In the movie “Dead Poets Society,” actor Robin Williams famously tells his students to “carpe diem,” or “seize the day,” in order to make their lives extraordinary. After traveling extensively throughout Asia, Richard Rosenfeld developed a thirst and passion for tea and seized the opportunity to create Basalt, Colo.-based Two Leaves and a Bud Tea Co. in 2004.
“I was confounded by not finding that same quality tea back at home,” Founder and Chief Executive Officer Rosenfeld explains. “So, I went to the tea gardens in Sri Lanka, India and China to begin developing relationships with organic tea farmers from whom the company now sources small quantities of tea each growing season.
“I had originally thought to build a business in loose tea, but one of my earliest employees was an ex-barista who informed me: ‘loose tea clogs the pipes.’ So, we focused our primary business on whole-leaf tea sachets instead,” he continues.
Two Leaves and a Bud values “stewardship toward the earth” and focuses on sourcing organic tea from small growers around the world, Rosenfeld says. In line with this focus, the company was one of the first in North America to offer organic, whole-leaf tea in compostable pyramid-shaped sachets.
“Two Leaves and a Bud was a pioneer of the pyramid-shaped sachet in North America,” Rosenfeld says. “The sachet has made drinking whole-leaf tea convenient for all. The special shape allows the tea leaves room to infuse completely, providing richer, more complex flavors.
“We started off with eight flavors,” he continues. “I originally thought that the United States would ‘convert’ to loose tea but rapidly found that the market demanded the convenience of the sachet. We became one of the earliest adopters of the new, plant-based, compostable material when we launched our company. To this day, we pack our teas as close to source as we can.”
Since its founding, Two Leaves and a Bud has offered loose-leaf teas and sachets. Today, the company’s portfolio features 23 varietals in sachets, many of which are sold in a loose-leaf format as well. The company also has expanded its lineup to include seven flavors of iced teas, two varieties of matcha green tea as well as a range of organic teas in traditional paper tea bags called Paisley Label Tea.
Late last year, it launched a range of Purpose-Filled Teas, that feature Hydrate, Invigorate, Energize and Detox, which are organic blends with powerhouse ingredients that can be brewed hot or cold-infused, it says. Additionally, the company donates 1 percent of its sales from these teas to Protect Our Winters.
“We have had a busy year,” Rosenfeld says. “Our Purposed-Filled Teas have had a great reception both in foodservice and retail distribution. People are loving these teas cold-infused. You can just throw them in your water bottle for great flavor (without any sugar) and start drinking.
“Early this year we launched Nice Matcha, an artisan Matcha Latte blend, which we followed with an Organic Ceremonial Matcha portion pack,” he continues. “Our best sellers continue to be our single-ingredient teas, like our flagship Organic Assam Breakfast Tea and our Organic Peppermint from Eastern Washington State.”
Two Leaves and a Bud’s varietals are distributed nationwide in foodservice and retail, including cafes, specialty food stores, hotels, restaurants, and in independent natural grocers as well as national chains like Whole Foods Market and Kroger, the company says. It also enjoys strong distribution in Canada and can be purchased in Europe as well. Additionally, the company sells direct-to-consumer on its website and through Amazon.com.
Rosenfeld notes that the consistency of its core range has helped Two Leaves and a Bud stand out in a competitive marketplace.
“We started with great ‘basic’ teas, and our best-sellers are still these core teas,” Rosenfeld explains. “But simple is hard. Getting consistently great chamomile, for example, is incredibly difficult. The chamomile we love — lemony, sweet and not straw-tasting — is only grown in a few countries. Changing weather patterns make for droughts and other disruptions that we cannot ‘hide’ with a blend or an added flavor.”
‘A labor of love’
Sustainability remains a crucial focus for the company.
“Sustainability for us starts at the garden,” Rosenfeld explains. “We have always sought the highest quality teas, which bring substantially more income to the garden than [the] average tea. This allows the gardens to reinvest and better pay their pluckers and workers.”
To ensure the freshness of its products, the majority of Two Leaves and a Bud tea varietals are packed close to the source in Asia, with most of its teas grown in China and India, the world's premier tea-growing regions, he adds.
Sourcing only the finest organic ingredients remains pivotal to the company’s success, with Rosenfeld personally overseeing tea-growing operations.
“One of my favorite recent trips was, funny enough, to Eastern Washington where we grow peppermint,” he says. “This particular farm grows what I believe to be the best peppermint on Earth. The same family has been farming this land for three generations. The workers who weed and maintain this crop have been coming back for years. It is really a labor of love.
“This coming November, I will be in Japan working on our growing matcha business,” he continues. “Japan is such an amazing country; I look forward to every visit.”
The company’s small-but-mighty employee base has grown from one employee — Rosenfeld — to 14 employees divided between the company’s Colorado headquarters and its logistics center in Toledo, Ohio.
The company also continues to expand on its grassroots efforts of “taking tea personally,” Rosenfeld says.
“We are one of the few tea brands of any scale that is actually run in a small office by non-corporate types with no outside financing,” he explains. “None of us have come to Two Leaves and a Bud with prior tea or [consumer packaged goods] (CPG) experience; I didn’t even know what CPG meant until we’d been in business for something like three years. Like any small company, we all wear many hats including that of official tea tasters. Hence, we really do ‘take tea personally.’”
In recognition of its sustainability mission and effort to boost Colorado’s economy, Two Leaves and a Bud recently was named one of 50 Colorado Companies to Watch, an award that honors innovative second-stage companies that significantly contribute to the growth and economic independence of the state.
“We were really excited by this honor after 13-plus years in business,” he says. “Colorado is unique in recognizing that smaller businesses like ours play an important role in the state economy. And truly, we love where we live and appreciate the wonderfulness that is Colorado.”
Through hard work and entrepreneurship, Two Leaves and a Bud has achieved consistent, double-digit growth for many years — without outside financing, Rosenfeld says.
“We are driving an increase in our growth rate both through offering a broader assortment of products to our current customers (iced tea and matcha, for example) as well as focusing on key retailers,” he says. “Look for more matcha blends and an upcoming turmeric blend.”
Driven by his quest to “always be learning,” Rosenfeld says he and his team continually strive to improve what they do and provide top-notch service to its customers and consumers.
“There are so many big companies in the beverage world that I sometimes look around and think that we must be crazy. All these marketing and advertising dollars being spent by giant companies that really know what they are doing — how do we succeed?” he says. “But we have managed to grow — for nearly 15 years by delivering consistently great tea. And that’s what it is all about.” BI