T-We Tea is a fun tea company based out of San Francisco, they’ve set up booths at Renegade Craft Fair, Patchwork, and even have a store font in the bay area. This is not your grandmother’s afternoon tea, and their loose leaf teas have whimsical and sometimes cheeky names like Grumpy Dinosaur a spearmint, peppermint vanilla bean tea or Scandalous Man Friend a Darjeeling tea with spearmint, clove and peppercorn. I reached out to the founder and owner of T-We Tea, Christopher Coccagna to find out more about this highly creative and delicious tea maker. My favorite is Chai Hard, it’s a blend of two black teas, spices, crushed coffee bean, and chili; it’s my late night kick in the pants.
Do you remember your first cup of tea?
Chris C: My first cups of tea in life started with my mother. We had a peppermint patch in the backyard and part of our nightly ritual before bed was for me to pick peppermint leaves while she heated water and together we shared tea. From those moments, tea has always held a really special place in my heart for community and warmth.
You hear of wine specialist, and Starbucks baristas are trained to be coffee specialist, but when did you decide to be a certified tea specialist and what is that like?
Chris C: I always knew that my life needed to be in the culinary arts and always loved cooking, eating, drinking, and creating unique experiences around food. After college I did some soul searching while living in New Zealand and fell in love with the culture surrounding tea, and thought to myself “We need this back home.” From then I pursued tea professionally and sought out the Specialty Tea Institute’s Certified Tea Specialist program. I’m a regular old business administration bachelor’s degree from college, but to then focus my studies on something I am so passionate about was life changing. I took what I learned about tea and reapplied it in the world of natural tea blending. Most tea blends use flavoring additives, and I took a unique stance of zero flavorings in our teas but using real ingredients.
How long did the process of opening T-We Tea take? Do you remember where you were when you made the commitment to see your tea dream through?
Chris C: T-WE TEA started as a little doodle 2006 in a journal titled Renaissance man (my personal journal focused on career, art, and culinary pursuits). Surrounding the words T-WE was written “Community” and “With no tea in him, a man is incapable of understanding truth and beauty.” Those were my three guiding principles in setting everything up: Truth, Beauty, and Community. It took some time and preparation of everything but T-WE launched in Dec 2010 after an amazing sleepless month fueled by creative tea caffeine.
Was T-We Tea an online store, before an actual brick and motor location?
Chris C: Before even online and brick & mortar, T-WE began as a mobile traveling setup at artisan handmade markets. We found our inspiration in artists and makers (since they create beauty in this world), so the fit was natural to be together in a selling event setting. We started small then grew to markets outside of San Francisco, and you will now find us at bi-annual shows in SFO, LA, Long Beach, Santa Ana, Austin, Chicago, and Brooklyn. So our company was completely mobile until we opened a more permanent store in San Francisco in Feb 2013. We expanded that location in Feb 2014 to include a tea store with tea bar and in-store tea blending where we now manufacture everything by hand for our community to witness.
There is an obvious LGBT friendly spin on your teas. Has anyone ever loved an Earl Cray Cray and then condemned Bicurious George? I imagine your response is as silly as the tea names?
Chris C: T-WE is proudly gay owned and operated and we love to celebrate and support the community. Being from San Francisco, I love how our company fits so easily into what is culturally San Franciscan (creative and sarcastic). I love how our product can create a special moment between friends (Imagine giving your bestie Lesbi Friends or Scandalous ManFriend). In the tea world, I have encountered a lot of tea smug when it comes to knowledge about tea and a lot of “I only drink …(insert fanciest tea name here)…. syndrome”. I wanted to cut through the smug with some genuine sarcasm and whimsy to brighten this world and make tea a special moment in one’s day.
We have our subtle ways of handling a customer who doesn’t want to say SEXPOT tea, but the only formal complaint came from someone from Dallas (a member of the LGBT community, too!). We actually created a tea blend for them in response called Precious Angel Kitten to subtly be more PG and say “Bless Your Heart.” It has become one of our top sellers too.
Speaking of tea names, have you taken a name suggestion yet? Your website encourages people to submit their idea.
Chris C: Lesbi Friends (Apple jasmine oolong), Bad Bromance (hangover herbal tisane), Ghetto Fab (roasted green tea with cacao), and a couple others have come from our customers. We have accumulated quite the list and pair the name with the best flavor profile in a tea. Most of the other tea names come from common conversation that you will hear between team T-WE. You would be amazed how many things we say daily that would make an excellent tea name. The key is not to think too hard and maybe add bourbon.
Personally I’m a lazy brewer, I don’t time my steep or check the temperature. Are there cardinal tea rules one should never break?
Chris C: Water temperature is pretty crucial in a good cup of tea. Too hot (like for green tea) or too cool (like for black tea) will definitely affect your end cup. My tricks are sight and smell. I always follow the color of the brew and I kind of know when my cup is done because it hits my favorite color for that tea. I also use my nose and follow the scent, you can kind of tell if it is ready by the fragrance (too soft or too strong).
In October you’re hosting a DIY Tea Blending Class at Workshop in San Francisco. What will that be like? Are people going to learn how to break open their existing tea bags and mix different flavors, or save dried rose petals to kick up their afternoon cup?
Chris C: DIY Tea Blending Class happens monthly in the T-WE TEA store and it is one of my favorite creative classes I teach. In the class we learn all about tea (tea types, how it’s made, etc), then I teach attendees how to properly cup and taste teas and how subtle nuances will affect a tea blend, then I let them go nuts with all the T-WE ingredients to try their hand at their very own tea blend.
Lastly, what tea ritual do you like better, Japanese Tea House or English Afternoon Tea?
Chris C: I prefer to be a part of the sacred ritual in an Asian inspired tea ceremony, but who doesn’t love to gorge themselves on scones and sweet treats? I am morally opposed to loud hats though (but that is just for myself as I would never impose a hat restriction on others).
Even if you are not a tea drinker you should still visit T-We Tea website just to see all the fun names and blends. Pass it along to your favorite tea drinking friend or buy a box of loose leaf tea for yourself and begin your tea journey. Teas range from $10- $15 dollars but are extremely delicious. Tell me your favorite type of tea and if you try and T-We teas.
Basically until next time…. Blow the tea before sipping, burned tongues blow.
I believe shopping local and a love for small business is not just a trend, but a reflection of the resilient and community based spirit that is developing in our society. Its a blend of nostalgia for mom and pop shops and the power of technology. With the growing popularity of farmer’s markets and craft fairs likes Patchwork, Renegade Craft Fair, and Unique USA; small business owners and online business owners are able to bring their products to the public and various markets to experience firsthand. These entrepreneurs don’t need to make the Forbes 100 list to be considered a success, although I’m sure they wouldn’t mind landing there. But just making an idea into a working reality is an accomplishment in itself. Following a passion demands lots of overtime, but allows limitless potential for growth!
Join me as I interview a my favorite small businesses, artisans, and people that inspire me by choosing a life that is sustained or supported by sharing their talent and passion with us.