The Future of Tea? It’s in the Leaves
We recently had the chance to chat all things tea with Liftoff Capital entrepreneur extraordinaire, Tracy Bell of Millennia Tea. Though tea is essentially the very definition of a traditional product, there is a massive technological shift beginning in the way tea leaves are being harvested, packaged, shipped and brewed. Millennia Tea is leading the charge toward a healthier tea-drinking tomorrow. We asked Tracy five questions about her business.
Q: What attracted you to the Tea industry? How did you get started with Millennia Tea?
A: Three years ago we had a health scare in the family. That event led us to learn about some things we had not given any meaningful thought to previously. We learned free radicals damage cells, and that damage can lead to disease, such as cancer. We learned antioxidants neutralize free radicals and, in turn, protect cells. And we learned there’s a really powerful antioxidant in tea called EGCG (Epigallocatechin gallate) that is a powerful ally in promoting health and fighting illness. We went deeper and discovered antioxidants are highest in tea leaves right after they’re picked, and they drop off with prolonged exposure to heat, light and air, which is how all conventional teas are processed. So we went looking for fresh tea. When we couldn’t find anyone doing it, the idea for Millennia TEA was born.
Q: What are the advantages of fresh-leaf tea over the dried tea people are used to buying?
A: Our purpose is to help fuel wellness by sharing the freshest and most nutrient-rich teas anywhere. We’re a real, raw, whole food tea that safeguards maximum antioxidants and delivers a fresh-from-the-field taste experience you could never achieve with a dried tea.
There are a handful of reasons someone will choose our fresh-leaf teas over a dried tea:
- Max nutrients. Our way of sharing tea safeguards more antioxidants and, by extension, maximizes the health benefits of consuming it.
- Our leaves go further. Fresh-leaf tea is just getting going on first cup, so we recommend people put them in their travel mug in the morning and just keep adding hot water throughout the day.
- Whole food tea. If you love the idea of incorporating foods into your life that are as natural as possible, our tea is the closest thing to farm to table you can get in tea.
- Refreshing taste. There’s no bitterness here - even when you steep the leaves all day.
- New uses. Tea in your morning smoothie? Yes please. We’re food grade tea. So once you’ve finished making tea with your leaves, you can eat them or toss them in the blender with your berries and other greens.
In terms of the health benefits of drinking tea, the body of research is extensive and exciting. It’s everything from boosting brain function, focus and energy because of an amino acid in tea called L-theanine, to helping detoxify and lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and certain cancers. Tea supports metabolic function and can help with inflammation. It’s a natural mood enhancer, and really good for our skin because the antioxidants in tea help cells age slower. These benefits are there with green tea and matcha too. We just preserve more of the good stuff to support wellness to the max.
Q: How do you tackle the headache of getting a fresh plant-based product to market? (Without revealing any patent pending trade-secrets).
A: Have you ever heard the expression “frozen is the new fresh”? That buying your produce from the freezer aisle is smart because those fruits and veggies have been picked and flash-frozen at their nutritional prime. We follow their lead, washing and flash-freezing tea leaves within hours of being harvested from the highlands in Kenya. A frozen supply chain is undoubtedly more challenging than drying/cooking the leaves so they can sit on a shelf for years. But we think the opportunity of being first to market with the first whole food superfood tea - a food-grade product that tastes great and is better for you - is worth it.
We were named Best New Product for Innovation at the World Tea Expo and we are getting the attention of some of the largest tea companies in the world. The specifics of our process for preserving and extracting antioxidants is patent pending in North America and we have a trademark. Even so, we know other companies will find ways to follow our lead as traction builds. Our passion for this product and for telling the story of tea, and eye toward constant innovation will keep us ahead.
Q: I’m a coffee-drinker in general, more out of necessity than anything else (as a Radiologist, I spend a lot of time in quiet, dark rooms). Is there a fresh-leaf tea option for those of us who can’t start the day without a caffeine infusion?
A: Fresh-leaf tea has the same levels of caffeine as the dried green tea, 30-35 mg per serving or a little less than half of what you’d get in a cup of coffee. For a super morning energy boost, if you toss a little handful of tea leaves into the blender with boiling water and turn it on for a minute .. you macerate the leaves and consume them fully. It’s like drinking a fresh version of matcha and it’s super good for focused energy, concentration and alertness - with no jitters or crash.
For market entry, we started with the retail route because it was the most straightforward way to get to market, and a good place to start to understand our core customer and take/apply our learnings. Now we’re looking at our first commercial sales (i.e. tea as an ingredient in other products/industries) and also the service industry. We’re actually doing a trial right now with the Hilton. They’ve started serving our tea to groups at the hotel and also the Saint John Trade and Convention Centre. We’re working together to figure out how to get the process really simplified and keep product experience consistent when the staff doing the serving is constantly changing.
Q: For someone who wants to check out your tea, how do we start? Where can we buy it? What do we need to brew it?
A: We have 40+ retail partners today in cities across Atlantic Canada, as well as our first in QC, Southern ON and AB. They’re primarily health and wellness retailers. We also ship to customers in provinces across Canada who purchase tea from our web site www.millenniatea.com . You don’t need anything special to brew it. Just take the tea out of the freezer, put a generous pinch into your mug/travel mug and fill it up with boiling water. You can certainly use an infuser if you want and there are some really nice infuser bottles; however, fresh-leaf tea doesn’t get bitter so there’s no need to remove the leaves. We keep them in whatever we’re using and just add boiling water throughout the day. Then we eat them or toss them in a smoothie.