Lee works out of a certified facility in Atlanta’s Chosewood Park neighborhood, and packages her teas in a recyclable metal tin. She spends from 20 to 40 hours a week there, among the shelves of raw ingredients and rows of packaged tea.
Thistle & Sprig’s Fireside blend is a combination of black tea, hibiscus, clove, orange peel and orange extract. Courtesy of Thistle & Sprig
When Lee began her business, she thought her primary market would be coffee shops and restaurants. It turned out that many were reluctant to brew loose-leaf tea. In 2018, she became a vendor at Grant Park Farmers Market. “It was a real confidence booster and helped me continue down this path,” she said. “I love interacting with customers directly, hearing what they like, what they’re looking for.”
Lee added other markets over time, but, being the only employee, she has scaled back, and now is selling every other week at the Sunday morning Grant Park market.
She started with five tea blends, and continues to expand the line. Lee enjoys developing blends that are flavorful and delicious, even without a sweetener, which is how she enjoys her tea.
“I want each blend to have a distinct concept, flavorwise,” she said. “Then, it’s coming up with the name and the packaging. That’s the most fun part of what I do.”
Her top sellers are Georgia Grey, a spin on classic Earl Grey tea — and winner of the beverage category in the 2020 University of Georgia Flavor of Georgia competition — and Four Sisters, a combination of chamomile, lavender, peppermint and lemongrass, which she calls the four “garden sisters,” but which represents Lee and her three sisters, as well.
Typically, Lee sells about 20 blends, and she’s thoughtful about when to retire a blend and when to add more. “I didn’t have a rooibos, a caffeine-free tea that comes from South Africa, and people ask for it,” she said. “So, I added that to my line.”
Lee said the start of the pandemic was a scary time, but focusing on selling directly to her customers — whether at a farmers market or online — showed her how much support she had in the Atlanta community. In five years, she can see Thistle & Sprig being primarily an online business.
Her advice for others considering starting a business is to have a plan, but also to be flexible, to adapt when you see what works and what doesn’t. “Follow your successes, and go down that path,” she said.
Lee said she appreciates the support she’s received. She has partnered with FitKitBrands, now Wellspring, whose employee wellness packages include her teas. And, she appreciates the Community Farmers Markets organization, for the role they’ve played in helping many small Atlanta businesses grow.
Read more stories like this by liking Atlanta Restaurant Scene on Facebook, following @ATLDiningNews on Twitter and @ajcdining on Instagram.