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Daily Camera - April 9,2008

MODERATOR: Welcome to today’s Business Plus chat with Maria Uspenski, founder of the TeaSpot in Boulder. This chat forum is moderated. To submit your question or comment to the moderator, type the question in the field below this box. Then, click the "Send to Moderator" button in the bottom right corner of the window. Please do not click the "SEND" button –– your message will not be sent to the Speaker or the Moderator.

Maria Uspenski: Hi! I’m Maria, founder and director of new product development at the TeaSpot – Thank you for having me here today Alicia!

MODERATOR: What makes the TeaSpot different from other tea companies?

Maria Uspenski: We are striving to bring loose leaf tea, or tea in its most natural form, to the 21st century. We do this by presenting the total tea solution in a modern tea experience. By presenting both the highest quality loose leaf teas and Steepware, the tools that make it easy to prepare these teas.

MODERATOR: This question was e–mailed by Don: "I have only seen your tea sold as loose tea. Do you intend to sell it as bagged tea? Thanks"

Maria Uspenski: No, actually! Fresh Loose Leaf tea is the most flavorful, aromatic and healthy! So we intend to make it easy to prepare these teas, instead of degrading the quality of our tea products

MODERATOR: So what is Steepware exactly?

Maria Uspenski: It’s our brand of modern tea making devices, products that we’ve developed for everyday use that we hope will make it easy for you to integrate loose leaf tea for a healthier lifestyle.

wallacea:fancyformosafried says What’s so healthy about loose tea compared to tea in bags?

Maria Uspenski: the fresh full leaves yield about 100 times the antioxidants that bagged tea does, or about 1000 times more than bottled teas. I was initially drawn to tea for its health benefits, so this was very important to me. I almost inadvertently discovered all the other wonderful benefits of loose leaves, like value (mush more economical), taste, aroma and it’s the only "green" tea solution – there’s no waste.

MODERATOR: How has your business changed and/or grown since its founding, i.e. what type of expansion have you experienced?

Maria Uspenski: We’ve grown in sales more than 3.5X each year since we started, and our wholesale business now has 5 fantastic full–time talented and energetic individuals moving us forward with great energy and creativity. We’re running as fast as we can to keep up– the opportunities are outpacing our ability to manufacture product. Our products are now available in over 700 stores nationwide, and by the end of this year that number will double.

MODERATOR: This is a follow–up question on why loose leaf teas have more antioxidants...

MODERATOR:boulderhikerchick says why is that? Where do the antioxidants go when they bag the teas?

Maria Uspenski: It’s not that the antioxidants go away for the most part, but that the tea in bags is mostly the tea "dust" ’that comes off the bottom of the plant, and when they are machine cut and processed, the integrity of the tea leaf is destroyed. Additionally, in bagged tea you are often presented with products that have been processed and packaged months ago – so it’s less fresh. Maximum antioxidant value is in the freshest tealeaves.

wallacea:fancyformosafried says What’s your favorite kind of tea? What do you drink the most of?

Maria Uspenski: I love puerh tea, an aged and fermented VERY black tea – which makes up a fourth of our BOLDER BREAKFAST BLEND in the mornings, and then i always drink a green or an oolong at work in the afternoon

beas0554: How did you get started in the tea business?

Maria Uspenski: I’m a cancer survivor, and had a tech firm in the 90s, which i sold in 2000. In learning about teas as a part of my recovery, I just realized that there was a great opportunity to bring this tasty and healthful beverage to many more Americans than whose who were currently drinking it!

MODERATOR: Here’s a question e–mailed by Femke: "Where is the best immunity kind of tea grown, and do you have to process or add ingredients to create the best powerful immune creating use? And how much tea of this kind should one drink each day and how can we tell if it’s working?"

Maria Uspenski: The teas with the highest cancer fighting antioxidants are white and green teas from China and Japan, and those with the highest antibacterial content are those very black teas from China, as well as the black teas from India and Sri Lanka, also Rooibos from South Africa, is an herbal RED tea with tremendous antioxidant benefits. To get max benefit, you should drink at least 2 cups a day of green or white tea, 5 or more is better! (we’re talking 6 oz cups here...)

boulderhikerchick: I saw a store front in DIA with the Teaspot logo on it, can you tell us anything more about that?

Maria Uspenski: Yes! This is a very exciting new development for us – our teas and Steepware are now available on the main concourse by the fountain at DIA.

wallacea:fancyformosafried says If I am trying to kick my 3 cup/ day coffee habit, are there any particular teas that you can suggest? I’ve heard that tea has less caffeine than coffee... is that true w/ all teas?

Maria Uspenski: For a heavy coffee drinker, i would suggest the BOLDER BREAKFAST, or the GREEN ROASTED MINT – the full–bodied ROASTY flavor is what satisfies coffee drinkers the most, but you don’t have to give up coffee! – just supplement with some tea later on in the day to start, and you’ll find that you will need your coffee lass and less!

boulderhikerchick: I really love drinking your Bolder Breakfast tea every morning. Are there any discounts for college students to purchase that tea?

Maria Uspenski: There’s a discount package for students – the student started set, AND there’s a new development on our new website – you can now purchase REFILLS for your tins at a substantial discount.

MODERATOR: Considering this new DIA store/cafe has opened, are there plans to open any other cafes in Colorado or elsewhere? Or is the intention to continue the wholesale growth?

Maria Uspenski: The intention is to focus on the wholesale business for now, and then in 2–3 years we may move forward with a larger scale retail expansion

MODERATOR: Here are two similar questions: "What kind of new products/innovation are you hoping to incorporate this year?" and "hi there! i have been a big fan for awhile now and just wondering what you have in store for the fans!

Maria Uspenski: Well... we have some awesome and some lower price–point Steepware products coming out this year to help fans enjoy our teas...There is a tea infuser, that can be used with any cup or pot (not only ours) that’s coming out this summer. Definitely a first of its kind, as well as a very hip UNBREAKABLE teapot which we’re targeting for the foodservice industry. We also have some great new teas under production, to keep our customers healthy and happy!

MODERATOR: I believe you got that Steepware patented a little while back, how important are patented products and intellectual property to this company?

Maria Uspenski: Very important, indeed. As we become available in a more international setting, we already see several "knock–offs" of our products. Being first only serves us so far, but we need to ensure that the patents are in place for our most strategic and innovative product designs. The IP is key because TeaSpot is all about innovation in the tea industry. I think we’re the only company to offer only loose leaves, and to bring out a series of first–of–a–kind products that solve the loose leaf tea steeping issues: proportion, temperature, timing, clean up, etc.

MODERATOR: You said earlier that it’s been hard to keep up with the demand and the rapid expansion ... what are your strategies for moving past this stage and for other small businesses that may be facing similar issues, do you have any suggestions? We’ll probably wrap up here in a couple of minutes ... are there any more questions for Maria?

Maria Uspenski: Plan your growth CAREFULLY! It’s critical to keep true to your planned growth strategy, and know when to adapt and bow to exciting new opportunities. Sometimes small businesses can get ahead of themselves, and are then faced with the difficulty of keeping up with growth.

beas0554: Thanks for the chat, Maria! I love your teas!

Maria Uspenski: Thank you! It really makes our day to know that we can make you happy with our work!!

boulderhikerchick: Can you talk a little about the TeaSpot’s Conscious Living campaign? Is 1% of all purchases allocated to this, or just the teas?

Maria Uspenski: We donate 1% of all our revenues to environmental and social (health) initiatives, the Steepware is part of 1% for the Planet, so 1% of those purchases go to environmental organizations that we believe help keep the planet safe for growing healthy tea, and the tea initiatives are all centered around cancer wellness programs.

wallacea:fancyformosafried says, As a connoisseur, what is it about tea that you appreciate the most?

Maria Uspenski: I would have to say that it’s the diversity and versatility of the tea plant – from what other product can you get such a wide range of flavors?! I am also in love with tea traditions from around the world. The fact that tea has been so much a part of important cultural traditions form several thousand years, and in competing and fighting cultures – i just think it’s great that such a healthful and calming drink really does bond us together in a sense. Many of you already know that tea is the second most popular beverage on the planet, after water. So we wish to extend this tradition to young people to integrate this healthier product and to make them aware of tea traditions elsewhere!

MODERATOR: Maria, thank you so much! If people have any follow–up questions, what are the best ways for them to find out more information about the TeaSpot?

Maria Uspenski: We have recently launched a beautiful new and informative website – there’s a lot about tea, its origins and traditions, as well as health benefits and cooking with tea at www.the–teaspot.com. Thank you so much for allowing me this opportunity to speak with you all on this snowy morning... such a great one for a steamy pot of fresh tea! Bye!!