Innovation Destination Hartford Website Curator Nan Price recently visited The Green Teahouse in West Hartford Center’s Blue Back Square, where she enjoyed a cup of tea and learned about the startup’s staying power in West Hartford and plans for additional locations in Connecticut.
STARTUP BRINGS TRADITION TO CONNECTICUT
Originally from Chengdu, China, Ting Luo was studying for her Masters in Hospitality Management at the University New Haven Graduate School. She would often bring her tea to class and professors and friends showed interest in the tea she was drinking. They were wanted to learn more about traditional Chinese tea and the culture behind it—which gave Luo the idea to open a teahouse in Connecticut.
Luo says she always knew she wanted to start her own company. She and her brother Wei, who lives in China and is an investor in the Green Teahouse, started the company in 2009.
“My brother and I always enjoyed the tradition of drinking fresh, loose tea. He operates a teahouse in China, so we were familiar with the traditions and values,” explains Luo.
“We study different teas and have developed close relationships with tea providers there. It helped us develop an appreciation for our culture—which became something we wanted to share here in Connecticut, where there isn’t really a tea culture,” she adds.
Luo says she decided to stay in Connecticut because she had built a strong network of friends and colleagues and she saw a market for a teahouse. She chose West Hartford as a location due to the city’s affluence and lifestyle.
“People in this area are looking for things that are healthy,” she notes. “I wanted to introduce some of the culture and health benefits associated with drinking authentic Chinese tea.”
FINDING ITS NICHE
Finding its place in West Hartford’s Blue Back Square has been interesting for Luo. There has been a lot of turnover in Blue Back Square since the shopping area opened in 2008.
“Opening a teahouse was easy, how to survive is key,” says Luo. “We have been successful in this location because we are a unique, specialty store,” she notes. “We have a unique product and we bring unique culture from China.”
The Green Teahouse draws “consciousness people who are seeking a premium, authentic product and experience,” says Luo. “We have a profound knowledge about tea. We know the culture and we enjoy sharing it.”
Sales and Marketing Manager Laree Salmon has been a customer at The Green Teahouse since 2012. “I love this place and I love the tea here,” she says. “It’s a product that’s very good for you, which I think a lot of the customers are realizing, and it also tastes good. It’s nice to enjoy something with a health benefit. You don’t feel so guilty about your pleasure.”
She adds what she thinks gives The Green Teahouse its staying power in Blue Back Square is “the tradition it offers and the Chinese culture Ting is able to bring to the experience. It’s very authentic. We showcase some of the traditional elements like how we prepare the tea.”
The Green Teahouse offers more than 50 varieties of tea. The store also caters to a Western culture.
“For instance, we offer traditional tea and special blends from fermented and aged pu-erh tea, white tea, green tea, and oolong tea, to Western herbal teas and bubble tea. Customers can find many different types of tea and flavors to get benefits from natural plants and flowers from China and other countries,” explains Salmon.
“In fact, medicinal benefits are important to our customers,” she adds. “Based on Chinese tradition, pu-erh tea may help reduce blood pressure and sugar, it detoxes the body and helps with weight loss, whereas green tea may help to reduce cancer rate and increase immune system and white tea is a beauty aid for anti-aging and helps with skin complexion.”
“We help our customers to ‘find their inner tea.’ We offer something that’s very valuable to their lives, it’s like therapy,” adds Salmon.
“We really focus on our customers,” she emphasizes. “They were the ones who originally requested a sit-down area in the shop where they could relax and enjoy their tea. We do offer cups of tea to go, as well.”
STARTUP MARKETING AND EVOLUTION
Since The Green Teahouse opened, the company has marketed itself through social media and education.
“I’ve gone to schools to give talks about the culture and benefits of tea,” says Luo.
Tea ceremonies, which the store does by appointment, provide one form of education—as well as relaxation.
“The goal is to have people learn about Chinese people’s appreciation for tea and about the thinking that tea can help you develop a pure and peaceful state of mind,” explains Luo.
The Green Teahouse also provides educational talks to businesses as an extension of their health and wellness programs.
“It’s a form of community outreach,” explains Salmon. “I think partnerships are great.”
In March, The Green Teahouse partnered with Field to Face Organics for a “Beau-TEA” party, which Salmon hopes will be the first in a series. “That’s one way of reaching out and working with people in the community,” she says. “We are hoping to work with more health and wellness coaches.”
ADVANCING THE STARTUP
When The Green Teahouse first opened, Luo says her expectation was to share tea culture and “expand our teahouse.” She says her goal is to open in additional locations throughout Connecticut. “But we’ll definitely need help in terms of expertise, advice, and investing.”
Luo notes she worked closely with SCORE, a non-profit association supported by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) that provides education and mentorship to help small businesses get up and running.
“We worked with the New Haven and Greater Hartford branches, which were both very helpful,” Luo says.
“If you are starting out and looking for mentoring, SCORE can really help,” she adds. “They gave me advice about finding the best business partner and staff—as just one person it can be very challenging.”
Learn more about The Green Teahouse by visiting www.thegreenteahouse.com.