Starting a Tea Company

Interview with Tavalon Tea Founder John-Paul Lee

John-Paul Lee opened Tavalon Tea in 2005 with every penny he had. Now he runs a successful and innovative tea company.

Tavalon Tea is not your ordinary tea company. Meet John-Paul Lee, the founder of this cutting edge company.

Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?

Tavalon which stands for T (tea) + Avalon (a mythical oasis) aims to push tea back into the spotlight by stepping away from its traditional image and presenting a fresh, new, accessible face for tea while educating the general public about its health benefits.

We use our passion and expertise in tea to develop a company for both tea connoisseurs and newcomers to the tea world while providing premium teas and accessories to a mainstream audience.

In addition to our vast assortment of premium natural teas, and organic line, we offer a series of tea cocktails made exclusively by in-house Tea Sommelier, Chris Cason such as the "MoTEAjo" and the "SmarTEAni". Tavalon also collaborates with various spas to create a line of tea-infused spa treatments including Green Tea Facial Masques, White Tea Eye Creams, Herbal Tea Back Scrubs, etc... If that's not enough, Tavalon offers delicious treats to satisfy the sweet tooth including tea infused gummy bears and chocolate covered green tea latte almonds.

Our products are served at many high end restaurants, select gourmet groceries, spas, hotels, as well as department stores such as Bloomingdale's. We also sell our products online via

What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?

I was a consultant working for one of the Big 5. Yes, this is my first business.

Where did you get the startup money?

Sold everything I had and then some. (sold my car, house, stocks, cashed out 401K, pulled 4 credit cards, and 2 loans).

Who are your main competitors? How do you compete against them?

I believe that there are very few companies who do what we do. If I had to choose one it would be Mighty Leaf but Tavalon's innovative products and focused branding really puts us ahead of our competition.

How has your experience in running the business been different from what you expected?

I underestimated the power of money and how in business, money makes money.

Is there anything you wish you had done differently?

I would start with even MORE money.

What have you done that has been very effective in helping to grow the business?

I think we've done a very good job with getting our product and brand out there in the market. We're a fairly new business in comparison with the other tea companies out there but we've certainly created a name for ourselves and a new category for tea bringing loose leaf out of the niche market. We've been mentioned/featured in over 60 publications to date, worldwide and I don't think many companies can accomplish that in 3 years time.

What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?

Study your competition and do it better and when it comes to cash make sure you have double the amount of what you think it will cost you because it will...

Thank you for the advice, John-Paul. We'll be keeping an eye out for Tavalon!

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Conversation Board

What's your perspective on this entrepreneurial story? Has reading it inspired you to become an entrepreneur? We welcome all comments, questions and suggestions.

  • Jessica posted on 2/6/2009
    Thanks John-Paul for the great advice and inspiring story! I am looking to start up a company of my own and it is refreshing to hear how others made it.
  • Trina A posted on 2/10/2009
    Trina A
    I can relate to your story John-Paul. Money makes Money! It is amazing how fast money can go when you're building a company. Thanks for sharing your story, it is very reinforcing to fellow entrepreneurs. Good luck with Tavalon Tea.
  • Coana posted on 8/3/2009
    Thanks for sharing with us your successful story. My 2 friends and I are planing to start tea business in Mozambique. Your story is inspired us. Thanks again John-Paul,I wonder where can we have a access to read more about other publications mentioning your company.
  • Emily posted on 1/7/2010
    I'm a fan of Tavalon but never knew you had tea cocktails, they sound delicious. What a great idea. Do you partner with any spirit companies for the cocktail recipes? Great story. - Emily

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