3 Steps to Grow Your Herbal Tea Business

Hand-blended herbal teas are all the rage at farmers’ markets. Here's how to grow and mix teas that will fly off your sales table.

by Jessica WalliserJune 2, 2014
3 Steps to Grow Your Tea Business - Photo courtesy iStock/Thinkstock (HobbyFarms.com)
Courtesy iStock/Thinkstock

Adding farm-grown herbal teas to your farmers’ market stand offers an opportunity for add-on sales and a shot at extending your customer base. Tea lovers are loyal people. Once they find a favorite tea, they’ll return week after week to purchase more—and they’ll be the first to try any new offerings you present.

While true teas, like black, green and oolong teas, contain caffeine and come from the tropically grown evergreen shrub Camellia sinensis, herbal teas are caffeine-free and come from a variety of plant materials, many of which are easily grown almost anywhere in North America.

1. Mix Interesting Blends
To start your own herbal tea business, you have to be willing to experiment. Learn about pleasant-tasting herbs and grow as many varieties as possible. Creating exciting tea combinations is more likely if you have a broad base of herbs to choose from.

Herbs like mint, chamomile and lemon balm are easy-to-cultivate must-haves, but to really move beyond traditional blends, look to add herbs like scented geraniums, rugosa roses (for hips and petals), borage, lemon thyme, bee balm, caraway, elderberry, hibiscus, stevia, woodruff, lemon verbena, lemon thyme, Persian anise basil, cinnamon basil, fennel, anise, and rosemary.

You may also consider purchasing additional ingredients that are harder to grow in your part of the country. Ingredients like orange and lemon peels, dried pomegranate, cinnamon bark, goji berries and ginger root can be sourced from bulk-herb suppliers and added to your herbal tea blends. Experiment at home with herbal combinations and invite friends over for a tea-tasting where they can vote on their own favorites. Use that information to decide which herbal teas to market first.

2. Package Your Teas
Once you’ve settled on a handful of tea blends that please a wide range of palates, think about how best to sell them. Although there are many options for marketing your teas at the farm stand, the first decision to make is whether you want to sell your teas pre-bagged or loose-leaf.

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Loose Leaf
Tea aficionados often prefer loose-leaf teas sold out of clear, glass containers so they can carefully examine the amount and quantity of each ingredient before purchase. Lidded, glass apothecary jars filled with teas create a beautiful display. Mason jars also work well. Label every container carefully and have a sample of each dried tea blend in a small bowl for smelling and close-up examination.

Loose-leaf teas should be sold by weight via a price per ounce or gram. A good kitchen scale is a must, as customers will want to watch you weigh out their purchase. Once the loose tea is weighed, put it in a labeled, plastic, zip-top bag or a reusable cloth bag they can bring back for a refill and receive a small discount on subsequent purchases.

Tea Bags
Pre-bagged tea is already measured into single-serve portions and secured in a sealed porous material, ready for steeping. Tea growers can purchase empty tea bags—with or without strings—from several online retailers (expect to pay between $4 and $8 per 100 bags) and hand-fill them.

Because it’s labor-intensive to pack and package bagged tea and the price of the bags and packaging needs to be factored in, pre-bagged teas can bring a slightly higher price-point than loose-leaf teas. Rather than needing to measure the tea by weight for sale, bagged teas are sold either individually or per a set quantity. Groups of tea bags can come prepackaged in cardboard canisters, paper or plastic bags, or labeled glass jars. If you’re selling several types of pre-bagged teas together, you’ll want to seal each variety in a separate plastic bag of its own before combining the varieties together in a larger container.

3. Offer Tea-sers
Market customers will probably want to taste your teas before making a purchase. Contact your county health department and learn about any specific rules pertaining to handling samples. Gloves are often required for preparation and handling; individual, disposable sampling cups are necessary; and a specific water temperature might be required. Again, check with your farmers’ market board and health department before distributing samples.

You can bring hot water to market in insulated carafes and steep the tea on-site. Have some locally produced honey on hand for sweetening. Working with a honey-producing market vendor is a great cross-marketing opportunity. 

Farm-grown herbal teas offer growers an excellent chance to extend their product line and offer customers a taste of something new.

Harvest more herb and tea knowledge to boost your business:

About the Author: Horticulturalist Jessica Walliser is the author of Good Bug, Bad Bug: Who’s Who, What They Do and How to Manage Them Organically (St. Lynn’s Press, 2008) and co-host of Pittsburgh’s top-rated gardening radio program, The Organic Gardeners, on KDKA Radio. Read about her gardening adventures in Dirt on Gardening.