What motivated you to start a small business in this sector?
We’d always been really into herbology and herbs. It’s so good for your system; it relieves fatigue, it helps with memory retention and mental focus. We weren’t experts or anything, we’re just learning, and neither do we consider ourselves experts now. The perspective that we’ve taken with JagaSilk is that we’re permalearners, constantly learning, and constantly sharing what we’re learning. That’s how the premise started.
Are you focussed on ethical sourcing?
That’s definitely our goal. I think how we accomplish this is by having direct contact with the people that are growing the teas that we bring in. The standard in the industry is to buy it from a broker or an importer who’s bringing in massive quantities and therefore reducing the cost. We’re bringing in micro-batches from small farmers, and in the case of our Japanese supply chain, we visit those farms ourselves once or twice a year. We really focus on that human relationship.
What has been your biggest inspiration for your business itself?
In terms of vision, the coffee community has had a huge impact on us. A lot of parallel dialogues happen about sourcing, transparency, and really geeking out on preparation so that we can highlight the cultivars that we’re working with.
We’re focussed on the care that not only our crew puts into the preparation, but the work that the farmers have put into it, and the importance of storing things well.
Last October, we got in our own mill, and we’re actually milling the tencha into maccha right here in the shop.
Do you find that your customer base is very interested in the behind-the-scenes aspects?
Yeah! We have an academy of tea that we do about once a month. We call it ‘office hours’ as a joke. We’ve got a lot of people who are really interested coming in and asking really detailed questions.
I’d say that the three types of individuals we tend to be the most attractive to, are definitely flavour junkies, health enthusiasts, and Japanese cultural enthusiasts. We get people who are really into Moksha and the whole culture around it. It’s the tea in the Japanese tea ceremony, so its interesting for those who are following those traditional art movements.
What is the most rewarding part of working in this sector?
Connecting people to their food. Its contributing to this idea that being more connected to what we consume helps us be more ethical people and make more ethical choices.
What are the main challenges you have faced?
What we’re doing is not normal. We are not your standard bulk tea store, pulling tea out of a bin and selling it. I think when you go into a tea shop you’re still in that space where you’re expecting to sample whatever tea you want and then buy some tea to drink at home. That’s cool, but we want to have more of a preparation dialogue. We’re having this bigger conversation about direct sourcing, the people who make the tea, and the craft involved.
We’ve actually found a good resonation with coffee roasters. They love our tea program because its so minimalist, just six or eight teas that rotate all the time.
Why did you choose this location? What do you like about it?
Now there’s a challenge. I love downtown Victoria but we’re definitely a word of mouth location. I think the only time we become a location that people are walking by is in the summer with all the tourists.
We are sort of an oasis, with the brick and the maple trees. Every February we invite tea merchants from all over the pacific northwest and we do a Victoria tea festival revival. We’ve been doing that for five years now. This year we flew in a farmer from Japan and he did a talk and it was all paid for with last year’s donations. The support is there, and its growing.
Downtown Victoria certainly has its convenience in terms of being a centre. There’s a good group of business owners in here.
What are your favourite places to eat/shop/play downtown?
Migration is a fantastic shop; I love the shops downtown that are a little bit more into ethical sourcing.