Happy Friday! As promised, we have part two of our interview with the incredible co-founders of Nelson & George, Olivia and Sheila Kahler. The spectacular mother-daughter duo and business partners of the luxury tea company has more to share about entrepreneurship, their advice to aspiring business owners, and, of course, tea. (In case you missed it, here’s Part I!) Have you poured yourself a cup of tea? We’re diving right back in.
Another question for Sheila – can you tell us a bit about tea and what differentiates one type of tea from the next? Also, what is a “mother bush?”
To be called “tea”, the leaf used in brewing must technically come from the Camillia sinensis plant (considered a bush, though it is technical a tree if left to grow and can reach up to 17 meters or 55 feet high). There are three main cultivars: camellia sinensis sinensis, camellia sinensis assamica, and camellia sinensis cambodiensis. All other plant material not used from this main plant species should technically be considered a tisane or herbal tea. It is in the processing of the camellia sinensis leaf as dictated by a tea master, that determines which type of tea will be produced. All types of tea, be it black, green, white, oolong or pu ehr, start off from the same species, one of the three listed above. Producing a superior type of tea – a superior black, etc. – reflects on the skill primarily of the tea master’s guidelines, though, of course, the growing conditions, including type of soil, and the care given it during the growing season, as well as plucking skill play varying roles. I know it may seem difficult to understand that those varieties of teas I mentioned all start out from the same leaf…maybe it helps to relate it to wine. All wine is made from wine grapes, but where the wine is grown, and the processing and aging of the wine account for a widely different experience for the wine drinker. The same goes for tea!
Until relatively recently, all tea was planted from seed and this took about 10 years before it became a viable tea plant. In the 1970’s however, “cloning” (or “vegetative propagation”) became popular. In order to ensure a quality tea, to afford more control in general over the tea, growers would select strong branches from an established tea bush – a “mother bush” – cut it into short lengths of twig and single leaf, root it, and plant it. By cloning, one could more readily control taste of the tea, disease resistance and increased hardiness, and, in some cases, increased yield. Control over quality and yield as well as for expediency, cloning from a mature “mother bush” became more the norm.
Olivia, you’ve done an incredible job with the packaging and branding. Everything is so beautiful! How did you go about choosing this particular aesthetic?
Thank you! The visual aspects of the company were very important to me, and I put a lot of thought and effort into creating a look that I felt conveyed what Nelson and George represents. I am always tweaking – there is so much more I want to add!
While I put a lot of work into the visual aspects, I was lucky to have Rachelle at Saevil Row (http://saevilrow.co) came up with our logo, and initial branding colors and fonts. She did a great job translating my initial ideas onto paper, and encapsulating our brand in our logo. I especially love the ampersand horse. 🙂 I then expanding upon her foundation, creating my own mood boards, Pinterest boards, and paying a lot more attention to branding and packaging than I had in the past!
I want our aesthetic to convey a sense of a contemporary classic. A sense of elegance that is updated, and elevated yet approachable, with an American influence. I work every day to refine and get closer to conveying this aesthetic in all of our online visuals.
What are your favorite teas and why?
Olivia: My favorite thing about tea, now that I have become familiar with the great variety there is available, is choosing a tea the matches my mood and the experience I want to have. I feel like I can go on a taste adventure just by brewing a cup of tea. While wine shares similar characteristics in terms of variety and depth and richness of flavors, one of the aspects that I so enjoy about tea is that you can drink it almost any time of day, hot or iced, and the effects are either energizing or calming. My top five teas are:
- The Maria – (Tie Guan Yin) I love floral notes, and this tea has delicate yet prominent orchid notes with a refreshing finish. It feels as though you are sipping the sent of a flower! As this tea is one of my favorites, I named it after one of the most incredible opera singers of all time – Maria Callas.
- The Balto – (Hoji Cha) This is my go-to tea for after dinner/being cozy. I love the roasted taste, and it reminds me of Japan, where this is one of the most popular teas, and is served either after a meal, or to children due to its low caffeine content. I would love to bring this tea camping for sipping around the fire. While most Hoji Chas are made from Bancha leaves (as this is cheaper), ours is made from organically grown young green tea shoots. I loved the story of Balto growing up, and even named one of our dogs after this brave sled dog.
- The Tara – (White Bud Pu erh) Before we started this tea company, I had never had a pu eh tea. As this tea is both white, and yet a pu erh, it provides an interesting mix between light and refreshing yet with additional depth on the palate due to the pu erh processing. I love sipping this while working, and it keeps me refreshed a focused the whole morning. I named it after one of the rescue dogs who worked at the World Trade Center site after the 9/11 attacks.
- The Portland – (Chai) I love having this tea when I am in the mood for a treat, or substitute it for dessert. I have always loved chai tea lattes, and I have to say that our chai is my favorite (or else I suppose I would have requested we keep searching….!) While most chais are black tea based, ours has a green tea base. In my opinion, this preserves all the yummy-ness of a chai tea latte, while making it less heavy. The whole spices (such as cardamom pods) result in a tea bursting with a variety of flavors, that reminds me a bit of spiced cookies at the holidays. Organic, whole, cow’s milk is delicious, chilled with coconut milk adds a tropical flair, or hemp milk is lighter. I suggest adding some sugar to bring out the flavor of the spices.
- The James – (Earl Grey) I had been more of a black tea drinker, and Earl Grey was always one of my favorites. While the characteristic Bergamot flavoring was originally added to cover up the taste of a lower quality black, our Earl Grey’s base is an organically grown, high quality black, and our Bergamot is a real essential oil, rather than artificially produced. This makes all the difference, and our Earl Grey, names after James Maddison, takes the Earl Grey experience to a whole new level! It amplifies the characteristic flavors of an Earl Grey and eliminates the sometimes-bitter aftertaste. I love drinking this tea on a chilly winter morning, iced with lemon and honey, or as my afternoon pick me up.
Sheila: A tea that is of very high quality is my favorite tea! I know that I can not only drink our tea then enjoying the exquisite flavor and aroma, but do so with a clear conscience knowing that it is free of chemicals and generally has small tea garden/family provenance. Having spent most of my adult life living an “organic” lifestyle, studying and working clinically and socially in the holistic health field, I have developed a palate which can instantly detect “foul play” as I would term it, with that which I am at the moment ingesting. Most people could determine a truly organic food stuff given the choice: the flavor is usually outstanding and real. My eating/drinking pleasure then extends to a knowing that the natural world, the planet, is sustained, not negatively impacted through the production of this tea. Yet, if I must chose, then I feel most at home with a Dragonwell (like our “The Abigail“) or a high quality Sen Cha (green) (like our “The Sacagawea“), or Tie Guan Yin (like our “The Maria“) or Dancong Honey Orchid (like our “The Benjamin“) – both oolongs, and perhaps a Cream of Puerh (like our “The Harvey“), or our Arya Darjeeling, “The Mark” – black. But really, it is just too hard to chose: it often just depends on mood and weather, believe it or not!
When do you most love to enjoy a cup of tea?
Sheila: There is a saying in the tea world – a phrase, if you will – by William Ewart Gladstone, which can sum up the answer to this question:
“If you cold, tea will warm you;
If you are too heated, it will cool you;
If you are depressed, it will cheer you;
If you are excited, it will calm you…
Is it in the end, the warmth of the tea beverage or actually the much studied and documented health benefits tea imparts that support the sentiment above? Perhaps both…”
Personally, I look forward to my morning cup of tea, most often a green, but not always, depending on my mood, and to an afternoon cup.
Olivia: I love starting my morning with tea and a cup of fruit. It has been such an adventure to become familiar with all of our teas, and I look forward to my morning ritual of sipping a cup of tea, while reading that tea’s story. Several of our teas are suitable for multiple brewings, so I will often sip one tea until lunch. I also love having iced tea in the fridge. Before bed, I love drinking a cup of tea while reading, or these days, often finishing up some work on Nelson and George!
How do you see Nelson and George developing in the near future? What are your goals for your business?
Sheila: I think that as the population – even speaking worldwide, not just in the U.S. -becomes more and aware of healthful eating and sustainability, which is well ingrained now, we can count on the tea marketplace continuing the healthy/sustainable trend, where the consumer makes his/her purchases very consciously. One who, too, will ask for those teas, which are produced in a sustainable way. This awareness, this shall I say, “demand” will not go away in my opinion, but grow to be more commonplace rather than just a “niche market.” We also tout ourselves to be “luxury”: this is niche at the moment that is ready to jump into full bore trend when people, the consumer really understands what “luxury” really means. Luxury as we intend it is saying that “I will pause today, and take time away from the hectic pace, from perhaps the IT world and just be “, and/or “I will care about my buying choices and support my body, the planet, other people by choosing, say, organic first.” We are attempting to bring awareness to the public at large that it is OK to choose “luxury” when coined in that fashion. It is simply a question of self-respect. Our goal is to be a leader in this direction, to help create awareness on the two levels – health/sustainability and luxury, taking time -mentioned. We need to pause more and just be, or reflect on life. Doing so over a warming cup of excellent tea is the perfect setting!
Olivia: Our overall goal is to introduce Americans to the world of fine and rare teas, and as Mom said, to introduce moments of luxury into the busy lives of Americans. Time is our biggest luxury, and setting some of that aside for ourselves or to share with friends is a luxury that certainly makes our lives richer. We feel that taking the time to properly brew and enjoy a cup of tea creates an atmosphere and somewhat of a structure for these moments – and as a bonus tea is both healthy and suitable for all age groups and times of day.
While our tea is currently only sold online, we plan on experimenting with expanding into both retail boutiques and cafes, as well as restaurants and hotels that match with our aesthetic and values. (We are definitely open to suggestions!) We also might open up a Nelson and George tearoom within the next five years.
Our current tea collection has largely been named after prominent Americans present at America’s birth. As we add more teas, we plan on expanding chronologically into other areas of American history. We also have plans to expand our selection of tisanes to include teas specifically designed to support expecting and new mothers, and young children.
We are also looking forward to collaborating with various artists to add to our accessories collection, and do capsule tea collections.
For me, one of the hardest aspects at the moment is remembering to take it a step at a time, as I have big plans for the future of Nelson and George!
Can you leave us with some words of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Olivia: Keeping a clear focus by writing down your goals, and then working backwards to break them down into actionable steps I have found effective. Action is so important. Just start…even if it is just a small step. As this world of business is new to me, I have been enjoying learning about all the different aspects involved in running a business. Podcasts, reading articles online, and chatting with fellow entrepreneurs has been enormously helpful. My favorite podcasts are: Smart Passive Income, Online Marketing Made Easy with Amy Porterfield, Shopify Masters, The Jess Lively Show (for inspiration and work/life balance), and I love Marie Forleo!
Sheila: Keep aspiring! Don’t give up too readily if things at first don’t go the way you intended, yet…be willing to take a new task, create new opportunities, if necessary! Above all, be happy and excited about your business. This ensures success.
Many thanks to Sheila and Olivia Kahler for this fantastic interview and insight into their business. You can order your Nelson & George teas online. Be sure to follow the N&G adventures via Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook!
Images compliments of Nelson & George