Sunday, March 20, 2011

Tea Business Spotlight 7 - Tao Tea Leaf

Tao Tea Leaf

Welcome to the seventh of our Tea Business Spotlights, in which we allow tea people to share insights on running their business. If you're a tea business owner and you'd like to take part in an upcoming spotlight, please contact us.

How long have you been in business?
We founded Tao Tea Leaf in September 2009, and have been working full time since December of the same year, when the retail store opened. We already had a rich background of knowledge when it came to tea, and a great relationship with the tea growers and vendors in China. And, of course, we did a lot of research before we started selling tea in Canada.

What is the size/scope of your business?
We are a small business in Toronto. We import the finest teas from China, Japan, India South America and Africa, but we focus on Chinese Tea. Our retail store, Tao Tea Leaf, is located in the fashionable Yorkville/Rosedale area of Toronto. From there, we showcase elegant tea wares, hold educational workshops, host tea ceremonies, celebrate cultural events and organize our Chinese Tea Culture Tour.

We have a professional Online Tea Store which is secure and easy to use. Take a quick look and you'll find it has a considerable selection of loose leaf tea and herbal teas, prompt shipping, great pictures and descriptions, and helpful customer reviews and rating. It's definitely user-friendly. What's more, we've also got our teas available in special sample-size pouches - Tao Tea Pouch. This convenient format allows the tea drinker to sample many varieties before choosing to move on to larger sizes. The online store also links to our Tea Education Blog, where you'll find our Tea Guide, Yixing Teapot Guide, Tea Tasting Event Calendar, and Tea Tour Information.

We also have a wholesale element to our business, which is why you'll find us at different events, such as the Canada Coffee & Tea Show, which we were happy to be a part of last year. In Canada, we're suppliers to a number of restaurants, tea shops, cafes and spas with fine teas. We are also planning to supply Chinese teas to our China clients directly, in order to meet different market requirements and to reduce costs and the amount of shipping necessary. On top of all this, we offer private labels services to solve retail packaging problems.

Why tea?
I’ve talked about my connection with tea, and the role it’s played in my life. I guess the question to ask is “why did we choose fine, loose-leaf tea?” The thing is, more and more people are starting to become aware of the differences between different qualities of tea. There are so many excellent teas out there, and they are all so unique and such an experience. We provide teas that are an alternative to commercial-grade tea. We’re making the effort to make traditional-style, fine-quality teas as accessible and affordable as anything else. And we believe that once you try fine tea, you’ll understand why we’re so passionate about making these more available to tea enthusiasts, and you’ll understand why we chose to make it our focus.

How did you get the ball rolling on your venture?
I was raised in Wu Yi Mountain, well known for its oolong and black teas in Fujian province. I fell in love with oolong tea when I was 18; I travelled to many tea plantations, and met with many tea masters. In 2007, after coming to Canada, I read some news about an Indian immigrant who opened a successful tea business. That was what planted the business idea in my mind. From there, I started my research in 2009, and got the Tea Sommelier Certificate (certificated by Tea Association of Canada) shortly after. December of that year, we opened our shop, which we've decorated with traditional-style Chinese furniture and d├ęcor.

What do you feel is the biggest strength of your business?
The biggest strength of our business is quality and education. Quality is key to keeping a business lively, and education is key to promoting the tea culture and the knowledge that make a tea business wholesome.

Our quality comes from our Chinese tea background and our good relationships with tea manufacturers, plus our annual Tea Tour, which gives us a chance to go to the source to choose our teas in order to strictly control the quality of our tea. After we source our excellent tea, we have seasonal tea tastings, weekly tea workshops, private workshops, TV appearances, and special tea events, working with organizations like the Toronto Public Library, which help the local tea enthusiasts learn more and try new teas. We also have website visitors from around the world who read our tea blog and browse our gallery, where we share tea culture, knowledge, tea tour information, useful tips and so on.

What were/are the biggest challenges of getting into/being in the tea business?
Our biggest challenge is educating our customers. We have an excellent selection of high-quality tea, but the fine tea market is not too big. Through our events and all the other things we provide, we hope to educate our tea friends about the differences between teas from different regions, seasons and grades. We also want to help them develop their sense of smell and taste when it comes to tea and to help them distinguish between different teas so that they can choose the best tea for themselves. I find that once people learn to appreciate good teas, that appreciation sticks around and gives them a strong preference towards higher-quality teas.

What would you do differently, if anything?
We are sourcing and will soon offer more Organic and Fair Trade Certified loose leaf teas directly from tea gardens around the world. We will also be sending our tea to compete in the North American Tea Championship. We also want to offer more professionally-judged award-winning teas to our friends.

How's business?
Business is good and growing. Thanks to all our lovely customers’ support.

What advice would you give to someone who aspires to be in the tea business?
Fall in love with tea; and never stop learning about it. You should know as much as you can about your tea, because the tea business not just about selling; we are promoting tea culture, history and a healthy lifestyle. Do as much research as you can about the tea market and your target market, and keep at it! The tea market is always changing, especially for North America. And, of course, I would wish them good luck.

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1 comment:

Michael said...

(Great to see someone promoting the tea business like this blog does so well)

It is a great personal pleasure to let you know that the several million visitors to Mattters over the last year have selected your blog as one of their favorite blogs of 2010 (in the top 10 on the Tea channel).

You can see your blog, along with the other contenders, on the Tea channel at

P.S. We made a cute little '2010 Blogs that Mattter' award that you can pin up on your website if you like those sort of things (you can see it at

Oh, and if for some reason or another you ever think your blog should be on a different channel, or even multiple channels, or perhaps none at all, (or you just want to chat!) just send me a quick email at

All the best,
Social Guy in Chief
Mattters - Follow Your Interests!