Hello fellow tea lover!
My name is Jennifer, and I am the Founder and CEO of Toronto-based tea maker, Pluck Tea.
Here's how it all started - loose and unfiltered.
One December day in 2012, after 17 years of selling office furniture, I came home after a particularly frustrating week to announce to my (super patient and amazing) husband: "That's it! I'm finally starting that tea company!" And Pluck Tea was born.
After all, it's a straight line from selling furniture to starting a tea company, right? An obvious progression.
For me... it kind of was. Allow me to explain.
Growing up in the 80s in Toronto, an only child in a tea drinking family with British roots, my days were punctuated with several cups of tea. A cup with breakfast, one after school, one after dinner, and one before bed. Tea was there on the best days, and the worst days, and all the important conversations seemed to take place with warm mugs in our hands.
My parents both worked, so after school I would brew up a pot of tea to watch the (brand new) Food Network, or Wok with Yan, or the Urban Peasant on TV and mess around in the kitchen while I pushed off homework. My parents said my tastes were 'advanced'. I think they were being kind.
Age 17. Lobster and Harvest Gold. I named a tea after this stove.
Needless to say, from a young age, cooking became a pretty serious hobby for me. When I completed my design degree and had my first job drawing floors of office furniture on AutoCad (in the pre-Windows era! Imagine!) I could finally afford cooking classes, so I studied Culinary Arts part-time at George Brown. I would go on to take classes for many years. I might again soon.
Several years into my work and student career, an e-mail arrived from the school: Tea Sommelier Courses Now Available! I enrolled immediately, and spent the next two years drinking copious amounts of tea from across the globe with fellow tea enthusiasts at the Tea Association of Canada. Finally, I wrote and tasted my way through the exam to become a Certified Tea Sommelier.
I need to switch gears a bit in the story here dear readers, because at this time in Toronto, something pretty exciting for this food-obsessed tea drinker had been taking place. The food scene had grown some serious roots. Chefs were pushing culinary boundaries. Many began to prioritize locally grown ingredients, and were getting international recognition for the incredible food they were crafting in their kitchens.
Happily, as my career progressed (now in sales... turns out AutoCad wasn't my true calling), one of my responsibilities was networking with designers and architects and taking them out for dinner. My boss Jim - my favourite one of all time - warned me that "if you didn't spend your entire entertainment budget this year, you wouldn't get it again next year." My hero. Challenge accepted!
Here's me selling furniture at a mini-trade show set up in the basement of a hospital. Ah... memories.
Speaking generally, my clients tended towards the coffee-drinking crowd. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.) At dessert time, they would be presented with these incredible looking layered espresso drinks, made with care, but yours truly would be presented with a scratched metal teapot full of tepid water, with a tea bag on the side. It was frustrating. In a world where premium teas had just started to become available in retail stores for tea enthusiasts - I saw an opportunity.
What if there was a tea company that worked with these restaurants to create a better tea experience for their customers? One that prioritized the same things they did: flavour, freshness, origin, quality, and presentation? Who trained servers and bartenders as part of their service? And what if this company crafted these teas right here (as opposed to importing finished blends, the industry standard) using as many locally sourced ingredients as possible?
So, with $5000, a credit card, and my mom's hand-me-down hatchback, I quit my job selling office furniture and started a tea company. See? Totally logical.
In the early days, I bought small amounts of tea leaves from importers I had met in Tea Sommelier school, and blended them with locally dried fruits and flowers from the farmer's market at my kitchen table for sale to restaurants. I'll never forget the day that I, quite nervously, presented Chef Jamie Kennedy with one of my creations, and he reached into the bag, took out a handful, and ATE IT. Which totally makes sense when you think about it, because that is how he has always judged quality of the ingredients he serves. (I got the order.)
From there, Pluck grew by word of mouth and by a lot of door knocking. Over the years we have grown to service over 500 restaurants and cafes, as well as offices, retail stores, and finally, right here at pluckteas.com!
Talking tea with Chef Nick Liu at the amazing Dailo restaurant.
Today, in our tenth year of business (wow!) our production facility is located in midtown Toronto, where our team of seven tea makers blend and hand pack our delicious fresh teas daily. We continue to source ingredients as close to home as possible, and work with local farms as well as fellow makers such as Chocosol (we buy their cacao shells for use in our chocolate teas) and Chaser's Juice (where we get our dried fresh citrus peel for our citrus teas). We also directly import teas from growers around the world that are doing great things.
It is a pleasure and an honour to be a part of your tea moments. Thank you so much for your support of (our fiercely independent) tea company.