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Tea does not have a terribly sexy reputation in America, where it tends to be the beverage of choice for the fussy or the British or the mothball-scented elderly. David Segal aims to change all that.
“I couldn’t find quality tea anywhere,” Segal says as he hops behind the bright white bar at the first Manhattan outpost of his company, David’s Tea, on 66th Street and Third Avenue. “It’s amazing…tea wasn’t fun, and it wasn’t easy to get either.”
A growing franchise in Canada, where the company maintains a few dozen locations, David’s Tea landed in New York last month with a one-two punch of store openings (there is a second outpost at 275 Bleecker Street in the West Village). The company releases “new collections” of teas seasonally, in a move inspired by the fashion industry.
“We even have mood boards,” Segal explains. “Except instead of swatches we’ll have a ginger root pinned up…or some nuts.”
It’s a gray day in early December and the shop is abuzz. Grinning salespeople are tossing silver canisters labeled with bright stickers back and forth. The labels on the foil packets of David’s Tea, sold in 50-gram pouches for between $5 and $10 or 100- to 200-gram pouches for twice that, offer cheeky names such “Read My Lips,” “Chocolate Chili Chai,” “Forever Nuts” and appropriately cheerful descriptions. There is a general surge of youth about the store, which makes sense, given that the boyish Segal is just 30 years old.
“Tea had a sort of stodgy, musty reputation,” Segal says. “It was either British or Asian, really. There was nothing on the main streets of North America; it wasn’t accessible. There’s so many flavors and tastes and so many different herbs and spices you can infuse in water, it’s really a journey.”
Co-founded with his 80-year-old cousin, Herschel Segal (who also founded the Le Chateau clothing chain over fifty years ago) in Montreal in 2008, David’s Tea has grown from eight locations to more than 40 in the past year alone. This winter marks the beginning of the David’s Tea onslaught on America.
Along for the ride is Segal’s 27-year-old cousin Sarah Segal, Herschel’s daughter, who runs the U.S. locations.
Sarah spent a few years working for environmental causes with the United Nations in Beijing, and credits her time there for giving her a “more traditional tea education and background” than David’s. “Everyone in my office [in Beijing] forbade me from drinking coffee, they were convinced it would make me sick…Also, they kept telling me that pu’erh would help me lose weight. That’s why one of our pu’erh teas is called ‘The Skinny’ — it has metabolism-boosting properties and aids digestion. Oh, believe me, I have a lot of tea stories,” Sarah warns, shaking some crushed rose petals and dried chillies from a tea she’s workshopping into her palm. The concoction’s working title: “All the Raj.”
1124 Third Avenue at 66th Street, New York, 212-717-1116
275 Bleecker Street at Jones Street, New York, 212-414-8599