My love of business has been with me from the time I was a child. But my love of the tea business was planted back in 2004, when we began investigating it in earnest. I now have a stake in two tea companies and we are hoping to expand our current tea business in several areas. So, when I heard about a company in Canada called Teaopia and saw its tremendous growth, my interest was piqued. I knew there had to be an interesting story behind it…and there is. In fact, the founder, David Bellisario, was kind enough to tell his story to me (and you) below. It shows that, even when the finances to grow a company exist, it still takes outrageous dedication and hard work to build any enterprise. Enjoy the Teaopia story in David’s own words:
Tea is amazing. It takes on the character of the earth, it’s grown in the fragrance of the mountain air, and it’s the spirit of the babbling brook. Whether it is steamed and dried, oxidized partially or fully, it is infused with the personality of the tea master.
My name is David Bellisario, Founder and President of Teaopia, Canada’s premier loose-leaf tea retailer. I was first introduced to loose-leaf tea in February 2005. I have to be honest – it was flavoured tea. Not long afterwards, we had some friends over for dinner. After dinner we said, “No coffees tonight; we’re having tea.” We put tea on the table and everybody loved it. Half of the group said they always drink tea…but from a tea bag. A couple weeks later, we had another group of friends over for dinner with the same reaction and comments. The next morning, I was checking emails and decided to google “loose-leaf tea.” I almost fell off my chair – there were hundreds of sites! I couldn’t believe it – tea was the second most consumed beverage in the world next to water and I knew nothing about it. That’s when the entrepreneurial juices started to flow.
It was now May of 2005. I decided I would open up a tea store…hopefully a chain of stores. I already had a full-time job running the family business – a chain of gift stores in major shopping centres across Canada. So there was only one choice – work on the new tea concept from 11:00 PM-4:00 AM, grab a couple hours of sleep, and then go back to the responsibility of running the chain of family gift stores. This continued until December 12, 2005, when the first Teaopia store opened. Today there are 29 corporately owned stores across Canada. By the end of this year, there will be 33. Teaopia plans on opening 6–10 stores a year in Canada and we are entertaining development deals outside Canada.
What makes Teaopia tea special? First of all, our tea is based on the EU standard, one of the strictest in the world when it comes to quality and traceability. Our tea buyers not only visit the tea gardens multiple times a year, but have strong personal relationships with the owners, which ensures consistent high quality and the opportunity to get rare and unique teas like our “White Butterfly”. Teaopia is totally committed to maintaining consistent and high-quality tea. We would rather be out of stock than to compromise and settle on poorer quality. The base teas used for our flavoured greens and blacks are premium-quality, organic blends unique to Teaopia.
I also took a wonderful trip to Kyoto, Japan with my daughter. We enjoyed a tea ceremony at the birth house of Sohen Nagatani, recognized as the birthplace of Japanese green tea in 1738. Prior to that, matcha was only drunk by the shogun or nobility, and Bancha (Houjicha) was drunk by all others. We visited the garden where we get our high-quality, direct-trade matcha. This garden is in the same valley where tea was first planted in 1271.
When my tea journey began, I had no idea where it would lead me. I never expected to fall in love with tea, but I have. By the way, my favourite tea is oolong. It never ceases to amaze me how tea gardens majestically twist, shape, and roll the leaf to bring out the fragrant nuances of the garden. I drink it everyday.