific innovation. It encouraged tea drinkers to double the teabag’s 3-gram dose of fannings, leading to a better tasting cup. The spoon also simplified preparation of blends like Forever Nuts and Mother’s Little Helper. DAVIDsTEA blenders used this utensil to standardize offerings. It was the first of many merchandising items introduced to brighten and simplify the often-messy task of making tea.
As the company grew David Segal told Canadian Business, “There’s a huge market for coco-chai rooibos and chocolate mint and crème brûlée, and we’ve sort of embraced that.” Popular flavors include Read My Lips, a chocolate mint dessert tea that sells alongside China Dragonwell and Japanese Sencha Ashikubo.
Sarah returned to the company this fall as vice president of product development and innovations, after creating Squish Candy. She continues to test the boundaries of blending with a 10th Anniversary Collection that includes a clever Sachet Tea Wheel with 12 teas organized by flavor: minty, floral, fruity, Earl Grey, spicy and sweet.
“Our knowledgeable tea masters ensure that every tea blend we introduce is curated with the most authentic selection of loose-leaf tea from the gardens of Nepal, India, China, and from around the world,” said Nathalie Binda, vice president of marketing. “Every day, our team strives to deliver above-and-beyond experiences that take our customers on a journey of discovery.”
While the company continues to offer loose leaf in tins, many products are conveniently packed in pyramid sachets. “It seems simple, but when we introduced our first sachets – using the best whole leaf teas and big ingredient pieces – our customers went nuts,” according to the company.
In 2010 the company introduced a biodegradable draw-string filter that lets tea drinkers scoop their own tea and seal it tight, a very useful aid when making iced teas at double-strength.
“Over the last 10 years, DAVIDsTEA has created a close community of tea lovers that have embraced our brand and products with great passion,” said Binda.
Eden Grinshpan is a television personality and celebrity chef and graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in London with a “Grande Diplome” in both pastry and cuisine. Her Eden Eats show on the Cooking Channel reveals a love of tea. Partnering with Dilly Dietz, manager of tea research and development at DAVIDsTEA, the pair inspired a menu of unique tea pairings for a celebratory feast at Thompson Hotel Rooftop in Toronto.
Dishes included an apricot glazed lamb paired with an organic Nepal black tea. The finale was a tea-infused dessert, which featured a Forever Nuts glaze over ice cream and sticky toffee pudding.
“Tea is an incredibly versatile ingredient and I love incorporating tea in my recipes,” said Grinshpan. DAVIDsTEA’s vast selection of blends lend perfectly to sweet and savoury dishes, cocktails and pair wonderfully with all aspects of a meal, she said. The recipes for cocktails, appetiser, entrée and dessert are available at Steep Thoughts.