TEALEAVES is a blender that provides luxury teas and training in the art of tea to five-star hotels and Michelin ranked restaurants, such as the Four Seasons and the Mandarin Oriental. The descriptions of the teas it offers are marked by a focus on the connoisseur, their matching the discriminations of the master chef’s food creations, and above all their sensory appeal. They command high prices, as much as $4 for a tea bag of carefully balanced white tea.
One core element of its competitive differentiation is its design of aromas. It views these not as a byproduct of tea brewing but as a core to creating the overall tea experience. Its Web site highlights its comprehensive view of The Language of Aroma. It sponsors investigations that are expansive and creative and open up new perspectives that go beyond just tea blending. One of these was showcased at the recent South by Southwest Conference and Festival (SXSW) in Austin, Texas. TEALEAVES hosted a panel on The Language of Aroma: Designing for Inclusivity.
The perspective behind the project of which this is part is described by the company’s Co-Founder and CEO, Lana Sutherland, “Aroma takes us to new heights. It gives depth and memory to experiences that would not be the same in its absence. Any great chef or wine maker would by far agree that aroma plays such a critical role in what they do – but how do you convey that level of excellence?… We realized that aroma could really be seen as an issue of inclusive design and embarked on an exploration with the leading minds in culinary, technology, branding and accessibility to understand how better too share this added dimension with all.”
A partner in this broad investigation is Microsoft. One of the SXSW panelists. Margaret Price, is the tech firm’s Principal Design Strategist. She throws light on “inclusivity”: “People have multiple senses working together at any one time. When one sense cannot be used, how can another? Our role as experience creator isn’t to ‘fix’ what someone is ‘missing’ but to fully leverage the way we interact with the world.” (Maybe this is why tea can seem so much more aromatically evocative served in Meissen porcelain bone china cups instead of a mug?)
Ruth Starr, another of the panelists, carries the lengthy title of Coordinator of Accessibility, Inclusion and Public Programs, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. She is an educator, committed to broadening the museum’s audiences and making it welcoming for all. This arm of the Smithsonian explores intersections across design and the human experience.
Dawn Goldworm’s position is in itself evocative: Co-Founder, Creative Director and In-house Nose for 12.29. She is she is an internationally prominent “olfactive expert” and the Nose behind fragrances developed for Lady Gaga, American Express, Nike and Cadillac. Her expertise is in synesthesia, blending her sense of sight, touch, sound and smell to guide 12.29 in transforming branding into a complete sensory experience. The firm helps clients “transform communication and deepen brand loyalty through the visceral language of scent.”
Lan Sutherland joined the panel to discuss TEALEAVES’ undertaking to create an entirely new language of aroma in partnership with the University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Science and Microsoft.
The press release announcing the panel highlights its being “All-female.” That seems less noteworthy than the breadth of perspective and achievement across so many fields. And the potential of this new way of thinking for tea. It may seem a long way off from Earl Grey blending, marketing Darjeeling estate teas, or developing matcha tea-infused foods and alcoholic beverages—but is it?