Luhse Tea is an online tea company set up by Mindy Ferris and Brittney Wholihan, a mother and daughter team who spent many years travelling the world together. Now firmly back in the US, they set up their dream company with one goal in mind – to change the face of tea in America!
What made you decide to set up Luhse Tea?
When my husband recently retired from military service, we'd lived in 4 different countries, and moved house 25 times. As we travelled, my daughter and I discovered tea in places like Britain, the Middle East, and all over Europe and we fell in love with the taste and the ceremony of it. There are so many cultural ways to enjoy tea, and we wanted to share them with everyone we met.
My grandfather owned restaurants, and my father ran a blues bar, so I grew up in the food industry. Once we settled, I felt like my time had finally come.
Why loose leaf tea?
In America, tea was never on the agenda. I always offered it and was met with confused disdain, a look that said "But only grandmothers drink tea!" We want to let people know that tea is not just about scones and clotted cream, the 18 to 25 year olds in the Middle East sit around and talk and have tea but in the US its not seen as being energetic. But tea does have a lot of caffeine in it. You don't crash with tea the way you do with coffee, it's less highs and lows, its more of a steady release and a great alternative.
Why loose leaf? It's just is so customisable. When you use a tea bag, you get what the tea company decides in terms of strength and quality. You can't put say, a green and a white tea together, and make it as strong or weak as you like, the way you can with coffee. But with loose leaf, anything is possible.
Did you feel there was a gap in the market?
There's a very obvious gap – we just need to make people see it. In the Middle East, every age demographic drinks tea so why not in the US? Maybe the Boston tea party had something to do with it! America is obsessed with youth and because tea seems like an "old lady" drink, they don't think it's cool. By using a fun type of marketing and branding, we're trying to create an experience, an undercover movement that allows people to see tea as exciting (which we think it is!)
Okay – so tell us about your Prohibition-era style animated branding
Well, we wanted to market ourselves in an unforgettable way, and since the idea of tea is still a bit taboo, we thought it might be fun to make the comparison in our marketing campaign. Initially, it began with a joke about trying to explode teabags – we wanted to video tealeaves flying everywhere – but we decided we shouldn't Google "mini explosives" just in case!
Lots of people tried to steer us away from the idea of the exploding teabag, or animation and we just felt in our hearts that it was right, it would get us noticed, and it represents who we are. We're so glad we didn't listen because when we met our designer and he created our website, we realized that all you need is the right collaborator who understands your vision.
Have you been successful in starting a new conversation about tea?
We're getting there! We started Luhse Tea in December 2011, and in January 2012 we featured on awards.com as site of the day, which was huge for us. We got a great rating, it drove lots of traffic to our site, and the Twitter feedback was immense. Shortly after, Shopify blogged about us on Valentine's Day and put us on their examples page. And then, of course, we won the Tell MOO About You competition! We've put our winnings towards buying even more branded packaging for our products.
In April, we were very lucky to be included in the Business Incubation Program through the University of Central Florida, and we have been in classes with a lot of tech start ups – you could see that they thought a tea company was a bit odd! But it's invite only so that was a big coup for us, and we've learned a lot.
What have your customers said?
The little yellow teapot, who is a huge tea blogger, loved our site and is going to start using our spelling of loose! The fact that such a leading industry voice is saying yes to us helps us feel like the new conversation is starting to sink in.
We also get a lot of compliments from male customers who like our slightly masculine branding and have started to drink tea rather than coffee because we've persuaded them to give it a try.
What's next for Luhse Tea?
Right now we are ecommerce, and we sell loose leaf tea and a special spice blend. We also publish weekly recipes for cooking, that are really quick to make. Recently I had an email from someone in the tea industry who wants to be a part of our future plans (which include a Speakeasy Tea Shop), which was really encouraging. We're also going to start making and selling our own branded accessories for tea.