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Meet Cassie McKenna of Athena Teas in Cambridge

Today we’d like to introduce you to Cassie McKenna.

Cassie, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
In 2014 I moved to Taiwan for a few months to study Mandarin and instead got sucked into the world of traditional tea. My previous experiences with tea had been limited to tea bags bought at the supermarket or the jasmine tea served at Chinese restaurants, so I was amazed to find that in Taiwan, tea was in fact highly valued, delicious, and extremely varied. I discovered that tea could be light and creamy or rich and malty; it might have a buttery sweet aftertaste or a dry finish like a fine white wine. As a fiercely curious and epicurean person, I had to learn more about this amazing beverage. Why is it that the tea we drink in the West is often so underwhelming? What secrets don’t we know about tea?

Since then I’ve learned that a lot of it has to do with education. People just don’t know to expect anything better, so they don’t ask for it. Something like 95% of all tea produced in Japan stays in Japan because that’s where the discerning green tea drinkers are. I started Athena Teas with one goal in mind – to introduce people to high quality, single origin teas. Tea in the U.S. today is like coffee was pre-Starbucks – dominated by low quality, low price, ‘instant’ brands. A lot of what you find on the shelves is actually flavored tea or not tea at all (think chamomile tea, mint tea – these are actually ‘herbal teas’ and unrelated to the true tea plant). I wanted to take the best of the world’s teas, collect them into one place, and make them accessible to curious customers.

Along the way I’ve tasted thousands of teas, whittling down the collection to the basic elements of a tea education. Think about a person who likes to drink red wine, but has only ever had one or two brands of cask merlot – that’s your average tea drinker in the U.S. I want to take that person and say, here is a quintessential pinot noir, what about this stunning Malbec, only do it with tea. If I had to sum it up in one sentence, I’d say that I’d like Athena Teas to be people’s gateway drug into the world of tea.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
If you have a lot of money to invest, you can go all guns blazing – hire a graphic designer, web designer, copywriter, social media marketer, print custom packaging, the works. But if you’re like me – an enthusiast without the deep pockets – you have to be far more creative and flexible. I’ve actually really enjoyed being a one-woman show, selecting the teas, designing the packaging, running the website and approaching suppliers, but there’s no denying that it’s a lot of hard work.

Apart from the actual labor involved, there’s also a lot of refining the story that has to happen. What is single origin tea and why should I care? is a question I frequently get asked, Whereas for micro-roast coffee, craft beer, wine, and chocolate, people know that there is a high degree of craftsmanship involved, there isn’t the same level of widespread appreciation (yet) for tea.

Please tell us about Athena Teas.
We focus on single-origin teas sourced from all around the world and we ship from within the U.S. This is different from a lot of tea companies that have a specialty focus, say, for example, Taiwanese oolong teas. This is great if you’re a Taiwanese oolong lover, but if this is your first time experimenting with high-quality pure teas, how do you know what you like? This is where Athena Teas comes in. We want to make it easy and stress-free for people to browse and purchase teas, then have them delivered to their doorstep a few days – not a few weeks – later.

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
I would have double-checked the name! I love the name Athena Teas now but I originally started with a different name, only to find out later that it was federally trademarked. This meant a world of edits for the logo, marketing material, website and so on. It took a lot of time but at least I found out about it prior to launch!

Pricing:

  • Tea samples start at $4
  • Our standard range of loose leaf teas start at $16 for a 1.8oz bag

Contact Info:

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