David Segal, co-founder and namesake of DAVIDsTEA, loves tea. And he wants you to love tea, too. I spoke with David via phone from his office in Montreal.
What is tea?
We think of tea as anything you put into hot or cold water that is not coffee. This is an expanded definition, because tea comes from a very specific plant, the Camellia Sinensis. White tea, green tea, oolong tea, black tea, and pu’erh tea all come this plant, depending on which part is used and how it is processed. At DAVIDsTEA, we have expanded this definition by also doing creative blends and infusions, including our herbal collection, rooibos, and maté.
You currently have three DAVIDsTEA locations in Chicago, all designed with an airy, open layout and brightly color-coded tea canisters. What feeling are you trying to convey to your customers?
We’re trying to make tea fun and inviting. Before, tea had been Asian and precious or British and stodgy. DAVIDsTEA is about making it accessible. The stores are clean and simple, because we want to show you that making tea is not complicated; that we’ll show you how to do it. When you walk into a store, you are immediately greeted with a sample so you can taste one of our teas. Then our staff members will bring down different canisters of tea for you to smell. When picking out tea, it is important to engage the sense of smell.
Not to be gross, but with flu season in full bloom, I’m kind of a germaphobe. How do you keep the tea canisters clean with so many people sticking their noses in for a whiff?
We saw that being sick was an issue, so we developed the canisters so that the tea you smell is not the tea you buy. The canisters have a special lid for smelling, and if you then decide to buy the tea, it comes from a different, germ-free area of the canister.
And speaking of illness, my husband bought me the Organic Cold 911 when I was sick. It was soothing and did, I think, make me feel better. Do you think tea can help with a cold?
Tea has been an herbal remedy for thousands and thousands of years. Ginger has been used to aid digestion; eucalyptus has been used to help the sinuses. However, we are not doctors, and we are careful not to make health claims. I do know that with tea you’re drinking a lot of hot water, so you are constantly flushing out your system. And we have over fifty caffeine free teas. We have one tea, a remedy, called Mother’s Little Helper that has valerian root in it that is supposed to help you sleep. I swear by it.
How do you pick the kinds of tea you have in the store?
We have an entire team focused on picking teas. We source from all over the globe, and we are out there in the tea fields, tasting the products. We put a lot of effort into it, trying hundreds of teas before picking one. The ingredients have to be top quality, and the tea has to taste how it smells. We buy organic wherever possible, and we are working on a fair trade initiative.
In terms of the blends, we create them all ourselves, looking to the culinary world for inspiration. Once we have the blend, we work with partners who create it in volume and with quality. We have a quality control team whose job is to make sure the blend will taste the same now and two years from now.
You personally selected the three DAVIDsTEA locations in Chicago – Bucktown, Southport Corridor, and Lincoln Park. What drew you to these locations?
We like areas where people are walking around and engaged in the community, because we love being part of the community. We participate in local events, sponsor races, give out tea at yoga studios and gyms, and have monthly newsletters with fantastic recipes. I spent a lot of time in Chicago studying what areas would be a fit with this kind of community participation, and it was obvious that these three neighborhoods are all very active.
What is your favorite tea?
My all time favorite is a Japanese green tea called sencha. With green tea, the oxidation is stopped right away through heat. In China, it is pan-fried in a wok; in Japan, it is steamed. The sencha has a vegetable, spinachy taste. I drink it almost every morning.
I also love the north African mint. And in honor of Valentine’s Day, I like our Love Tea #7. What’s interesting with tea is that my wife likes the total opposite spectrum. She loves read my lips, forever nuts, and exotica, a lemongrass chai with pine nuts.
Tea is a journey. You start liking a certain type of tea, and then maybe someone gives you another kind to try. You get more and more into it as time goes by. At DAVIDsTEA, we try to give you an opportunity to explore, through our 150 teas, to try more. I’ve gone through the same kind of journey as our customers. I’ve learned there’s so much more.
Thanks, David, and best of luck!
Filed under: Interviews