A Dream of Tea Come True
The Story of CC Fine Tea's Full Leaf Tea Sachets
By Jason C. S. Chen
English Translation by Allegra Radcliffe
Dreaming of Tea
I'm Jason Chen, the founder of CC Fine Tea. For a long time, I've had a dream: to share the joy of good tea with the world.
In the west, there are connoisseurs of wine and coffee. People who love these beverages know how to discriminate between high and low quality varieties. They know to choose authentic coffee beans, and good vintages of red wine.
In a similar way, tea lovers in Asia know to choose authentic teas that are grown and processed in the right way for the best result.
After moving to the US from Taiwan and observing tea in the States, I realized that it is very hard to find authentic, high quality tea leaves. The market was full of strange, low-quality teas, many of which were artificially flavored. There was a lack of knowledge about authentic, high quality tea.
Starting a Business
My wife, Libai, and I started our tea business, CC Fine Tea, in Seattle in 1997. Our goal was to promote high-quality Chinese tea in every part of the world.
The name CC Fine Tea stands for "City and Country Fine Tea," because we want to be enjoyed everywhere, both in cities and in the countryside.
The business began by launching a small line of tea bags, all single-origin, unblended tea, in beautiful, artistic packaging.
Unfortunately, the line did not perform well in supermarkets for a few reasons:
- Authentic, unblended tea doesn't taste or smell as strong as artificially flavored or blended teas that were familiar to the public
- The packaging was in a very Asian style, unfamiliar and less eye-catching than other products on the shelves
- The brand had no distributor, and was only able to sell through a few grocery stores
Regaining Confidence in Pure Tea
After the disappointment of my first try with the tea bag product line, I focused on wholesale for several years, supplying raw materials to other tea and coffee companies.
One of these was a pure, unblended tea: Mao Feng Green Tea Fannings, supplied to Starbucks Coffee's tea brand, Tazo. The tea became popular and well-known, and was selected as the best green tea in the US by American Consumer Reports in 2004.
This success restored my confidence that the US could accept pure, unadulterated, loose-leaf Chinese tea.
A Second Try
I began to develop a new product line of 20 high-end, loose-leaf teas, representing all the famous tea regions in China, sourced directly from tea gardens and facilities.
However, ultimately the project was unsuccessful for these reasons:
- There were too many traditional Chinese teas, unfamiliar and confusing to customers
- The high-end packaging was popular in China, but that didn't mean it would be popular in the US. The packaging style only appealed to a niche market of tea fans.
- The brand still lacked a sales channel for distribution
Opening a Tea Shop
After discovering that authentic Chinese tea was too unfamiliar to the general public, I wanted to open a window between myself and my customers, to talk about tea face-to-face and receive their feedback directly. I decided to open a retail tea shop, Smacha, in 2012.
In-person sales allowed for tea education, tastings, and a feeling of community. Customers loved the environment, which was a tasteful blend of eastern and western aesthetics. The response was overwhelmingly positive, with many tea lovers giving feedback such as "This is the best tea house I've ever seen!"
However, running a physical shop while handling a wholesale business proved to be very time consuming and logistically challenging. After 5 years of business, the store's landlord suddenly doubled the store's rent. I decided to close the shop in order to focus on wholesale business and my family.
The Importance of Convenience
There was so much good feedback for the tea shop, that although the store's doors had closed, I wanted to carry the best parts forward in my products: the beautiful, elegant combination of eastern and western style, and the focus on sharing real, high quality tea.
But how to provide the ideal tea experience to the general public, without in-person service at the tea shop? The answer is through convenience.
My eldest daughter, Michelle, was a college student at the time. She confirmed the importance of convenience by telling me that the young generation don't drink authentic teas, because they are too busy to sit down and brew. For this reason, it was worthwhile to consider tea bags.
I began to think about how to make it happen, a line of high-quality, authentic, and reasonably priced tea sachets. I would use the feedback from the tea shop for inspiration: full-leaf tea, pyramid-shaped tea bags, and the elegant east-west aesthetic of the tea shop.
The Ideal Tea Experience
About 2 years after closing the retail store, my dream of the ideal tea sachet was made a reality. I carefully selected 8 tea types for the line of full-leaf tea sachets, representing a balanced range of tea styles:
Unblended, Single Origin Teas
- Green Tips
- 1568 Red
- Dong Ding Oolong
- Pu-Erh 1979
Scented & Blended Teas
- Jasmine Tips
- Rose White
- Gardenia Oolong
- Royal Earl Grey
We designed new packaging for the sachet line: tall, elegant canisters with interior aluminum seals for complete freshness. The canister features beautiful artwork of tea leaves floating in water or air, like a modern impressionist painting. Up close, the leaves reveal an underlying pattern of endearingly tiny tea sets.
The packaging is environmentally friendly; all parts are either recyclable or biodegradable in an industrial composting facility.
The Meaning of Success: Achieving the Dream of Tea
The final line of tea sachets, introduced in October of 2020, is like a phoenix: reborn through fire. Along the path of time in the tea business, I made many tries and experienced many challenges. This experience has led me to consider the true meaning of success, and of dreams coming true.
I have realized that success doesn't mean huge sales, or making a lot of money. To me, success means being able to create a wonderful product, and sharing my passion and knowledge of tea with the world.
This is my dream come true:
- Doing what I love, with enthusiasm
- Keeping improving the product, and always focusing on quality
- Sharing health and happiness with the world through tea