Thursday, March 21, 2019

Interview With Mark Philip Of Storm King Tea

Mark Philip came to tea the way many tea drinkers do: looking for healthier choices. He fell in love with the humble leaf (as we all do!), and decided to start a tea company dedicated to finding teas people will love to drink, Storm King Tea. Learn all about Mark's passion for tea, why he runs a tea company, and how his approach to tea is related to chef Emeril Lagasse, below!

Why did you decide to start a tea company?
I’ve always dreamed of starting my own business, and decided to take that plunge last summer. The idea was (and still is) that I could start a business centered around a product that I am passionate about. Something that I could feel good about providing people: which they could enjoy while being ‘healthful’ . . . I did not want to sell anything which would be a source of detriment in someone’s life. For me, that has always been food and beverage. I graduated from (what was then named) The French Culinary Institute in Downtown Manhattan, and had worked as a cook for years. Food, and beverages like tea have always been an indulgence that I feel positive about pursuing as part of my healthy lifestyle. Over the years I slowly started replacing some of my less than healthy food choices and habits with healthier options and balance. I learned that healthy eating habits are especially rewarding because they couple satisfying nourishment with the peace of mind that we are helping our bodies instead of hurting them. I never make health claims about my teas as there is plenty of information available for people to make their own educated choices about what they drink or eat for those reasons, but I am comforted by the fact that high quality teas do have a place in a healthy lifestyle. To sum it up: I’ve always had the desire to start my own business, but it had to be based around something that I felt good about. I am very committed to Storm King Tea, and take the business seriously, but I am not willing to compromise my values for the sake of profit. This is why my business plan is simple: find tea people will love, provide accurate information and great customer service, offer that tea at a fair price, rinse and repeat. If I can not sustain Storm King Tea by following those principles then there will not be a business, but I believe that doing the right thing will lead to success.

How do you select the teas your sell?
I really try to add some value to our offerings by selecting quality representations of the teas you’ll find at Storm King Tea. In other words, I will sample teas from multiple sources, farms, and various suppliers. I will not simply find a source for one style of tea at a good price and buy a bunch of it to sell. Instead, I will compare a tea . . . lets say a particular style of Oolong, to others from the same region with the same processing methods and choose based on these cuppings, the quality of the material, the value, etc.. I do not see tea as a mere generic commodity. Each tea needs to be cupped, compared to others, then a decision is made whether or not inclusion into our catalog is merited. I remember talking with a supplier who wanted to sell me tea, and when I asked him about the source and qualities of a particular variety he said something along the lines of ‘well the tea is just the tea, . . . it is what it is . . . ‘ and then started talking about pricing and availability. I was so turned off that I just thought “thanks, but no thanks,” and walked away. That is what I mean when I say that some people see tea as a mere commodity. We do not see it this way.

What is one of the biggest challenges of selling tea online?
The absolute biggest challenge is getting the word out, and having people notice you. Like I said earlier we have a simple philosophy and are not willing to compromise our integrity. My hope is that additional success will follow as long as we continue to operate on these principles. So far ALL of our feedback has been positive. No complaints so far which is both amazing to me, and inspiring. Social media has been a big help in marketing the website: and getting the word out . . . so as a shameless plug I’ll say that if anyone reading this likes us then it is a big help if you share your experiences on social media. Plus, we have added most of our catalog on so this helps with exposure.

How are you inspired by Storm King Mountain, the namesake of your company and the area where you live?
I moved to the Hudson Valley of NY after living in the city most of my life, and never looked back. Because I really do love where I live I wanted to pay homage to the region. Storm King Mountain has been called the ‘gateway to the Hudson Valley’ and is pretty well known throughout the state. Besides, “Storm King” simply sounds so cool to me . . . it just clicked. My wife designed the logo, and the rest is history. Plus, we just received word from the US Patent and Trademark Office that our logo and name has received a Copyright so it is official.

I still love the city, but the way of life just a few hours north is much more laid back and this suits me better, and is better suited for my family life.

You have experience working in the culinary arts. How does this experience shape your tea company?
Probably in more ways than I consciously realize. On the one hand critiquing tea for quality and consistency is something that anyone can do. i.e.: people know what they like and what they do not like so I don’t want to create too much of a mystique, but really scrutinizing flavors, feel, consistency, etc., is something I am familiar with and comfortable doing. Also, I am cognizant to food safety issues and handling. It is extremely rare for anyone to get sick from drinking tea . . . only a handful of cases have been reported worldwide and likely due to cross contamination. But, safety is important to me so I use co-packers with certifications from the FDA, local boards of health, and a HACCP plan in place or other certifications and standards depending on who I have packaging the teas at a given time.

When it comes to tea I always think back to the Emeril cooking show from the 90’s I guess it was. He would always demystify what he was preparing by saying something along the lines of “we’re just cooking here . . . no big deal.” He’d say this as he prepared something that was pretty impressive to look at, and probably a bit intimidating to some less experienced cooks. He would put what he was teaching within reach of his viewers by saying this even if it seemed overwhelming to some of his audience; he’d reassure them it wasn’t anything they could not do themselves. Without belittling the world of tea we are all so passionate about (and all the passion, tradition, and skill that it takes to grow and produce it - which is truly amazing) it is after all an otherwise humble, and pretty simple beverage to prepare. As I’ve heard many cooks and chefs say over the years about good food or good ingredients (and it applies to great tea as well): start with good stuff and try not to screw it up. So, I guess there is a lot of crossover between the way I view food and culinary arts, and how tea fits into that paradigm.

Do you have any upcoming projects for Storm King Tea?
I am planning a to release some new teas and variety packs soon. I am also working on rolling out an incentive plan to customers so they can earn credits by making purchases. Credits will have a cash value redeemable towards the purchase of anything in our catalog. When this is rolled out I will apply credits to any pre-existing purchases that have already been made. This way existing customers do not feel like they have been penalized for shopping with us before the program was implemented. And, eventually I would like to offer a wholesale catalog to other professionals, and shops that make it easy to purchase great teas in the quantities they need without any undue complications or unnecessary expenses to the process.

Do you have any personal tea rituals?
My habits are always changing. I am not loyal to one style of tea, nor do I have any strict allegiance to a particular brewing method. I’ll tend to brew certain teas in a Gaiwan or clay pot (sometimes hastily and sometimes with deliberation bordering on meditation), and others I’ll generally prepare Western, or Grandpa Style. It all depends on the tea, my mood, or convenience at the time.

Thank you so much Mark, for taking the time out for this interview! To learn more about Storm King Tea, be sure to visit their website! If you have any questions for Mark, be sure to leave them in the comments below.

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