Local tea company sources loose leaf tea and herbs from across the globe
In the modest front office of Hugo Tea Company, owner and founder Tyler Beckett adds heated water from a kettle into a clay teapot small enough to easily cup it in two hands. The teapot, etched on the side with Chinese characters, contains loose leaves of Da Ye Xi. The Chinese green tea has a smooth character and savory-sweet flavor.
Beckett created Hugo Tea five years ago as an extension of his interest in fine-quality loose leaf tea. Rather than a retail shop, Beckett established a wholesale business that grew based on market demand.
“Originally, I was interested in selling tea online only, where I could sell, pack, and ship it,” says Beckett. “Shops and restaurants were upgrading their coffee, baked goods, and food service, but little attention was paid to tea.”
Hugo Tea began selling its line to restaurants, coffee shops, retailers, and supermarkets. Beckett educates retail accounts about the finer points of premium tea.
“We help restaurants build a tea program from scratch,” says Beckett. “We offer storage and can train baristas. Coffee shops don’t have time to be tea experts. We can.”
Hugo Tea’s 100-percent certified organic teas are sourced directly from Chinese tea farms. Botanical ingredients are acquired from companies around the world for Hugo’s original blend of herbal tea. The company also makes a boldly-spiced chai concentrate. From Hugo Tea’s warehouse in North Kansas City, the company creates a global adventure experienced one sip at a time.
Beckett steeps the tea leaves in the clay pot for 15 seconds. Unlike the Western practice of brewing tea for a long time to make a large batch, the Chinese style of gong fu cha, or tea making, involves steeping many loose tea leaves in a pot for a brief time. The repeated process of preparing, serving, and savoring the tea allows time for hospitality and socializing.
“You get more brews per pot of tea leaves and variance between brews,” says Beckett.
The tea’s color, flavor, and caffeine gradually weakens with additional steeping and reveals the tea’s subtleties. It’s the equivalent of the Slow Food approach to eating. That experience can’t be matched by purchasing a fountain drink at a convenience store.
Hugo’s direct-from-farm teas and expertise aid retail accounts that don’t have the same resources or time to devote to fine tea. Premium tea is similar to artisan coffee, bean-to-bar chocolate, or craft beer, but often is treated like a generic commodity. Tea has a provenance and craft in its making. Time-tested techniques and methods are used from the farm to roaster to importer and wholesaler.
Hugo Tea’s brand identity is an expression of this quality and attention to craft without adherence to a specific cultural identity, Asian or otherwise. How tea is grown, produced and consumed varies in China, India, Turkey, Iran, Morocco, England, United States, and elsewhere.
“The brand is more about adventure. Tea is an international beverage. It’s not just from China or Japan,” says Beckett. “And tea has traveled thousands of miles to make one cup.”
To best market its tea, Hugo partners with a distribution network of shops devoted to proper preparation and service of tea. Beckett says, “That’s our best exposure versus advertising on a billboard or Facebook ad.”
Hugo Tea products are also sold online, at speciality shops, and at supermarkets such as HyVee, Hen House, and Price Chopper.
Beckett maintains a small product line.
“We are not a tea superstore. We have nine types of tea. Small tea retailers have a far broader range because it is easy to add tea, buying a little of this and that from tea import companies,” says Beckett. “We have a limited line to offer truly exceptional tea to drink daily.”
Beckett takes a sip of Da Ye Xi tea from his cup. He stands behind the transparency and integrity of the Hugo Tea brand and what it stands for as a provider of premium tea.
“With a two-dollar box of tea, you don’t know anything about it,” says Beckett. “We expect this from other products, such as knowing the source of coffee. Drink tea because you like it but you should know what you’re drinking. What’s in it? Where did it come from? Who blended it? We spend a lot of time choosing what tea we buy.”
Hugo Tea’s attention to detail makes it easier to focus on the experience of tea one sip at a time.