Single-use teabags produce significant waste and large amounts of plastic tea bags go into landfills. With the growing demand for high quality tea and matcha, consumers are moving away from tea bags but also struggling to find quality tea from a brand they can trust.
Sho Tasaki and Celia Yu founded Senbird Tea in 2018 after being faced with such a dilemma. Senbird Tea offers avid tea drinkers the Japanese tea experience with an eco-friendly approach that is also zero waste.
With a curated, organic collection of loose leaf Japanese teas, Senbird Tea also focuses on packaging design that maintains the quality of the tea, while being beautiful enough to gift and share with others. The New York-based company has since attracted a loyal customer base across direct-to-consumer and e-commerce channels. This year, Senbird Tea made its retail debut in local Japanese markets in New York City such as Yamadaya, Japan Village, and Midoriya, and cafes and restaurants across the United States.
As one of the few tea companies that have joined 1% for the Planet, an organisation whose members contribute at least one percent of their annual revenue to environmental causes, Senbird Tea is also challenging the status quo on the environmental front by offering refillable tea tins to encourage an eco-friendly approach to tea drinking, while also supporting sustainable, organic tea farming in Japan.
I recently sat down with Sho Tasaki and Celia Yu to learn more about Senbird Tea’s goal to revolutionize the tea industry with a commitment to sustainability, tradition, and innovation.
Christopher Marquis: How was Senbird Tea founded, and what inspired the creation of the brand? Can you share the story behind the name "Senbird" and its significance?
Sho Tasaki: My love for tea started in my childhood with my grandmother in Japan, who was a tea ceremony instructor. She taught me about the culture of Japanese tea and the importance of a healthy mind and body. After meeting my co-founder Celia and both being tea lovers, we often traveled to Japan and tasted incredible Japanese teas. Because we were surprised by the limited variety and quality back home in the United States, we set out for a trip directly to the source of Japan’s best tea – the tea farmers themselves. During those visits, we learned about the art and traditions of tea making in small batches. Inspired by the knowledge and dedication of our farmers, we founded Senbird Tea to share the goodness of Japanese tea.
Celia Yu: The name Senbird pays respect to Sen No Rikyu, the tea master and pioneer of the Japanese tea ceremony. However, “Sen” is also referencing Sencha, the classic Japanese green tea that we know and love. We wanted to honor Japanese culture so the Senbird logo is inspired by Japan’s flag, the red sun (hinomaru; 日の丸) that rises and sets each day. In the center is a bird with wings shaped like tea leaves representing the power of tea in supporting a healthy mind, body and spirit.
Marquis: How does Senbird Tea collaborate with tea farmers and artisans to ensure the quality and authenticity of its products?
Tasaki: At Senbird Tea, we’re committed to sourcing the finest teas while promoting sustainable and ethical farming practices. We collaborate directly with family-owned and small-scale tea farmers, who use organic methods to cultivate their crops. These farmers recognize that the soil is one of the most important aspects of producing high-quality tea, and they take great care to maintain its health and fertility. In fact, one of the farmers we work with even uses fermented yogurt and soybeans as natural nutrition for the teas.
Yu: By partnering with these dedicated farmers and artisans, we’re able to ensure the authenticity and quality of our products. Each tea is carefully selected and crafted in small batches to preserve its unique flavor and aroma. We maintain strict quality control measures to ensure that the teas are fresh and delicious.
In addition to supporting sustainable farming practices, we are committed to fair compensation for the farmers and artisans we work with. By eliminating the middlemen and working directly with these suppliers, Senbird Tea can offer customers the finest teas while also promoting social and environmental responsibility.
Marquis: What role does Japanese tea culture play in shaping Senbird Tea's product offerings and brand philosophy?
Tasaki: Being Japanese American, my heritage has played a significant role in shaping Senbird Tea's product offerings and brand philosophy. Celia and I were inspired by the respect and reverence for tea that is deeply ingrained in Japanese culture. We sought to create a brand that not only offered premium teas, but also reflected the values of mindfulness, simplicity, and harmony that are central to Japanese tea culture.
This influence is evident in our product offerings, which include a range of traditional Japanese teas such as sencha, gyokuro, and matcha. These teas are known for their nuanced flavors, rich histories, and health benefits. Senbird also offers a selection of tea accessories, including traditional teaware and utensils, that allow customers to experience the full ritual of preparing and enjoying Japanese tea.
Yu: Beyond our products, we are committed to promoting mindfulness and wellness through tea, encouraging customers to take a moment to slow down and savor the experience of drinking tea. Senbird Tea emphasizes sustainability and ethical sourcing, reflecting the Japanese value of respect for the environment and social responsibility. This is why we’re revolutionizing the tea industry with refillable tea tins - the first in the industry. These airtight tea tins feature a sleek, minimalist design that look beautiful on your shelves and are made for gifting.
Japanese tea culture is a guiding influence in Senbird Tea's commitment to quality, authenticity, and social responsibility. Our dedication to these values has earned us a loyal following among tea enthusiasts who share our passion for mindfulness and sustainability. We want to inspire more moments of appreciation with every cup of tea.
Marquis: Can you describe why Senbird uses refillable tea tins and what is the process of refilling Senbird tea tins?
Tasaki: Senbird's use of refillable tea tins is rooted in our commitment to sustainability and zero-waste tea drinking. We understand the impact that single-use packaging can have on the environment and we strive to minimize it as much as possible.
By using refillable tea tins, we reduce the amount of waste generated from packaging materials. In fact, our airtight tea tins are designed to lock out moisture and light, which keeps the aroma and flavor of tea fresh for longer. Additionally, our refillable tea tins are made of durable materials that can be used over and over again, ensuring that they are made to last.
Yu: The process of refilling Senbird tea tins is simple and convenient. Once you have finished your tea, you can visit our website and select the refill option for your chosen tea. We will then send you a refill pack that can be used to refill your tea tin. The refill pack is made from sustainable materials and is designed to minimize waste. You can then simply pour the tea into your tea tin and enjoy your fresh tea!
Tasaki: It's worth noting that our use of refillable tea tins is the first in the Japanese tea industry. We believe that by setting this example, we can encourage other companies to adopt sustainable practices and reduce their environmental impact. At Senbird, we are committed to leading the way towards a more sustainable future and our use of refillable tea tins is just one example of how we are working towards that goal.
Yu: We are also a proud member of 1% for the Planet, a global network of businesses that donate 1% of their annual sales to environmental organizations. By participating in this program, we are able to support a range of environmental initiatives that align with our commitment to sustainability.
Marquis: What has consumer response to the tea tins been?
Yu: The response to our refillable tea tins has been overwhelmingly positive! We have received many compliments from customers about the convenience of the refill process, the quality of our teas and beautiful design of the tea tins, and the positive impact on the environment. One customer shared, “I always reuse my tins and wish more companies do refills because I can’t keep all the containers in my place but I like repurchasing the tea that I love.”
Tasaki: Customers appreciate that the tea tins are refillable and that they are contributing to a sustainable future by using them. We are proud to be the first in the Japanese tea industry to use refillable tea tins and we are thrilled to see that our customers are embracing this eco-friendly approach to tea drinking.