So much more than a tea party.
Headquarters: Ancaster, Ontario, Canada
Top Executive: Tonia Jahshan, Hatem Jahshan Founders
Products: Loose Leaf Teas and Tea Accessories
WHILE IT MAY SEEM AS THOUGH THE DIGITAL AGE PROVIDES ENDLESS OPPORTUNITIES for people to connect with one another, in reality, face-to-face connection is no longer the norm. In a world where it’s faster to text than call and social media’s community is more convenient than meeting in real life, finding a true connection is getting more difficult. One entrepreneurial couple from Ontario thinks we can change that—one cup of tea at a time.
A CUP OF CONNECTION
Steeped Tea was born from a moment of connection. Hoping to reconnect and reset following a personal loss in 2005, Tonia and Hatem Jahshan took a break from their hectic lives to enjoy a quick holiday in Nova Scotia. At breakfast one morning, they were served a looseleaf tea blend that would ultimately inspire a fresh start for the couple, both personally and professionally. The tea–a Cream of Earl Grey–was more than a morning cup. Something about the warmth, smell and taste of those simple leaves ignited conversation and renewed connection. And the flavor of the loose-leaf tea was far superior to the bagged teas they were used to. Tonia’s sales and marketing mind lit up. People needed this.
“We want Sipology to exist within Steeped Tea– we’ve got twelve years of history and don’t want to lose that.” —HATEM JAHSHAN , Steeped Tea Founder and CEO
Now on a mission to share loose-leaf teas with the world, Tonia began hosting tea parties–but not your grandmother’s doily-covered-pinkiein- the-air tea parties. She wanted to show her guests that the act of making and sharing a great cup of tea, one of the oldest traditions in the world, was the perfect antidote for today’s hurried, disconnected human condition. Weekly tea parties grew to 15+ tea parties per month, which led to Tonia to transition her growing business to the direct sales model and recruit consultants to host their own events. Fast forward to 2012.
With a growing field team of over 500 consultants, 1.3 million in sales and lofty expansion goals, Tonia and Hatem approached the investors of Canada’s hit TV series The Dragons’ Den. They walked away with $250,000 of funding and two new business partners–Jim Treliving and David Chilton. This new partnership and funding allowed Tonia and Hatem to grow Steeped Tea significantly over the next six years, moving their business to larger and larger facilities, expanding their product line and growing in efficiency. Steeped Tea was now poised to enter the 35-billion-dollar direct sales market in the United States. Following a tentative U.S. launch in 2015, the company celebrated its official U.S. launch in early 2018.
TODAY ’S CUP OF TEA
Today, Tonia and Hatem’s enterprise is known as Sipology by Steeped Tea and has become home to over 6,000 North American consultants and 52 corporate team members.
“Sipology launched a year ago and the whole purpose was to expand lines beyond tea to other beverages, including medicinal and herbal drinks,” Hatem shares. “We want Sipology to exist within Steeped Tea–we’ve got twelve years of history and don’t want to lose that.”
Sipology features a range of products including loose-leaf teas, tea accessories, tea powders, baking mixes and spice blends. All Sipology products are free of artificial colors and flavors, irradiated ingredients, preservatives and fillers. This spring, the line is expanding to include new matcha powders, kombucha, color-changing teas and a new medicinal line called HEAL-THY SELF.
“We’ve expanded our matcha line to include ten unsweetened options and six sweetened options,” Hatem says. “We’ve found that hot matcha still isn’t very popular in North America, so we’ve
developed the line to be served cold. It still retains all of the matcha’s health benefits and our sweetened options are minimally sweetened–nowhere near what you’d find in Starbucks.” This
high-grade matcha is available in a range of flavors that can easily be added to smoothies or enjoyed on its own.
The spring and summer selling season also brings the introduction of colorchanging tea to the Sipology catalog. These fruit teas begin as a blue hue but with the addition of citrus turn to pink. “Our color-changing teas are a great talking point at parties and a way we’re catering to younger customers with teas like ‘Unicorn Kisses,’ ‘Peachy Keen’ and ‘Pineapple Potion,’ Hatem shares.
Sipology introduced a line of kombucha products last fall, but will now be offering scoby starters as well. Kombucha is a popular fermented tea that is made with black tea, sugar and a culture of bacteria and yeast called a “scoby” that activates the fermentation process. Traditionally, kombucha brewers obtain a scoby through other kombucha-brewing friends, but the company went through the process of growing their own lab-tested, labcertified and microbiologically safe scoby that customers can order.
Perhaps the catalog addition the Jahshan’s are most excited about is the HEAL-THY SELF line of medicinal teas and essential oils. “Every country you go to has an herb their grandparents used to heal various ailments,” Tonia explains. “We ask in every country we visit, and every place has a traditional healing experience.” Equipped with that cultural knowledge and approval
by Health Canada (the Canadian equivalent of the FDA), Sipology offers teas coupled with matching essential oils to address various health concerns, including digestion, sleep, cold/cough, constipation and inflammation. “We want this line to inspire wellness from the inside out,” Tonia says.
The Sipology name extends to consultants as well. “We no longer have consultants, we have ‘Sipologists,’ Hatem shares. “This new title speaks to the science of sipping, similar to
a mixologist. With these expanded product lines, our Sipologists now have the opportunity to diversify the types of events they put on. They can plan tea bars, kombucha workshops, wellness
events; they’re not just limited to one kind of party.”
“We ask in every country we visit and every place has a traditional healing experience.” —TONIA JAHSHAN , Steeped Tea Founder and President
With Sipologists sharing the product line and business opportunity from one end of North America to the other, the Jahshans are confident that the field team will continue to grow organically across the U.S. and Canada. Since Tonia was the first official member of the field team, she serves as an inspiration to the rest of the Sipologists in the field. Her online training videos as well as her in-person presence at events across the country keep the field engaged and growing. “Tonia travels to events set up by leaders and every month she does one or two online events,” Hatem says.
“Though her bigger focus is teaching our Sipologists to host opportunity events in their own cities.” Leader Development Specialists in the U.S. and Canada provide on the ground support for Sipologists moving through the company’s career plan.
“Our field team is a great supportive community,” Tonia shares. “We’ve retained many consultants from the very beginning. Building community has always been important to us–they all love the line so much and connect with each other over the lifestyle.”
New Sipologists can launch their businesses before their kit even arrives. Upon sign-up, they receive access to the Sipology Virtual Office and follow the simple steps included in the “New Sips Start Here” training program. “They’re already plugged in before their kits arrive and ready to host their own events,” Hatem says. “We really focus on the concept of “stations” and encourage Sipologists to present the product lines as stations-–a kombucha station, a color-changing tea station, a HEALTHYSELF station and so on. They have the option to purchase station add-ons when they sign up for their kits, so they’re ready to go once the products arrive.”
THIS ISN’ T YOUR GRANNY ’ S TEA
From the beginning, Tonia set out to show the marketplace that tea parties could be modern. As the business grew, she and Hatem saw how perfectly both their product line and business opportunity aligned with a millennial audience. “We attract a lot of millennials,” Tonia shares. “They’re driving the tea market these days. We’re seeing a lot of young, vibrant customers and Sipologists, which lines up with our original mission–this isn’t your Granny’s tea.”
Sipologists are sharing the product line through in-person parties and workshops, as well as in online Facebook parties. “We’re seeing this shift towards online events and it’s really growing,” Hatem says. “The Facebook party is now mainstream with more than half of our field conducting parties online. Our goal is to give them what they need to present the story–since you can’t smell or taste tea in an online event.”
New and veteran Sipologists have everything they need to grow their businesses through the training and resources the Sipology corporate team provides. Sipology Academy is available for initial and ongoing training. Training calls and videos are hosted weekly. Tonia considers Tea University to be an internal “tea sommelier” course that educates the field on the world of tea with quizzes after each segment. As the field grows and changes, so does the technology to keep up with their needs. “We’re jazzing up our front facing software to make it even easier to use,” Hatem explains. “We’ve had a big push to make everything mobile friendly, so that’s what we’ve done.”
ENTREPRENEURS TO THE CORE
With Tonia’s strength in sales and marketing and Hatem overseeing the company’s operations, the couple is ready for what’s next–a focus on internal improvement and organic growth. “Our corporate team is very entrepreneurial,” Hatem says proudly. “Everyone is solution-oriented, wearing multiple hats. We’re always pushing the boundaries on new things to test and try—we’re willing to do it, and the team really
While they’ve explored introducing Sipology to new international markets, the Jahshans are focused on their new presence in the U.S. and the organic growth that it brings. “The U.S. is such a huge market,” Hatem notes. “We’ve decided to keep our eye on the ball, and that’s the ball.”
With new product lines, a bustling headquarters and a growing field organization, the couple’s goal of modernizing the timehonored tradition of sharing a cup of tea has been achieved. “We took a step back and looked at the industry,” Hatem says. “We have an opportunity that sells itself and gives back to the community in that people are connecting over a cup of tea or sharing the basics of a healthy lifestyle together.”