Rebecca Sgouros has traveled the world, and every place she has visited she has found people drinking tea.
Not the same tea, though a few varieties are ubiquitous, but many kinds of tea that many peoples grow and enjoy. The Jackson resident, whose main focus is archaeology, found that tea was often a link between cultures.
“I’ve always been a tea lover, since I was young,” she said. “Archaeology has taken me around the world, and every culture in the world has its own tea ... and in every new place I go I try the local tea.
“I love a wide variety of tea,” she said. “I don’t think there’s a tea I don’t like.”
Sgouros likes the beverage so much she decided it would make a good side gig for her work for the Jackson Hole Historical Society. She started planning more than a year ago, and in November she launched Tea Hive, an online mail-order tea purveyor that offers monthly packages to subscribers.
It’s not a business that would have been seen as likely to succeed in the United States just a couple of decades ago. America was considered a nation of coffeeheads, and tea-drinking was commonly portrayed as a suspiciously English practice, a suspect activity that was less than manly and involved tiny cups held in hands with pinky fingers sticking out.
But tea has a long history in America: After all, when a group of patriots dressed as Indians boarded a ship in Boston Harbor in 1773 to dump tea in the famous Boston Tea Party, they weren’t motivated by tea-hate. It was about taxes, and the ship’s cargo was bound for tea-slurping colonials.
And though tea may have been an underground thing in America, it has been on the rise in recent years. Since tea arrived in Europe from China and Japan in the 1600s, it has become the second most popular drink in the world, behind only water. It’s a $44 billion market, and world production tops 5 million tons. According to the Tea Association of the USA, the U.S. imported 288 million pounds of tea in 2016 at a cost of $12 billion, and brewed the stuff into 84 billion servings or about 3.8 billion gallons. Tea drinking trends toward the younger set, the association said.
Sgouros decided her liking for the beverage — and the statistics — meant that it might be a good business. So far, she said, it seems to be working.
“It’s still just month three, but I’m happy with it. ... It’s growing,” she said. “Tea is a trendy, growing market.”
Her take on the business is aimed at the more exotic end, not the gulpers: “People don’t want stuff in tea bags,” she said, but prefer “something unique and different.”
Sgouros mails packages that contain three teas. There’s bound to be a black tea, often a green variety, and then something out of the ordinary, including herbal infusions. She thinks most drinkers are happy to have something unusual arrive to surprise them, like an African purple tea or an herbal tea made in Iceland.
A monthly subscription is $35.90 and includes enough tea to make more than 30 cups.
She searched out her original suppliers through her travels or on the internet, “sourcing teas from all around the world.”
“I have a lot of tea partners, and a lot of my partners have never exported to the U.S. before,” she said. “I’m looking for teas most of my clients would not have tried before.”
As soon as she went into business friends began suggesting teas, and now that she’s online “tea companies are finding me through the website.”
Sgouros also has begun selling the kind of tea gear that drinkers love: tea pots, cups, cosies, strainers, spoons and such. She plans to do a pop-up shop in Jackson this summer.
Her website is MyTeaHive.com.