It's IPOT's 20th Anniversary: Here's How it All Began.
In Pursuit of Tea is almost old enough to drink.
This April, our company is celebrating its 20th anniversary, and we couldn’t be more grateful for your support through two decades of exhilarating tea experiences. To thank you, all domestic orders placed on April 1st will receive free shipping, and we’ll also be sending out a special gift to one lucky order from that day, picked at random: a limited edition Midnight Marauders 1993 pu-erh bingcha, one 2 oz bag of Darjeeling 1st Flush from Muscatel Valley, and a custom IPOT tea towel.
When my childhood friend Alexander Scott and I launched In Pursuit of Tea in 1999, the American specialty tea scene was in its youth. A few companies, like David Lee Hoffman’s Silk Road Teas, Harney & Sons, and SerendipiTea, had built up a loyal market, and proved that there was enough demand for a small upstart to edge into the business.
Not that we had much idea what we were doing back then—I was a peripatetic freelancer at the time, scouting locations for fashion photo shoots, consulting with the Natural Resource Defense Council, and leading adventure travel tours in the Himalayas. A few years earlier, I had spent several months trekking in Nepal and India, and it was from those initial contacts that we gathered our first teas to sell. We also took a long trip to Nantou County in central Taiwan, to better understand the island’s unique tea culture and to stock up on some Taiwanese oolongs. Some Chinese teas from Hoffman, an expert in the area and a mentor of mine, rounded out our selection. And before we could fully process what was happening, we had a website, a pile of corporate paperwork, and an office (heated by a wood stove) in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, with the tagline: We explore remote regions in search of the finest hand-crafted teas, which we share with tea drinkers and friends who share our passion.
IPOT’s early years were slow going. We didn’t sell any herbals or flavored styles like Earl Grey at the time, which was an issue when supplying the hospitality and restaurant industry. We even had to split one of our first prestigious accounts, Restaurant Daniel, with another tea company that supplied those types; many other restaurants wouldn’t even bother taking a meeting. But as we brought on new partners, we made new connections, and as our purchasing power increased from a pound or two of a certain tea to 50 pounds, and beyond, we were able to expand our catalog. Today, In Pursuit of Tea carries over 70 single-origin teas and unique herbals, which rotate with the seasons.
Our headquarters have skipped around from that Williamsburg shoebox to a decommissioned train depot in Connecticut, a California warehouse, and a retail cafe in Soho. Our little pop-up shop at 33 Crosby Street that opened in 2010 was supposed to last for just a summer, but fans loved it so much we extended it for nearly three years. That was when Ana Dane joined and ultimately became a partner at the company, boosting our restaurant and online retail business. Gilbert Tsang, our operations and fulfillment mastermind, became a partner in 2013. This devoted crew, along with many more talented employees over the years, have made all the difference in this small business. The quality of our product is paramount, but the quality of the people behind it is just as important.
In Pursuit of Tea remains just that—a pursuit. Frankly, I can't say what we’ll look like in five, ten, or twenty years. A business like ours requires you to continually invent what you’re doing, and the direction you’re taking. Just like the seasonal tea harvest each year, you never know exactly what to expect.
What I can say is that our mission hasn’t changed since 1999: creating beautiful experiences. Whether that’s tasting a traditionally smoked Lapsang Souchong with two people, helping implement a large restaurant’s tea menu, or putting a limited lot of shade-grown Japanese sencha up online, we want to make tea accessible, understandable, and exciting. In Pursuit of Tea is ultimately a conduit. Once we connect you to your tea, the leaf creates a story all on its own.