That driftwood tea™ Blog
Where Are You driftwood tea?

driftwood tea™ was created 5 years ago as part of a dream I had of owning my own online tea shop. A tea shop which only sold the teas I considered to be the greatest you could find on earth. These were the teas I drank myself and the teas, which when I served to people more used to mainstream black tea with milk would exclaim 'I just never knew tea could taste like this!'

I always loved that moment.

My ambition was to bring these teas to a wider audience, reduce a lot of the mystery and pretension that sometimes accompanies whole leaf teas, and make more people experience that 'I never knew...' moment. Over the last 5 years I have known and seen many small companies launch with a similar goal - sadly few have survived to remain around today - but we managed to achieved this (at least to a certain degree).

driftwood tea™ was on the whole critically well received. There are dozens of reviews on highly respected sites such as Teaviews and Steepster, which generally were incredibly positive - especially for some of our more unique and exclusive finds such as Organic Sticky Rice Oolong from Thailand, which my little sister travelled days by herself to initially source (that trip remains the proudest I've ever been of Kelda).

As my company grew so did commercial pressures. We needed more space, more equipment, and more money generally (no mater how noble our goals were, sadly businesses do require a strong cashflow to grow and driftwood ultimately was a business). 

Around 3 years ago I began discussing the possibility of launching a more mainstream brand with the owner of a tea subscription service who I'd become friends with after our companies launched around the same time. While we didn't end up working together I did launch a second brand myself, The Skinny Tea Co™.

The Skinny Tea Co™ was launched in response to the low quality, laxative based, detox teas which were flooding the market. Almost immediately people seemed to be attracted to our unique flavours and high quality products. Skinny Tea's sales grew month after month, a pattern which continued throughout its entire first year. Skinny Tea began requiring more of my time and more of our storage space. I found myself increasingly having to deal with accountants, VAT returns, and logistics rather than finding new teas for driftwood. Around a year ago I had to make a tough decision and decided to focus on Skinny Tea which is when we took driftwood's teas off from sale.

I've always been honest and I've always been prepared to be outspoken about issues - such as when I wrote a blog post bemoaning people reviewing a year old Baozhong, a tea that lasts little more than 6 months outside of vacuum storage, and we already had the next years harvest in stock - which hasn't always led to the most positive online feedback.

Skinny Tea is at a major juncture as we've once more outgrown our current tea studio and demand from new sources is increasingly high. We're exploring a couple of really exciting opportunities which, hopefully,  should allow me to free up a lot more of my time and energy. driftwood tea™ remains my dream tea brand and one I plan on re-launching one day (and hopefully fairly soon).

If you've read this far thank you! It's amazing that despite not selling any tea for a year we still have so many amazing customers from all over the world coming here, checking in, and emailing us asking when we'll relaunch and get more tea in stock. The next couple of months are going to be fairly pivotal for my company however, once we get through these I really hope to have driftwood tea™ back online and selling in some form or other!

Jamie Ewan Henderson

Fresh driftwood, Fresher Teas!

I realise I've been fairly quite over the past couple of months however, our small team here has been busily working away to make some major changes to driftwood tea. The biggest of these we quietly launched today, our new website!

OK, so this is our second new website this year; I took my eye off the ball with the one we launched 4 months ago - and the feedback we received from you was not universally positive (or even close) - so, rather than press ahead with something that wasn't working we decided just to start again.

We've returned to something simpler, far less pretentious, and something we feel once again reflects us as a company and a brand. It should also look and function better, no matter what device you're viewing it on.

Over the past 3 years, since I began working full time on driftwood tea, I've learned a lot of things: about tea; about running an online tea shop; and about what customers actually want. With our new site I've been able to put a lot of these requests into action.

Our old site was overly complicated, on many levels, and each tea had far too many options. We've simplified things so our teas now only come in 4 sizes: 50g; 100g; 250g; and 5g Samples. (Yup, there's no shame in saying we copied Canton and Jing!)

While I know many of you liked our 25g bags, the majority of our orders are for different sizes and, by removing the smallest size we've been able to reduce our prices on almost all 50g, 100g, and 250g bags of loose leaf tea.

I'm a big fan of gaiwans. I think they're a really easy and convenient way to brew loose leaf tea however, many of our customers want to drink tea at work and found our gaiwans too small and a little inconvenient. When travelling and tasting teas I've generally used T-Sacs, large self fill tea bags, that make the brewing of loose leaf tea in a mug or pot super easy. Most of my friends prefer using these too so we've now started stocking these in our T-Sac section. 

Finally, we have fresh stock back in of some of our best selling teas such as Red Jade and Tie Guan Yin. I've also sourced a new 2013 harvest version of our Four Seasons Oolong. Our new version is organic and for the price remains one of the best tasting teas I've ever drunk. We have fresh spring and summer harvest 2013 versions of many of our other most popular teas in stock now too.

I hope you like all these new changes and updates and I'd love to hear what you think - good or bad - certainly we're not afraid of making changes!


How Fresh Are Online Tea Reviews?

Recently there have been a couple of mediocre reviews about some of our teas on the biggest online review sites. Writing this post may just seem like sour grapes - or stewed tea perhaps - but I stand by every tea I personally source and select for driftwood and feel these reviews are not representative of our teas generally.

Of course I only want good reviews however, I do accept opinions and tastes vary. I generally choose not to respond to any online reviews, good or bad, trusting that most are written in good faith. I know some other online tea shops do respond which of course they are entitled to do so.

With these most recent reviews I feel somewhat aggrieved as I don't think they're particularly accurate. The teas being reviewed were: sent over a year ago; are unlikely to have been stored as we store our teas; and have already been replaced by a new harvest's stock.

May of our teas, such as Bao Zhong, are a delicate natural product, that if not stored correctly will quickly go off.

Sending out teas to bloggers and review sites is one of the first things we do upon receiving new stock. Our slogan is 'Taste Fresher Teas'. Teas are obviously at their freshest just after harvest which is when ideally they should be drunk and we do our utmost to retain that freshness and flavour.

In the past two years we have invested heavily in a specialised vacuum storage system. All of our teas are double vacuum sealed when stored here: First in mylar (foil) bags to protect them from light, moisture and scent. These are then sealed again in larger heavy duty plastic storage bags with oxygen removing sachets. We additionally store our teas in a temperature controlled room within light protective crates.

Teas stored this way lose very little of their flavour and are removed from this environment only when being sent to customers.

driftwood tea now has an established customer base, and good brand recognition, which has of course been helped in no small part positive independent online tea reviews. We do see this as an important component of our ongoing publicity strategy but realise in the future we will perhaps need to put 'Review By' dates on all the samples we're sending out!


New Spring 2013 Harvest Teas

No matter how carefully I sample a tea it's only when we finally received them here, in Edinburgh, that you can really tell what the quality is like. (Travel can often not be kind on delicate loose leaf teas!)

For many tea farmers atrocious weather conditions in China have played havoc with their crops this year. Quantities of certain teas coming to market this spring have been significantly lower and consequently some prices have gone up.

We have spent this evening preparing the first of the spring harvest teas we've received from China and Taiwan for vacuum storage; this machine has significantly improved the freshness of the teas we stock.

Customers often tell us how delighted they are when they open one of our bags and experience for the first time the aroma of fresh tea. This aroma is one of my favourite parts of this job hence I still have no problems packing tea myself simply. I love the overwhelming scent that comes from opening a chest of fresh loose leaf tea.

Aroma is as important an indicator of the freshness and likely flavour of a tea as is brewing it.

While the quantities maybe lower this year, the quality is fantastic. I dislike companies that claim year after year 'it's the best year ever.' This simply is impossible. I was quite honest about this last year and mentioned that I felt many teas were perhaps not quite as good as the previous.

While I think all teas are far better this year there are certain one which, given their decline last year, have vastly improved this harvest.

Our 2013 Bao Zhong Oolong, one of our most popular teas when we launched in 2011, is even better than our launch harvest. I am confident this will sell well and it's at its absolute finest right now only weeks after being harvested.

Our Best Selling Silver Needle White Tea has risen in price however, the smaller harvest has resulted in a brighter more concentrated white tea flavour. Similar can be said about our Pai Mu Tan (White Peony).

My favourite tea of 2012 will quite possibly remain the same this year, Tie Guan Yin. Once again this is simply etherial and I'm delighted we were able to buy slightly more of it this year. Even if it doesn't sell I'll quite happily drink the lot!

Our new website should launch really soon (next week probably) so I'll begin updating the tasting notes on this however, overall I think this is going to be a great year for tea!


New Harvest Tea Delays

Over the weekend we sold out of yet another tea. Admittedly our stocks levels now somewhat resemble the shelves of a Soviet era supermarket so, I thought I should perhaps explain why our online tea shop seems to have so little tea!

The most honest would be that we're a small company that's growing rapidly. This will be our third springtime harvest and by now we have a far better idea of what our customers like, what sells, and how much we should order.

There are certain teas though, like our bestselling Silver Needle White Tea, which it would appear no matter how much we can buy, we sell. We sold out of this a couple of months ago and I frequently receive enquires as to when we're getting more back in stock. It's always possible to buy more tea however, I pride myself on the fact that our teas taste fantastic, and that I only buy our silver needle from one source (because it’s the best).

When it comes to young teas - which are at their finest when drunk fresh - rather than buying 10 month old stock I've always felt it better to hold off and wait for the new harvest. To me this seems preferable to buying teas that I know are likely to be improved upon in a couple of months time. The reviews, feedback and word of mouth endorsements we receive also seem to suggest that others think this is worth doing too.

It's around now that the springtime harvests take place. Already many new Indian teas have become available however, the majority of the tea we sell comes from China and Taiwan. This year, due to adverse weather conditions, many of these harvests have been delayed. Additionally heavy frosts have damaged many of the high mountain Chinese green teas that we buy, such as our Huang Shan Mao Feng. This will result in a smaller harvest and the price of these teas will rise. We deal with smaller farmers and family run suppliers so are happy to pay more to support them however, this will be a tough year for many farmers in China. Who knows how many may move on to more stable and profitable crops next year*?

Despite these delays I have started sampling some of the first of the new teas and this process will continue over the next month or so. This is without a doubt one the best part of what I do! The reality of my job is I spend a lot of time writing emails or on Skype with various people around the world (while drinking tea obviously).

I hope by early May we'll start to receive our first new harvest orders and get these on to the site, which should roughly coincide with the launch of our awesome new website!


*This is a real problem however, I’ll save that for another blog.

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