Number E Small Batch Tea
Big Plans for Wellington’s Number E Small Batch Tea
Chris Auger and his wife Sarah Pelletier were looking for an entrepreneurial endeavour that would allow them to indulge their passion, while also giving themselves opportunities for meaningful interaction with their community, a little exotic travel and a genuine chance for significant success.
But even Auger never expected to be in the tea business as his vocation. He and Pelletier founded Number E Small Batch Tea in Prince Edward County, where the couple have lived since 2009, devoting themselves to this unique business venture after Auger left the full-time Canadian Forces (he is still a reservist) after nearly 20 years.
“We were always into visiting coffee shops and things like that and we even thought about starting one. That’s why my wife went to do her barista course, but then she also started doing her certification program with the Tea and Herbal Association of Canada. But then we thought, let’s start something small for the farmer’s market in Wellington. And instantly we fell in love with the entrepreneurship idea, of being our own bosses. For myself, I really fell in love with the aspect of being in regular contact with lots of people,” he said, adding that both also wanted a change of pace from their careers. Auger was an elite search and rescue medic who performed over 450 jumps in his career, while Pelletier is an emergency room nurse.
“We have developed a real passion for it, but we decided if we were going to do something, we wanted it to be new and different from what we were doing, and something we thought the community would enjoy. We feel the Bay of Quinte region is perfect for that because lots of people already live here, there are new people coming all the time, plus there are a lot of tourists coming in too.”
The County Via India
The company began modestly in 2015, but things began to really accelerate for Number E Small Batch Tea with a fateful trip to India as well as a brand makeover.
“We were doing well, but we realized that in order to really be able to offer the best ingredients, we had to travel to where the tea grows to make sure we were using the best quality leaf, which were organic, chemical free and fair trade. We decided we had to go to India and that’s what we did in the spring of 2017. We went to Kolkata [formerly known as Calcutta], we went to the Assam region, which is a big tea region, we went to Darjeeling and we also cultivated come contacts in Nepal. We created these connections in India and Nepal that allowed us to learn more about our products – the loose-leaf tea that we sell and use to make our recipes,” Auger explained.
“And I think that’s what makes our company special, that we would personally take the time to travel and go to where the tea grows to build contacts for the exact tea garden and tea leaves we think are best for our recipes. First of all, we look for a chemical free garden, and also where the people who are picking the tea are treated well. For us, this is very important. After investing in the organic certification my wife Sarah suggested we create something called the handshake certification, which means we went and talked to the owner and knew exactly what kind of practices they were using to grow and pick their tea. So not only is it the exact flavour that we are looking for to import, but they are from small gardens where we know quality is the main goal. When people buy a bag of our loose-leaf tea, we can explain exactly how it was harvested and how it was grown. This makes it an educational experience for the customer, but also a very friendly and interesting interaction with us, and that is mainly what makes our product different.”
A Brand Like No Other
As for the rebranding, Auger said he and Pelletier invested in some work by a marketing and design firm to come up with a new logo as well as an attractive and user-friendly website. Along the way, Pelletier also earned her certification as a tea sommelier, a rare distinction in this part of Ontario. On each package of tea sold, there are also instructions on the proper method for steeping tea to get the optimal benefit from the leaves.
“Tea that has been steeped the right way will be a thousand times better. So, we make sure to explain that directly to the customer, but when people buy a bag there are also instructions on it. Tea companies that care about the quality of the experience for the customer will do that,” Auger said.
Besides a delicious and diverse selection of black teas, herbal teas, Oolong teas, green teas and special blends, a chilled sparkling tea was created and has become arguably the biggest hit of the Number E repertoire. Auger designed a special tap that could be taken to events, but also one that could be installed at a craft brewery. The idea is to give non-drinkers or designated drivers the chance to have a quality, tasty beverage while their companions enjoyed beer. This has proved to be a pivotal development in the young company’s history as it could lead to significantly bigger and better things.
“For example, we distribute kegs to Parson Brewery in Wellington, which is one of our main partners right now. It’s an alternative to alcoholic beverages in the microbrewery environment and this is how our product is evolving. Through the winter of 2017/2018 we have been working on a commercial recipe for our sparkling tea with NSF Labs in Guelph to be able to create something for wider distribution, by which I mean canning the tea for sale in stores or restaurants. We’re developing that commercial recipe and all the necessary protocols to get to the canning, which is going to happen later in the spring,” Auger said, adding that he is amazed at how their products seem to be popular with a wide demographic.
“When we first started with the sparkling beverage, we knew that a younger crowd would be more into it, because it’s the kind of thing that is really becoming popular with that age group in North America as far as the non-alcoholic beverage market goes as people are turning away from the typical sugary sweet things like pop. We thought our target customer would be between 20 and 40 – someone who is into sports and an active lifestyle and is conscious about their diet and health. Curiously enough, at events like Brighton Applefest and Incredible Edible in Campbellford, and the market in Wellington, we saw that kids from age 10 to people in their 60s and 70s like the product. Right now, I would say our customers are anyone looking for something refreshing, very thirst quenching and very healthy and natural as well.”
Not Without Challenges
Besides the challenge of getting the brand out there and having as many people try and buy their teas, Auger and Pelletier face the same sorts of challenges of any growing firm looking to expand – how to pay for the equipment, facilities and processes you need in order to take the business to the next level.
“It’s all these expenses related to expansion, like commercial equipment – everything is extremely costly. We are talking tens upon tens of thousands of dollars to expand. So, one of the challenges is to do it the right way, without having to risk everything, because we want to get that going. But we’re doing it the right way and we are willing to invest a lot and put a lot of time into it,” Auger said, adding that developing the process for the canning of the sparkling water could also be a make-or-break challenge, particularly when it comes to the water that will be used.
“The version in the cans is going to be different than for our keg distribution. The work we’re doing with NSF in Guelph is a challenging process on the technical side to find the right water that has the right level of hardness, the right level of dissolved solids. Sometimes spring water can be good, sometimes it is not good. Tap water is rarely good unless it has gone through a reverse osmosis system. So that has been a true challenge that we slowly but surely have been getting through it.”
For more information on Number E Small Batch Teas, visit https://www.numberetea.com/home-1