Last month I reviewed the Lu Mei Green Tea from Little Red Tea Cup Co. They are a brand new company who is off to a great start. I recently had an opportunity to interview Martin Connelly, one of their co-founders.
Q: What inspired you to start Little Red Cup Tea Co.?
A: You could say the seeds of the Little Red Cup Tea Company were sown the first time our family visited China, in 1992. That might be disingenuous, since I was six at the time, but it is certainly fair to say that we started a tea company because of our family’s abiding interest in China, and not the other way around. China is where I started drinking tea regularly, and as such, my sensibilities towards the drink have been informed by what I saw around me growing up in Beijing.
A classic Chinese greeting is “qing zou, he cha” — sit down, have some tea (which, in this case, is tea, fruit, some crackers, and anything else the host might have to offer). Tea is what you offered guests, what you drank alone — a constant part of life, really. And the teas we’ve chosen to offer reflect that. These are not fancy teas; they do not need to be contemplated to be appreciated. But you can brew them by the pot, and they’ll get you through the day.
Q:I noticed that you only sell unflavored teas (other than jasmine). Why is that?
All of our teas are whole leaf, loose, and unscented (with the exception of Jasmine) because that’s how you drink tea in China — and I know we’re bucking the trend on that one. Blending and scenting teas is a great way to add local flavor, but really, every time I have a green tea flavored with mango and hibiscus, I want to spit it out. Jasmine is scented, but it’s also the most common tea in Beijing, and more than anything else, it tastes like home. We were willing to make an exception for that.
A: Why is it important that the tea we drink is organic and fair trade?
Our tea is all organic (even the jasmine flowers are grown organically) because we really believe it’s better for everyone. Organic agriculture is better for the land, better for the farmers, and ultimately better for the consumer. Sure it costs a little more, but knowing that we’re contributing to sustainable agriculture practices in China is totally worth it. It is also, without a doubt, great to know that when you pour boiling water over our teas, you won’t be steeping pesticides, too.
The goal of sustainability is also the reason we’re registered with Fair Trade USA and paying premiums on each pound of tea we sell. Those premiums largely go toward helping families with the cost of school, and we couldn’t be happier to contribute positively in the communities we’ve chosen to work with in north eastern Jiangxi Province.
Q: Do you have a favorite type of tea? Why is it your favorite?
A: I tend to go through phases — one week I’ll drink our Gunpowder, another our Black. There’s generally a pot on my desk, but I couldn’t begin to pick a favorite. Ok. I could. Our black is really good.
Q: What has been the most challenging part of starting a new business?
A: I mentioned that we got into the tea business because of an abiding love for China and Chinese culture. We did not get into the industry because we were entrepreneurial whizzes — and running a new company has been more difficult that I’d have imagined. The pure volume of decisions that have to be made — from whom, for instance, will we source our sample bags? — is breathtaking. And then there’s the fact that as an online business, we have no window-front for people to stop and look into.
But I think we’re offering something that sets us apart, and I hope that we’ll find a base of customers that appreciates what it is we’re trying to do. At the heart, our tea is a celebration of China — of Chinese tea culture, and Chinese popular culture too. I like to say that it’s a revelation, if not a revolution — and I like to think that for someone who’s been drinking Twinings or Red Rose every day, that’s not just a cute tag line.
Finding our customers has been hard, surely, but we’re getting there. We’re not quite six months into business, and we’ve mailed tea to most of the states in the union. We can only hope those customers welcome their guests with a pot of our tea, and help us to spread the name.
I definitely suggest that you give their teas a try. I’ve been very impressed by what I’ve seen so far.