One startup, one story: what if tea was the new wine?

How a sophisticated tea culture is wooing France, and the commercial potential of its Grands Crus. Let’s meet Infuthé.

When Chinese tea aficionado Qian Yang came to study in Paris, she was disappointed by the tea culture. Her coffee-drinking friends elegantly blended milk or sugar into their cups with a silver spoon, while she was burning her fingers hooking tea bags out of boiling water and looking for somewhere to dispose of them once used. The vulgarity ruined the taste experience, even when shredded tea leaves didn’t spill out of the bag holes to leave unsightly dregs at the bottom of the cup.

Qian began to imagine how different tea drinking could be in France. The fashion for tea brands like Kusmi Tea shows an appreciation for finely blended teas in Paris and other big cities. More and more young people are turning to tea, whereas in the past it had been seen as something for old people. For health reasons, many people choose tea over coffee or even alcoholic beverages, and are developing an appreciation for the taste.

In May 2016, Qian and Mike Liu Yang established Infuthé SAS in France, after being selected for the French Tech Ticket Global Startup program. Their ambition was to foster a French tea culture by changing the way people drink. They reasoned that a tea-drinking culture had only one pre-requisite: boiled water. So why couldn’t it be transported out of tea houses and into France’s many coffee shops?

They began with the tea bag. French Tech Ticket network engineers, including one from NASA, helped them with to design and choose materials, while incubator Usine IO’s 3D printers created a prototype. To find manufacturing facilities and service providers that could help them with mass production, they made some modifications.

They ditched the first triangular design to take inspiration from makeup, and designed an oblong-shaped bag that can be dipped in water and replaced in a holder, without spillage. The cover also means the teabag can be used several times – as in Eastern tea culture where 5-7 infusions is standard. It’s about the same size, shape and length as a lipstick, and can easily be stored in a small bag.

Next they turned their attention to the leaves. For a high-quality drink, these must be whole. Infuthé’s first blends, or Grands Crus, will be adapted from Chinese classics. Like wine, the quality is all in the terroir, year of harvest, type of leaf, and the growers’ experience. Infuthé’s first product will be a black Tibetan tea that doesn’t exist in Europe, closely followed by a green mountain tea mixed with jasmine, and another black tea from Taiwan.

After that comes the tea ceremony. Although the market for the full-blown Chinese version will be limited, Qian and Mike expect a little of the magic to rub off in everyday drinking. Just as the Chinese tend to drink only the finest French wines, they expect French people to gravitate towards the finest tea blends.

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