Blending Health and Happiness at Vida Pour Tea
According to the Tea Association of the U.S.A., the country’s consumption of hot tea has grown at a steady rate for the last five years, though iced tea still accounts for nearly 80 percent of tea consumed in the states. Caffeine conglomerate Starbucks may have decided to shutter its Teavana locations in 2017, but the Tea Association’s 2017-18 review and forecast indicates a growing hot tea market supported by Millennials and Generation Z consumers who are exploring specialty and artisanal teas.
That slice of the American tea industry is where Sarah Chapman, owner of Vida Pour Tea, thrives. At her tea shop in Greensboro, N.C., she shares her passion with curious new customers and loyal regulars alike, offering seemingly limitless combinations of organic, fair-trade teas that promote health and relaxation.
From Hockey to Herbalism
Sarah Chapman’s personal journey with tea began when she was growing up in Upstate New York. After her ice hockey games, her father would take her to eat at a Chinese restaurant, where she enjoyed a relaxing cup of hot tea. While studying abroad in Thailand years later, Chapman became ill and turned to tea for comfort.
“It was one of the only things that gave me any sense of relief from whatever I had contracted,” Chapman explains. “It got me interested in the fair trade industry, in the medicinal and health beneficial properties that tea holds – and in herbs in general; I have a little bit of an herbalism background. Put that all together and here we are!”
Though her path from ice hockey player to college student to tea specialist may not be a traditional one, Chapman says it felt “unavoidable” since her varied experiences all led her back to tea. Prior to opening Vida Pour Tea four years ago, she spent time honing her tea expertise by conducting tastings.
“While I was kind of getting more of an education on things and taking classes, I was doing tea tastings,” Chapman says. “I started out with about five teas that I would familiarize myself with and have people sample. They’d tell me if they liked them and why they liked them, and then we would talk about the health benefits of them.”
Taking the time to get to know her customers in order to understand their preferences and what they’re looking for remains a cornerstone of Chapman’s business practices.
“We ask if they’re coffee drinkers; typically, if they’ve never really drank hot tea before, we steer them toward a black tea or something familiar-looking,” Chapman explains. “Then we ask them about what flavor profiles they tend to go toward. Do you like traditional? Fruity? Spicy? Minty? And you can almost tell by facial expressions what they might be interested in. If it’s a child, it usually is something kind of fruity that we cool down.”
Chapman uses a similar question-and-answer process to help customers find the right teas for any ailments and health concerns they might have, noting that tea can help improve everything from diabetes to high blood pressure.
“If people are having digestive issues, we try to steer them to pu’erh; the fermented process involved with that is helpful for digestion,” she says, then continues listing off which teas are generally recommended for which problems. “Black tea for cardiovascular health. Green tea is most popular of course for metabolism – and weight loss, they say, but it’s really all from the same plant so it’s all good for you. White tea and oolong tea are really popular for skin conditions.”
In addition to the physical health benefits tea can provide, Chapman encourages each of her customers to take a few minutes each day to let tea improve their mental health.
“Part of the tea experience is the idea that you take five minutes to yourself – no matter where you are, this is the thing you do for yourself,” she explains. “Five minutes at work, if you need a five-minute break, doesn’t bother anybody. I tell people if they’re at work to make sure that when they’re brewing their tea that they put their face over the steam and smell it and take a breath – it forces a moment of meditation throughout the day. That might sound cheesy, but it’s really important.”
New customers who have limited experience with tea often think they don’t like it because it tastes bitter, but Chapman is quick to explain why that likely isn’t the case.
“We laugh and say, ‘No, we promise it won’t be bitter!’ We do explain that it takes different temperatures for different types of teas,” Chapman says. “A lot of coffee shops and non-specialty places don’t really care to pay attention to that, so that’s why they think they don’t like tea – somebody’s burnt it. We try to encourage them that we’ll make them something they like. If it takes 15 questions, fine, we’re going to make them something they’ll like!”
Chapman also offers custom tea blends in order to make sure her customers can get exactly what they want – even if it’s coffee or an iced tea on a hot day. Coffee at Vida Pour Tea is sourced from another local business, and any tea blend can be hot or served iced.
“There are tea people and there are coffee people, but what we really try to do is open it up to everybody,” Chapman says. “We kind of hit on different markets just to get people interested first and then they’re a little more open to explore. We have over 150 different standard combinations, and then you could pick anything you want. We make everything right there.”
Starting dialogues with customers helps Chapman establish relationships with them in order to offer uniquely personal experiences each time they visit, a practice large businesses often can’t afford to do.
“We did have a Teavana here in one of our bigger shopping centers, but we never really were super affected by it,” Chapman says. “I think that’s what the benefit in being so specialized and caring about what you do is – people see that in you and they’ll come back for that.“
Leaving It Local
Vida Pour Tea blends are popular with health-conscious and farm-to-table businesses in the area since they often focus on serving ethically grown and sourced ingredients. Chapman seeks out organic, fair-trade products from companies like Encha, which produces certified organic matcha, and an Asheville, N.C.-based supplier who works directly with farmers in Rwanda. Chapman believes the farm-to-table movement, which promotes organic and locally sourced ingredients, has helped hot tea pick up steam in recent years.
“I think there’s an overall interest in bringing things back to nature,” Chapman says. “There’s an overall curiosity about where our food comes from, and beverages go along with that. We’re paying more attention to what goes into our food, our drinks.”
Focusing on partnering with other local businesses, sometimes to create proprietary blends for their guests to enjoy, has helped Chapman grow her own business. In addition to bars and restaurants in the area, Vida Pour Tea can also be found in the Local Honey hair salon as well as a local bookstore and a boutique.
“We have one farm-to-table restaurant that’s had [one of our custom blends] for about five years now, and there are people that go there because they know they can get good tea – and that’s not something that I even expected to ever happen,” Chapman says. “People go there specifically because they know they’re able to get something good for them that tastes good that’s local and pairs well with their food.”
Though Chapman has found success with Vida Pour Tea, she has no plans to turn her local tea shop into a global brand. Instead, she emphasizes the importance of building small businesses within your community and supporting other small businesses whenever you can.
“I have the same really important message that I hope everyone else who has a small business has: be local and be loyal to your local,” Chapman says. “Not everybody needs to be worldwide. I don’t necessarily want to have my tea [in every city] – I want to taste what some other blender does and try different things and see what they’ve come up with and enjoy it that way.”