How this Tea Retailer Localizes Herbal Blends to Boost Marketing

Inside Jolene’s Tea House’s retail store in downtown Banff, Canada, the décor mirrors what visitors might find in Banff National Park just a few miles away.

“A little log cabin with creaky floors. You feel like you are in a mountain cabin,” explains founder Jolene Brewster, about the Old Crag Cabin, a 700-square-foot log cabin dating back to 1890, where her store resides. “Backcountry lodges are my happiest place on planet earth.

“One of the reasons I opened a tea business in Banff is because tea is such an important ceremony in the mountains. The earliest hikers, explorers, and travelers would build a fire, heat their water up, and drink tea,” she continues. “Even in this modern day, you’re not taking a thermos of coffee (on a hike). That would be extremely dehydrating. Everyone takes a thermos of tea. It is so refreshing and rejuvenating.”

Jolene's Tea House
Owner Jolene Brewster (Photo: Gareth Paget)

This localizing is by design and part of her mantra. As a former Calgary Stampede Queen (in 2000)—her saddle’s even on display in the shop—she’s deeply tied to the Alberta landscape and wants to share that with others. Her family’s been living in the region since the early 1900s and has a history as cowboys and horsewomen. And she’s a long-time tea drinker.

“I grew up in rural Alberta. We would hear someone pulling into our yard. My mom would go and put the kettle on. It was that knee-jerk reaction: someone’s coming, put the kettle on,” recalls Brewster. “I loved the little cups, the tea, and our conversation. Instead of playing outside with other kids, I would sip tea in my beautiful cup."

Studying ayurvedic medicine in Australia with a naturopath opened Brewster’s eyes to the health benefits of tea and the healing properties of plants and herbs.

Sourcing organic herbs and teas for the brand’s loose-leaf teas and sachets—all hand-blended and sold online, in the shop, and to wholesale accounts—is important to Brewster. “Drinking organic tea is a very small expense that is far better for you and the environment,” she says. “Ninety-nine percent of our ingredients have a certified-organic certificate. We only make an exception when they don’t actually do certification within that country, but we are guaranteed that they are using organic practices.”

She also strives to source from the local area, or if that’s not possible, source ingredients similar to what’s grown nearby in the Rocky Mountains. “I use sage in a lot of my teas because sage grows everywhere in the alpine meadows,” says Brewster.

The interior of Jolene's Tea House. (Photo: Gareth Paget)

Alpen Glow is a blend of herbs and flowers grown in Banff National Park, including rosehips, nettle leaves, sage, caraway seed, yarrow, chamomile, wild rose petals, peppermint, schizandra berries, and calendula petals. “That is so reminiscent of an alpine meadow,” says Brewster, noting for Spirit Lake Tea, “We use white pine, sage, and ingredients that are so special and niche to that area. They serve the tea on [Banff National Park] boat tours and talk about what grows in that area. That allows people to have a deeper experience.”

Alberta Rose Sencha is another nod to the national park, as wild rose bushes bloom there in early summer, and so is Strawberry Green Tea. “Wild mountain strawberries are unbelievable,” says Brewster. “That hint of sweetness and flavor is so powerful.” Blueberries, such as in the Wild Blueberry Rooibos tea, are also linked to Banff National Park.

While Jolene’s Tea House opened in 2021, the business dates back much farther than this. For five years, while Brewster was in her early 20s, she operated a tea room at a different location in Banff, followed by a decade of pop-ups at area farmer’s markets, craft shows, and holiday markets. So the true year of her business’ founding is 2005.

“I had a lot to learn about business,” she says about that first tea room. “I worked seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. It was a hard business to keep the doors open, and the rent in Banff was very expensive.”

A friend helped her develop a website, allowing for the teas to continue to be sold online.

“Being an entrepreneur is quite lonely. You carry an enormous responsibility and are really tied to the business. The idea of doing a market was so refreshing to me. You could show up, do your four- to six-hour market, pack it up, and walk away,” says Brewster, who often brought her young kids along.

Operating a pop-up functioned as a focus group. Brewster not only built a following, but through conversations, she learned what teas her customers liked. This led to a spike in her online sales because she was building in face time with customers.

Jolene's Tea House
Jolene's Tea House offers a variety of loose-leaf teas and sachets made from organic ingredients and teas.

“You learn a lot about sales as well; how to relate to your customer. You have a very short amount of time to [grab their attention],” says Brewster.

That said, she acknowledges markets are not easy to work as they require long hours. “While the markets provide some flexibility, you really have to put in a lot of work. It’s a perfect way to test out your model and see if this is a good fit,” she says.

That educational component is also at the retail store.

“You can come into the tea house and sample teas,” says Brewster. “It‘s a place you can go to be educated about herbs and flowers. That’s what I enjoyed most about the markets and I wanted to bring that into the store.”


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