Recently I had the pleasure of trying out some teas from the Wendigo Tea Company based in Cincinnati. My review is coming, but in the meantime I had the opportunity to talk with the founder of the company, Sky White, who some of you may know from the band Foxy Shazam. While touring with his band from show to show, he realized that finding good tea is a lot harder than it should be.
From their website:
Most American tea drinkers LOVE TEA but don’t know that America is the dumping ground of the world’s bad tea. Many store-bought tea bags are filled with ground-up old, bad, or dead bits that fall off of the good tea leaves, then are scented or flavored with fruit or herbs to improve the taste. (Kind of reminds you of fast food chicken nuggets, doesn’t it?)
I also realized that many of the places that had the teas I liked were way more expensive than they should be. Frustrated, I started buying my personal tea from the actual source overseas and shared it with my friends and family. The best teas (that soon became my favorites) can only be ordered and shipped in amounts that are way more than I could use. Thus Wendigo Tea Co. was born…
Wendigo Tea Co. is only about nine months old but has been growing steadily since it opened its digital doors in December of last year. They offer a handful of high-quality teas along with accessories to go with your brew of choice. For founder Sky White, it seems that creating this “beast” was inevitable:
T Ching: How long have you been drinking loose-leaf tea?
Sky White: I have been an avid tea drinker for a decade now. I remember in my late teens having my mind blown by the vastness of the world of tea and wanting to learn more.
TC: What brought you to the world of high-quality tea?
SW: It was years of traveling with my band that exposed me to hundreds of tea shops around the world. I would be playing a show in a city and have a few hours of downtime so I’d go hunting for anywhere within walking distance to buy good tea. Every once in a while I would stumble upon something really special. It just made me wonder why all tea wasn’t as good as these harder-to-find leaves. So I just became militant about trying to find the best stuff on the planet for myself to drink.
TC: What prompted you to start Wendigo Tea Company?
SW: Honestly, the best teas that I could find were either impossible to import in small quantities or so freaking expensive for just one person that it was a problem. I couldn’t let anything get between me and the tea so I started Wendigo Tea Co. and began buying my tea in 30-50 lb shipments.
SW: I knew I wanted something dark and mysterious. I loved the idea of using cryptids and supernatural beasts as a theme for my company. To capture the rarity and legendary status of the types of teas that I look for, it needed to be something horrible and mean that few people have heard of before. And also sound cool. As soon as I found the Wendigo I knew it was my beast. Part deer-headed protector of nature and part horrible monstrosity that makes you lose your mind, want to eat people, and slowly transform into a Wendigo yourself. : )
TC: What made you decide to look directly to the growers to source your tea?
SW: I look everywhere to source my tea. I prefer working with growers but end up going through export companies right next to the growers sometimes. They take on a bunch of the stress of shipping, customs, and EU/USDA regulations that me or the growers wouldn’t want to be doing. Finding people that are passionate about what they do is most important to me.
TC: How easy or difficult is it to get tea from the source? How did you choose where to source from?
SW: I usually start with a style of tea and some research showing which places have been growing it the longest or are historically the best. I google growers in the areas and check out tea textbooks and tea blogs to see if i can find any arrows pointing towards a truly special tea. Then I order as many samples as possible. Upon receiving them I don’t sleep for days because I have to try everything, and everything contains a bunch of caffeine. This process for every one of my teas takes 2-3 months.
TC: What is your approach to selling and promoting tea?
SW: Wendigo Tea Co. has already gotten way bigger than I have ever expected and I have only been selling for 9 months. I planned on just having a simple little online store. I am just letting the tea make the decisions for me right now and I am trying to keep up. I got thrown right into supplying tea for restaurants and currently have more interest in that than I am able to keep up with. I am beginning to be more active in events around Cincinnati to help my local brand recognition and traveling to find what places around the country would make sense to let the Wendigo loose.
TC: What is it that makes you different from other tea sellers?
SW: I just do exactly the opposite of other tea sellers. I don’t want to have 200 teas. I think most tea blends are silly. I don’t want to sell cheap teas because I don’t want to drink cheap teas. I don’t want to have a storefront. I don’t think of myself as trying to sell something. I’m simply sharing with you what I believe to be the best. I know what I have is better than everywhere in the US I have looked (200-300 shops), because if i could have found what i wanted I wouldn’t have needed to start this company to get the kinds of tea I want. There a lots of inherent problems with the standard tea shop business model that makes it hard for a tea lover in America to get the highest quality.
TC: There aren’t that many tea shops doing what you’re doing–specifically, trying to find a balance between selling high-quality tea and presenting tea in a fun way. Why did you decide to go about selling tea this way?
SW: Yeah, I don’t understand the thought vacuum for tea branding in America. Every other kind of business in the world relies on unique approaches to marketing and branding to make your company stand out. But there are literally thousands of tea companies with some sort of Eastern Mysticism motif, bamboo on the packaging, or some vaguely Asian font. Why on earth would so many people want to market the same way? Be special… Be important… Be creative… I have to thank my artist Mat Franklin for helping me bring all of my Wendigo Tea beasts to life.
TC: What are your future plans for Wendigo? What can we look forward to?
SW: Like I said before the tea is making the plans for me right now. I think I have created a monster and am just barely keeping up with it. I do have a few giant super secret distribution things I am working on now. You can look forward to Black Shuck Earl Grey coming really soon and I have hundreds of hours of research into a chai and an oolong so far. So those will be coming soon too.
TC: What is your favorite tea?
SW: Wendigo Green Tea is currently my favorite. I am so proud of that one.
TC: Anything else you’d like to say?
SW: I am honored that you wanted to interview me. I started this company having no idea what it took to start a tea business and referred to T Ching constantly when I needed some guidance.
If you’d like to find out more about Wendigo Tea Co. visit them on their website.