One evening in New York City, Alissa White hosted a tea party for a group of friends in her West Village apartment. One had brought an interesting contribution: a small tin with a pudding top lid, adorned with Japanese writing.
He popped it open, and out came dazzling matcha smoke in an emerald jewel like color. Little did Ms. White know how important that moment was and that within a few years she would change careers from new media entrepreneur to tea vendor that would create a brand of matcha tea targeted towards Americans.
Ms. White had received her master’s degree in Interactive Telecommunications from NYU and had spent ten years running her own boutique web design firm in New York City. When she discovered matcha green tea, she decided to shift her business focus.
Having lost her father to diabetes and her brother to Hodgkin’s disease, (both of whom were physicians) within a year of each other, Ms. White was searching for a way to give back. The matcha tea offered extraordinary health benefits derived from its abundance of antioxidants.
She traveled to Japan to gain knowledge about the history of matcha green tea. She learned about tea ceremonies, the many types matcha, how it is made, and the best suppliers. She founded Matcha Source, LLC in 2006, with plans to share the unique flavor experience of matcha with the world.
Today Matcha Source is an online retailer of premium matcha tea and specialty utensils for preparing and enjoying matcha. The company sells to retailers, food establishments, individuals and taste-forward kitchens throughout the United States and beyond.
“What I love most about Matcha Source is connecting with my customers over the alluring taste and unparalleled nutritional benefits of matcha tea,” says Ms. White. “I started this company to be an ambassador of matcha tea to the United States and to educate about its nutritional benefits and easy-to-make recipes. If I can help one person live a healthier, more balanced and focused life, then I have succeeded.”
Today, Ms. White manages matchasource.com from the West coast. She is a member of Smarty LA, EO and practices Iyengar yoga. She is famous for her homemade matcha truffles.
What are you working on right now?
I’m always working on educating Americans about the unparalled health benefits of matcha tea. When talking about antioxidants, we are introducing new keywords into the conversation like EGCg and ORAC Rating. My Matcha is available in different grades and price points. I find that first-time customers need guidance about which grade and size tin is right for them. I read Twitter streams on my keywords to see what language people use to describe the craving and feelings they associate with matcha and translate those familiar terms into product descriptions, blog posts and new tweets of my own. Some recent examples are “Best Evah,” “yum yum yum” (found this one twice!) and “I am craving a green tea latte badly.”
3 trends that excite you?
1. I was very excited to see Matcha listed as trend number 48 out of the top 100 for 2011 by JWT in their forecast on January 1. Those numbers keep growing!
2. I live in Los Angeles, and I love our ever-changing architecture and the growth of live/work areas. This trend is causing people to start walking in their neighborhoods, despite the misconception (referenced in the hilarious movie, “LA STORY”) that Angelenos get in the car to drive next door. Folks are walking places, enjoying galleries, restaurants and local bars.
3. Pop-up stores are another trend that’s caught on at all levels – from Air Streams to corners of department stores. Matcha Source is part of “The Detox Market Pop-Up Shop” on Abbot Kinney in Venice, California. and I really enjoy the feeling of being part of the street life there. I’ve done two now, including one in NYC and I look forward to doing more – perhaps Miami during the art fair. We’ll serve iced-matcha tea prepared in martini shakers with lemonade and fresh ginger!
How do you bring ideas to life?
Ideas are the easy part. Implementation is the trick. In graduate school at New York University, they taught us to “start with one instance.” The approach to any complex problem was to break it down to its core elements and build from there. All you really had to do was prove one instance of functionality to realize your idea. Then you begin the lifelong process of iteration. I get very tactical with a detailed list of everything that needs to happen. Then I create a logical sequence – sometimes one very small thing has to happen before a major task can be accomplished. Then I jump in full force.
What inspires you?
Recently it was a blog about Zen principles, a cooking show with Jacques Pépin (I made that recipe and it was divine!), minimalists, and generosity.
My customer’s personal stories inspire me daily. Whether they are recovering from illness, or running a marathon, in cancer recovery, trying new methods to lose weight or stay focused or their just want to buy a gift for their spouse, they inspire me. I always want to know how they first learned about matcha and how they prepare the tea. The best ideas emerge from these conversations.
What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?
My first mistake was naming the lowest grade economical option Dakota Matcha. To me, it was a blend of the “wild West meets ancient East.” The name in no way conveys the benefits, taste or grade of the tea. My graphic designer and several colleagues in the tea industry, argued against the name Dakota, but I insisted. That was mistake number two. Take the good advice from the experts you hire. Don’t ignore it. Stay tuned for the debut. We all mistakes and as business owners, we need to learn from the experience and be better for it.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
OK, here are two:
Affiliate programs and Google AdWords really do work.
What is one book and one tool that helps you bring ideas to life?
When Matcha Source opened the Matcha Box Pop-Up Store in NYC last summer, we used Square, a credit card reader that attaches to your iPhone. This was sexy and fun to use and made it simple to accept credit cards without investing in a lot of hardware. When we had trouble actually getting our Square device, I wrote to the founder about recent press we had received on NYC blogs, and the next day three units arrived via FedEx!
At the Detox Market on Abbot Kinney, we used SHOPKEEP (a product only available in the last six months) that is a robust and super-simple tool for web-based cash registers.
We hired a public relations firm, Amy Levy Public Relations. Great decision. Now I have a professional with whom I may discuss what I learned from “The Startup Guide to Guerrilla Marketing: A Simple Battle Plan for First-Time Marketers.”
Who would you love to see interviewed on IdeaMensch?
Amy Swift – Owner/Founder of SMARTY PEOPLE
Valeri Grandury – Owner/Founder of Odacite Skin Care, Founder of Detox Market
Kulov From Kulov Tea Festival – May 2011 at RoyalT on Washington Blvd in Culver City
What would happen to the world if your dreams came true?
If my dreams came true, everyone would drink Matcha Source tea everyday and there would be no diabetes and no cancer. Children would ask their moms for iced-matcha instead of soda or sweetened beverages. Waistlines would shrink and life spans would increase. The elderly would walk upright and the fatigued would be lifted and energized. People everywhere would be sharing tea with a friend and enjoying their day. They would all visit www.matchasource.com.
What’s your favorite way to drink matcha tea?
Either whisked in one of my favorite matcha bowls, or iced in a martini shaker and shared with good company.