By Brian Swartz
Weekly Staff Editor
WINTERPORT — Not all teas taste the same, as tea-drinkers will discover at 115 Main St. in this quaint Waldo County town.
Winterport residents Dan and Debbie Holmes opened Tea Maineia on Oct. 19 to meet a perceived demand for tea-lovers seeking flavorful loose-leaf teas. The demand definitely exists — business “has been very good, way beyond our expectations,” Debbie said — and for a good reason.
“Tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world, second only to water,” she explained. “There is a huge growing population of tea drinkers.”
Many tea-drinkers associate tea with the ubiquitous tea bag, which “is meant to be a quick cup [of tea] to go,” Debbie said. But “tea is meant to be savored, to be enjoyed,” and a tea bag left immersed too long in hot water “leaves a pretty strong taste,” she said.
Loose-leaf tea provides “a much nicer, less bitter, better-flavored cup of tea,” Debbie said. A few years ago, after “we couldn’t find good quality loose-leaf tea in the area, we thought there might be a need,” she said.
The Holmeses decided to launch Tea Maineia to provide tea drinkers with flavorful loose-leaf teas — more than 50 right now, with additional blends under development.
Carefully researching the business potential, the Holmeses conducted a survey with SurveyMonkey in March 2012, “wrote up a business plan,” and “looked to see what other tea shops are in the area,” Debbie said. She and Dan visited loose-leaf tea shops in Portland and Waterville, attended the World Tea Expo in Philadelphia that October, and researched tea wholesalers online.
The Holmeses initially sold 12 loose-leaf teas at the European Farmers’ Market held Saturdays at Ingrid’s German Gift Shop in Bangor. “We did really well,” Dan said. “A lot of people were happy to see us.”
Three locations — the Belfast Co-op, Winterport Winery, and the Wishful Moon in Freeport — started carrying Tea Maineia teas. The Holmeses also displayed their teas at the Health and Wellness Expo held at Fort Knox State Historic Site in Prospect in 2012 and at the Maine Harvest Festival held at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor this fall.
The public response at both events was strong.
Then came the move in mid-October to 115 Main St., two doors away from the popular Winterport House of Pizza. “Our dream was to have a retail space,” Dan said during an interview in the bright and cheery shop.
The move allowed the Holmeses to display more than 50 premium loose-leaf teas, all identified as green, black, or herbal. Among the interesting tea names are the well-known Cream Earl Grey, Darjeeling Decaf, Assam, Formosa Oolong, Health Nut, Pu-erh (a tea aged for at least two years), Peach Apricot, Dragon’s Well, and Gunpowder, which has dried tea leaves resembling gunpowder granules.
And there are house blends, such as Winterport Breakfast.
The Holmeses sell their loose-leaf teas in 2-ounce packages, equivalent to 15-20 tea bags, according to Dan.
Tea Maineia carries colorful teapots (many equipped with infusers), mesh tea balls that can be placed in a cup of hot water, and biodegradable paper filters for tea drinkers who want to make their own tea bags. “This is what I like,” Dan said while demonstrating how easily a filter converts into a tea bag. “We sell a ton of these.”
Also available in the shop are hand-sewn tea wallets that can carry four tea bags apiece, as well embroidered tea towels and aprons (half and full) sewn by Kristen Hickmon of Winterport. A tea drinker can buy a sewn “tea cozy” to cover a tea pot “to the tea warm,” Debbie said.
Tea cups and mugs and specialty books about tea are on display, and Tea Maineia carries some Maine food products (jams, honey, popover mixes, scones, etc.) “associated with tea drinking,” Dan said.
Tea drinkers can sample the two flavors brewed daily, and “you can buy a cup of tea to go,” Dan said. “Pick whatever tea you want, and we’ll brew a cup for you.”
Tea Maineia is open 8 a.m.-1 p.m., Tuesday-Friday and 8 a.m.-3 p.m., Saturday and Sunday. For more information, call 223-5133, email firstname.lastname@example.org, log onto teamaineia.com, or follow the business on Facebook.