March 12, 2015
Interview with Tea Ave's Jeff Chen
I was really pleased to see the interest in the Tea Ave Oolong Giveaway. Thanks to everyone who participated and congratulations to the winner, Gail V. I would like to share a couple more things about the company and its oolongs. Next week Tuesday, I will post about the favorite oolongs of some of the contest entrants. Today I have answers to an email interview I conducted with one of the Tea Ave founders, Jeff Chen.
You are a few days past the launch of the company. What has been the
Thanks for asking! The launch went smoothly, the response to our tea has been
incredible. We’ve been getting a lot of great comments about our products: reviews,
YouTube videos, and social media shares. People seem to love our design, too,
which feels really good—we worked hard on it!
Did you drink tea as children (how old were you)? And what types of tea did
you drink (only oolong)?
Hmm, let’s see. We were probably around 8 or 10, but tea was such a big part of
daily life in Taiwan that it’s hard to remember exactly. I do remember my dad doing
gongfu sessions every day while I watched alongside my brother, William, and sister,
Heidi. It was pretty common to serve tea to guests or relatives when they visited,
and we were always allowed a taste. We always drank oolong—either LiShan or
How much tea per day do you drink now? Do you use a gaiwan, tasting set,
Anywhere from 10 – 50 grams per day. When we’re tasting teas, we use a gaiwan or
a tasting set; we burn through teas really fast when tasting. When I’m drinking tea
for pleasure, I probably drink more like 10 – 20 grams a day. If I have time—or if I
need to recapture my zen—I go for a gaiwan or tasting set. Otherwise I use our
Chillaxer Cold Brew Bottle: I love being able to wake up, grab my tea and head out
I really like the level of detail you provide on the tea packets. Can you talk
about your educational ethos?
I’d be happy to. We’re all about accessibility and transparency. When I got serious
about oolong a few years ago, I was fascinated by all of the information out there—
and a little overwhelmed. We believe it’s really important to make things clear and
easy to understand, and we make a sustained effort to transmit our expertise about
oolong to our customers, asking ourselves (1) Are we telling our customers
everything they need to know about this tea? (2) Did we deliver the information in an
I also really like the company's logo. Can you talk about your design
Thank you! In crafting our company’s signature style, we wanted something modern,
minimal and refreshing. So we took cues from geometric lines, shapes, and
typography and avoided heavy illustration. Each of our teas has its own unique icon
formed from these lines and shapes. For our signature colors, we stayed away from
expected earth tones and chose a fun, refreshing shade of turquoise.
Who designs your teaware?
We source our teaware from a variety of different vendors. As with our teas, we work
hard to find manufacturers who put out a high-quality product and also share our
values and beliefs in how a business should operate. We spend a lot of time finding
the perfect pieces to put together into sets—it took five months of searching to
locate the perfect tea tray and aroma cup for the Tea Ave Aroma Cup Set—and we
add personal design touches to the teaware when we think it makes sense.
Were you ever nervous about starting a "family business”?
“Yes” would be an understatement! The planning stage was all fun and excitement,
but I still vividly remember putting in our first order for tea and teaware: My dad
called and asked, “Can you double-check and confirm that this is what we really
want?” It was an unusual feeling—I realized we’d reached the point where there was
no looking back, and we had to do anything and everything to make it happen.
It’s a huge commitment, but it’s also so comforting to have support and help from
your family; it would’ve been impossible on my own. It freaks me out a little bit to see
how far we’ve come, and I want to pause here to thank my sister, Heidi, who did an
awesome job running our marketing efforts (including scoring this interview!)
Did your family offer any advice?
Yep. My parents have been in the trading business for over 30 years, and gave us a
lot of guidance that led us to toward Tea Ave’s successful launch. In particular, two
things: to always be humble and persistent no matter what. This advice has gotten
me to where I am today, and continues to be a core principle of Tea Ave’s ethics as
well as my own.
How do you make connections to tea farmers?
Some were introduced to us by friends and family. Others we cold-called. At the end
of the day, we wanted to make sure we’d done everything we could to connect with
the right farmers. We drove to remote mountains and tea farms to sit down with the
farmers—or, as I like to call them, “si-fu,” to discuss our vision and begin building
I know your favorite oolong is LiShan. Have you come to greatly appreciate
any other since founding the company?
Yes! It blows me away to think about the perception I had about scented oolong two
years ago: I thought it was feminine and unsuited for serious oolong lovers. It turns
out that I’m a huge fan—my current favorite is Osmanthus Oolong. When done right,
these teas are just so lovely.
Is there a question or questions you hope a customer will ask of you?
We hope people will be curious about what’s trending with Tea Ave! For example,
our current bestsellers (as of March 2015) are Alishan Jim Xuan Oolong, Dong Ding
Oolong, and Wenshan Baochung Oolong.
Many thanks for your thoughtful answers, Jeff. Thanks also to Heidi. And best wishes for Tea Ave.
P.S. Top image courtesy of Tea Ave.