Tea Startup Brands Beverage as the choice of founders, winners

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Image courtesy of Firebelly Tea

Five years after leaving his eponymous company, DavidsTea, to pursue other projects, tea lover David Segal returns to his passion. (Why? “I really like tea,” Segal told Motherboard.) The new startup is called Firebelly Tea, and Segal and her partner, Shopify president Harley Finkelstein, are touting it as a “tea company. of the 21st century “. In practice, that seems to mean he’s positioned as loosely tied to tech, straight to the consumer, curated for Instagram, and about something. bigger than tea.

“Made from 100% real ingredients, we’re here to make tea the official drink of the 21st century,” the company says on its website.

As the second most popular drink in the world after water, and with a history stretching back almost 5,000 years, tea has a plausible claim to be the official drink of this century, along with many others. . What it lacks is complete cultural dominance in the United States, despite over 150 million Americans drinking it every day (at least according to the Tea Association of the USA). Segal thinks it’s because Americans drink awful tasting teas and drink them all wrong.

“You don’t drink good tea,” he said. “I hope we can show America what good tea looks like.” He thinks Americans will learn to love more complex teas the same way they have come to love more complex tequilas, but compared the typical tea Americans are drinking right now to “eating cheesecake.”

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“I hope we can show America what good tea looks like,” says Firebelly Tea co-founder. (Credit: Kate Ince)

“The cheesecake is great. But it’s not a meal. If you eat cheesecake for dinner, it doesn’t really satisfy you. And if you eat cheesecake every day, at some point, you get over it. keep it away, “Segal said, again, referring to the tea.” We really want to make teas that you’re going to grow. with, which improves on the third cup, the 10th cup, the 30th cup. (Editor’s note: It should be noted somewhere that high-quality bagged and loose leaf teas are readily available to Americans in supermarkets across the country.)

The name, Firebelly, is not a reference to the (questionable) belief that tea can help burn fat, but rather an indication of Segal’s personal belief that tea can make you a better person.

“It’s this idea that tea can really set your belly on fire. Tea is in many ways a performance-enhancing drink, ”Segal told me, referring, among other things, to claims that tea helps digestion and releases caffeine into your bloodstream“ a little ”differently. of coffee, allowing people to avoid an afternoon accident. .

Segal said part of the reason tea is less popular in the United States than in other countries is because it is too associated with femininity, hippies, and a few times a year when a person has a sore throat. But he says key people will soon see the light.

“There are a lot of people – especially entrepreneurs, creators and rainmakers, people who innovate and make things happen – who I think will be the ones who will see through some of the stereotypes around tea.” , Segal said.

Segal argues that coffee is “the nine-to-five drink” and “synonymous with office culture,” which he believes the American workforce is moving away from as people adjust to remote working. “Tea is the opposite. Tea is for artists. Tea is for creatives, ”he said. “With tea, you have such a variety of different flavors and different benefits. There really is an opportunity to show your individuality with tea.

When Segal and Finkelstein first became friends, Finkelstein wasn’t a heavy tea drinker himself. That changed when Segal curated selected green teas for him. Then, last year, the duo decided the world needed a different kind of tea company, one that took a drink enjoyed by mankind since the beginning of the Bronze Age and gave it a twist. of Silicon Valley.

“We are soul mates. None of us watch football on Sunday. We only do entrepreneurship, ”Segal said of his relationship with Finkelstein.

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Firebelly Tea hopes to help the United States reinvent its relationship with tea. (Credit: Kate Ince)

Segal left DavidsTea, which became popular for its original loose leaf teas, a year after the company’s IPO. (A spokesperson said Segal was leaving to “devote more of his time to exploring other entrepreneurial interests,” although this would have been linked to “armed conflict.”) While DavidsTea offers more than 150 types of tea, Firebelly starts with just 20 blends, carefully selected by Segal.

“I have sampled thousands of teas to find the ones who want to get started,” Segal said.

Segal hopes to be an evangelist who will change the way Americans conceptualize tea culture. “No one really shows up to say, ‘No, no, no, no, at 2:00 p.m., have a tea, ‘”Segal said. Segal wants to convince people after 9 p.m. to have chocolate mint tea to relax or avoid alcohol on Tuesdays and have tea with friends instead. “You don’t have to always drink alcohol,” he said. “Have tea with friends. Like, that’s awesome.

Because a tea business can’t just be a tea business in 2021, FireBelly is positioning itself as a pseudo-tech “DTC” lifestyle brand that aims to make the world a better place. Pour with the goal, indicates the website.

“When you can taste the difference and feel the difference, you are more likely to tell the difference,” Segal says in a promotional video.

Segal told me that Firebelly is “first and foremost” a tea company. “But technology is definitely a big part of the equation and will move forward,” he added, saying that “all companies today are technology companies”. This includes the tea companies, which is why he believes Finkelstein’s experience at Shopify will be so invaluable.

“It has helped me better understand how tea can fit into a modern working life,” Segal said. “Technology and how it works is changing the paradigm. “

As a result, Firebelly’s boxes feature a QR code that leads to “pro tips” and videos that are anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute. There is an upcoming online subscription program. Its state-of-the-art travel mug allows for both hot and iced tea and features “little holes” so that “the pour is perfect” and the tea “doesn’t splash in your face,” Segal said. . “An anti-drip spout, flow control for sipping and an automatic brew shut-off that prevents over-brewing[alsoimprovesyourtea-consumingexperience”saidapromotionalarticle[alsoenhanceyourtea-drinkingexperience”onepromotionalpoststated[améliorentégalementvotreexpériencedeconsommationdethé”adéclaréunarticlepromotionnel[alsoenhanceyourtea-drinkingexperience”onepromotionalpoststated

Unlike DavidsTea, which has had to deal with store closings (and declining sales) during the pandemic, Firebelly will follow Casper and Blue Apron’s lead by bypassing stores and serving customers directly online. While Segal doesn’t rule out the possibility of future “store-level experiences”, he believes “stores are going to become more of the discovery hub, but less of the distribution point” for retailers like his.

Segal seems to genuinely believe that Firebelly offers “premium teas made with modern life in mind,” another line from the company. Modern living, in this case, emphasizes sustainability (Segal boasted of its “Ziploc compostable bags”) and a design that appeals to the millennial aesthetic of Instagram (the tea boxes from the company are designed to look like books on a shelf with Instagrammable colors).

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The company’s tea boxes are designed to look like books on a shelf with Instagram colors. (Credit: Kate Ince)

“This is designed with an aesthetic that you want to showcase,” Segal said. “I think it fits the way of life today.

Looking at direct-to-consumer sales, sustainability, design and technology comes with a certain sense of obligation. (“You’d better learn how to use technology intelligently regardless of your business,” Segal said at one point.) In the startup economy, every entrepreneur needs to be heard to say they’re running a business. technology company. This is what rich venture capitalists want.

In the middle of our conversation, Segal said he believes rituals have become more important in recent years as lives around the world move inside the house due to the global pandemic. More workers than ever are working where they rest and are struggling to transition at the end of the day to a more relaxed state of mind, including Segal. He thinks a ceremonial drink to top off the day can help.

“There is something good about rituals, and I think tea can be a part of it,” Segal said. Then he added, “And, you know, we can deliver that in a direct online experience to the consumer.”

The project is currently self-funded by Segal and Finkelstein, but it’s not hard to imagine that investors will soon come and claim.

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