Last weekend marked a big, bold new statement for us, and no doubt we”ll write a press release soon.
But the personal story is nearly always the start, so here it is.
I’ll start by giving thanks to the USA. For the friendships we have there – our wonderful, wonderful tea friends, for the enthusiasm of our tea drinkers there, and for the general culture of appreciation whenever someone “has a go” as we say here, and sets up a new enterprise.
Our sales in the US are building every quarter, thanks to our fantastic distributor Nicole, and when we were invited to visit we said yes, and so embarked on a great journey.
It was thrilling to see the US approach to tea. Whilst some may decry the high-sugar Ready-To-Drink iced teas, to me they are a bit like the teab*g is to a hot tea drinker. It is something you can start with, on the understanding that once you’ve tried better quality stuff, you can never go back. In the case of teab*g, I can’t even bring myself to type it in its appalling entirety.
And whilst there are some thing about America that are really puzzling (e.g. if I sing Tracks Of My Tears I can rhyme “cute” and “substitute” very well, whereas surely Smokey Robinson should sing “cOOT” if he wants to sing “substiTOOT”) it was the concept of tea beer that needed some understanding.
The idea has been kicking around for a while, but whilst we were in the US we took the opportunity to have some discussions with people we know – such as tea beer aficionado Geoff Norman – and get a glimpse of how it works there.
When we returned, we knew we needed be making tea beer.
Why? Because this is AUSTRALIA!
We hunted down a contract brewery, and then we got creative.
We bought a lot of beer and applied tea tasting methods to them. Lady Devotea and I at one point had a table full of different beer types plus a cup of each of our teas. We looked for flavour combinations, complementary or contrasting. We shortlisted 8 ideas for combinations.
Then we went to work making special blends of our teas. It should be no surprise that tea brewed with water and tea brewed with beer provide a different result, and we really didn’t want a different result. We wanted our tea tastes to carry through the beer – not to make tea-FLAVOURED beer, but to make tea-INFUSED beer. A hint of this, a sniff of that, a backtaste of the other.
Lady D and I hand-crafted the first batch of our first beer – it was what was later named “Lady Devotea’s Sparkling Parlor Ale”. A really refreshing ale, it uses the orange and bergamot to provide a real citrus sparkle and the lavender on the aftertaste is very subtle but leaves a sweet finish.
We went down to the brewery on the day that the yeast had finished its magic for the first tasting. Tasting was awkward for me (citrus allergy) but whilst I was cautiously sniffing the glass then licking one drop off the back of my hand, Lady Devotea was encouraging the brewery staff to have seconds, and they needed little encouragement.
It was a special feeling for us to see guys drinking our beer. And they were guys who worked at a brewery. They tasted beer all day long. They had a beer allowance. And yet they were drinking our beer and loving it.
One guy asked if he could buy some to drink at home. “Don’t you get a beer allowance here?” we asked. “Yes, but I’d rather pay for this one than drink the dozen I made for myself of one of our regular beers”.
We decided not to get too carried away.
There is a lot more to selling beer than just making it and opening the cash tin. We needed to obtain a licence, to work out a production schedule, to finance the other beer lines, labeling, packaging. We needed a new company for the beer, as The Devotea is a tea company!
We decided to create The Tea Beer Company, and started work on doing just that.
Some good friends of ours who make wine and whose hospitality outlets sell our tea had a try, and immediately offered to be part of a joint venture with us in The Tea Beer Company. So we registered it a few months back,. and set about making all the beers.
I won’t bore you with all the details – as I most likely have already – but our license to sell the beer was granted last Thursday.
Our joint venture partners had organised a stand at a major local Food and Wine Fair for last Saturday, and so, just two days after gaining the licence, we made our debut.
Lady Devotea realised that we should be on the front foot with promoting our beer. Lady Devotea came up with our mascot – “The T Bear” a few days beforehand and we raced to get tea-shirts printed.
It was 30 degrees Celsius. It was an 11-hour festival.
I stood behind a tea and coffee station, making the hot drinks and taking food orders in tandem with some of our JV partner’s cafe staff. I was busy.
How busy? Well I was virtually asleep compared to Lady D. She was surrounded the curious and the experimental. She was reeling them in like a yo-yo. We took four times as many beers to the festival as we estimated sales would be; we took less than a quarter back to storage.
So, we are at the dawn of a new enterprise. We have several events over the next few weeks featuring these beers.
Our upcoming Afternoon Teas will have tea beer options.
It’s also painfully obvious that the supplies we created to take us into January won’t even last until Christmas.
In 2014 we will swing into much larger production, but each batch will start with us carefully creating the special version of our teas. We will be on site, supervising the manufacture of each batch. No batch will be bottled without us tasting it.
We’ll have it available in kegs after Christmas, and we hope some local establishments will have it on tap. We are talking to distributors.
It’s pretty exciting times here.
So at this point, we need to thank all those that have supported us and followed us via Tea Trade or anywhere else.
Now, apart from the obscure reference to Smokey Robinson and the presence of The T Bear, I realise that this blog post has little in the way of humour, sarcasm, stinging criticism or nonsense.
I’ll do better next time. I promise.
For now, I’ll just relax with an Aussie Chai Ginger Beer, with one ear out for cries of envy.