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Tyler Beckett

Justin Watkins

May 2015

Tyler drinks tea, not coffee. He founded Hugo Tea Company to sell premium, drinkable, loose tea with the thought that more people would drink tea if it were done differently.

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Why tea?

Tea is objectively a badass beverage. The original energy drink in many ways. It’s better for you than virtually any other drink-of-habit (coffee, soda, Red Bull, etc). It’s vastly cheaper than all of the above. It’s less taxing on the environment too. Tea cultivation produces around 10x as many cups per acre than coffee, which means less land to clear and harvest. Tea cultivation also uses about 8x less water (from farm to cup) than coffee. It’s also easier to make a cup of tea than a cup of coffee. (There’s a reason penniless monks living on mountain tops drink tea). And for what it’s worth, we have been drinking tea for 4500 years compared to only 500 years for coffee. Given all of that, you’d think that tea would be the most popular beverage in the world – and it is. Almost everywhere except here.

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How are you spreading the word about Hugo Tea?

I don’t worry too much about spreading the word or marketing in the traditional sense. Our goal is to partner with the best cafes and restaurants in the region and let their patrons discover Hugo in the natural course of their day. I prefer things that occur more organically. A lot of brands talk about this and there’s lot’s of lingo that’s used to explain the idea, but in practice it’s very difficult to do. It’s easy to buy an ad, it’s much more difficult to have a genuine conversation with someone about tea with no pretense on buying or selling. When I sit down for a tasting with a shop owner (or anyone else) we only talk about Hugo Tea for a fraction of the time–the conversation inevitably steers toward more personal things. I prefer it that way. It’s my favorite part of what I do.

How do you convince shops a branded tea is better for the bottom line than a non-descript tea?

Shop owners know that tea is a higher margin item than coffee. Tea is also faster to prepare. From a shop’s perspective the best thing a customer can order when they walk in a shop is a pot of tea. And the best way to get folks drinking more tea is to draw attention to it and help them understand what they’re getting.

I like drawing comparisons to the beer and wine industry. No one walks into a bar and orders a “lager” or an “ale” – they seek out a specific brand and a specific name of beer. Tea needs to be the same to gain credibility. Right now, when a tea-drinker walks into a cafe, they typically order “a green tea” or “a black tea.” That’s not good enough. We need people to identify with what they are drinking

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What steps are you taking to scale beyond independent shops?

Hugo needs to do a better job in grocery. That’s our goal for the next 12 months. Early on we ended up over-expanding into grocery stores without a good way to manage all of those relationships. Now we’re making investments in new packaging and production lines for grocery. This will likely put us in more traditional grocery distribution rather than selling direct.

We’re also finishing the build out of our fancy new space which is way bigger than we need right now. Room to grow, right? Part of the idea of this space is to introduce more people to Hugo Tea in a more intimate, controlled setting with our new tasting room. We’ll have very small private events and we’ll also be able to take part in the Caffeine Crawls.

What is your latest epiphany?

I’d venture to guess that a person only has a handful of true epiphanies in life. I don’t know my last one. I did come to the conclusion recently that I’m just not that into bacon. Sausage all the way.

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