Monster Tea

These days it’s pretty easy for foodies, wine-o’s and hop heads to delve into an appreciation of food, wine and craft beer. It becomes somewhat of a quest as we seek out better examples and interesting variations from the farthest reaches of the world.

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click to enlarge Wendigo’s Nessie jasmine tea unfurls in the cup.
Wendigo’s Nessie jasmine tea unfurls in the cup.

These days it’s pretty easy for foodies, wine-o’s and hop heads to delve into an appreciation of food, wine and craft beer. It becomes somewhat of a quest as we seek out better examples and interesting variations from the farthest reaches of the world. We discover really good stuff we never knew about before. And sometimes you get a good idea about how you can share that with others.


That’s how it happened for Cincinnati-based Rocker Sky White, keyboardist for Foxy Shazam, who recently launched Wendigo Tea Co.

“There’s just kind of a path you go down when you’re passionate about something,” he says. “You’re interested in the flavors; you’re interested in the entire culture and history. A lot of people today are doing that with all other beverages. I’m just doing that with tea.”

White has been developing his love for high-quality loose-leaf tea for years, all the while touring the country and the world with Foxy Shazam. Between sets — during which crowd surfing with his keyboard in tow wasn’t out of the question — he always found a way to drink good tea on the road. After nights with no sleep and no shower he’d score hot water from a gas station or ask around to find the best tea and coffee shops in town.

White had been thinking about starting a tea company for a while, so when the band decided to take a hiatus last year, he went for it. He got to work sourcing tea with the goal of launching Wendigo before Christmas. A few days before launch, White’s web developer bailed on him, so White did what any good entrepreneur would do and stayed up for three days straight building the website himself.

“I don’t know anything about websites,” White says. “I was losing my mind for a few days, but it was awesome.”
He launched just in time for Christmas, and the friends and family who knew what he had been up to started placing orders right away. 

“Everybody was wanting tea immediately, so on Christmas Eve I ended up driving all over Cincinnati and dropping stuff off like Santa Claus,” he says.

Wendigo offers a deliberately limited selection — currently only three different teas, all named after mythological beasts. There’s the Bigfoot black tea, the Wendigo green tea and Nessie, the hand-rolled jasmine pearl that unfurls as it brews and looks like a little sea monster in the cup. Yet-tea (whose mascot is a Yeti) is an oolong that will be available soon.

White kept it simple and used these names to make his tea more approachable and relatable to the everyday tea consumer. The name and artwork associated with each tea are meant to give you an idea of the brew’s characteristics. The Bigfoot is strong, dark and woodsy. The artwork for Nessie depicts the green sea monster bathing in a teacup like it’s a hot spring. You’ll find no hard-to-pronounce foreign varietal names on Wendigo’s labels.

“I always saw that as an off-putting part of a lot of the tea industry,” White says. “Almost everything is in another language. If you’re looking at it and you don’t know a lot about tea you can’t get an idea of the flavor or what you’re purchasing. ... I wanted something where normal people can see this comfy monster laying in a cup of tea and think, ‘Oh this is a comfy-tasting thing and I’ll remember this because it’s this sea monster.’ ”

White isn’t just a savvy marketer selling the same stuff you can get at the grocery store. He talks about the hours of research that begin his search for each tea. He starts with a style of tea of which he is particularly fond and finds the best territories where that style is grown. He narrows it down to smaller regions and buys the highest grade from the best possible spot.

Building relationships with the growers and distributors close to the source often leads White to other small farms and obscure, special teas.

“I’m finding all kind of things that I’ve never heard of, that no tea textbook has ever heard of, people who work in the tea industry that I’ve asked about it have never heard of,” he says. “It’s pretty fun and exciting. ... I’m hunting all the elusive things out there.”

Now, about five months in, the business is going in directions White never planned. Selling online directly to the consumer was his only original goal, but a couple local restaurants are his newest customers: You’ll be able to find Wendigo tea at Pho Lang Thang and Quan Hapa starting in June. Quan Hapa is also developing a Chu-Hi cocktail (typically consisting of soju, lime and soda) infused with the floral sweetness of the Nessie jasmine tea.


For more information or to buy WENDIGO TEA, visit wendigotea.com.


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