Like many small businesses, Zhi Tea started with a risk and a dream. Five years later, the company is celebrating a milestone anniversary and enjoying the love and support of its hometown.
Founding of Zhi Tea
By 2007, Zhi Tea Founder Jeffrey Lorien had sold his house in New York and had left his corporate job.
“I was waiting for inspiration,” he told us.
A love for tea, a background in inventory management and a supportive business partner found Jeffrey sleeping on the floor of a friend’s home in Austin as he launched his new company.
Jeffrey was fortunate to make “incredible contacts” in his industry, including Manik Jayakumar, a fair trade pioneer who took Jeffrey under his wing.
But what really set Zhi Tea apart was its dedication to organic and high quality products.
Hurdles on the Road to Growth
During its first year, Zhi Tea sold online only. Jeffrey admitted, “We didn’t make any money.”
When Zhi Tea launched its wholesale arm, the response was overwhelmingly positive, but more challenges were to come.
In 2010, Zhi Tea had reached the point that most small businesses come to, and most never get through. The company had run out of money and was in debt.
“I didn’t realize what it took [to run a business]. I knew that something had to happen.”
The solution was found in a new manager who freed Jeffrey to “spread his wings” and mentally invest in the success of the company. Costs were cut and important deals were made. Ultimately, and to the joy of Zhi Tea fans, the company recovered.
In Zhi Tea’s bildungsroman, its coming of age story, the company is coming into its own. Now when there is a challenge, Jeffrey doesn’t experience the same anxiety he might have two years ago. “I’m on firm ground,” he relates. His sense of professional maturity can only be attained through experience.
Support for This Local Business
Zhi Tea has partnered with many organizations and local businesses around Austin. You can find Zhi Tea products at Hillside Farm, Cenote on E. Cesar Chavez, and in the restaurant trays and banquet room at the W Austin. Zhi also has a special relationships with Hudson’s on the Bend, their first wholesale account ever.
You can buy Zhi’s teas at their eastside location (4607 Bolm Road) or at Wheatsville Co-op, Central Market or Whole Foods. You may also find Zhi Tea where you least expect them. Houston-based Kickin’ Kombucha actually uses Zhi Tea to make their kombucha!
Jeffrey has found that the niche nature of tea makes for an easily developed community. Zhi’s supportive local community was evident at its fifth anniversary party this month. The company’s fenced backyard was decorated with candles, and filled with people and music (Jeffrey serenaded on electric guitar).
On one side of the lawn, Zhi Tea served up tasty, original mocktails. One was the Double Vanilla Honeybush, a combination of Zhi’s South African Honeybush tea and house-made honey syrup.
On the opposite side of the lawn, local vendors and friends of Zhi Tea served complimentary cocktails and samples. Texas Sake served a unique blend of sake and green tea, while Paula’s Texas Spirits and Kickin’ Kombucha helped to make party-goers comfortable. Named one of American’s top 10 bakers by Bon Appetit, Amity Bakery was also on hand to balance the beverages with delicious treats.
Teas to Try
Zhi Tea produces so many types of tea that you may not know where to start! Here are a few suggestions:
Jeffrey told us that he has always loved Zhi Tea oolongs. His current favorite is Wuyi Mountain Oolong, which he describes as “toasty,” like “Cheerios in a cup.”
Zhi’s top seller is Sweet Desert Delight: organic red rooibos with coconut pieces, cacao nibs, anise pods, cinnamon, safflowers and stevia leaf.
We will be giving away Zhi Tea tins within the next few weeks to some of our newsletter subscribers, so be ready for that! If the cool weather has you wishing for the comfort of tea right away, we encourage to go out and get it at one of the locations we mentioned above. You won’t be disappointed.
We love discovering local businesses who are raising the bar in their industry. Zhi Tea is motivated by passion for their product and a love for their community.
We look forward to celebrating many of their anniversaries to come. Hopefully we’ll see you at the party next year!
What is your favorite kind of tea?