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Meet Jonathan Blakeslee of White Heron Tea & Coffee in Portsmouth

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jonathan Blakeslee.

Jonathan, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I got hooked on tea in the late 80’s when I lived in Hokkaido, Japan. I later lived in Seattle and Portland, Oregon, where my tea interest continued to grow. In Portland, I worked at the Tao of Tea for the last year or so before returning to Portsmouth. I worked with people from all over the planet and the culture of tea just felt like “home”.

I started White Heron in 2005 as an organic certified tea company. We started with 24 organic teas and blends, mostly selling to local shops and restaurants. The following spring I began selling hot and iced tea by the cup, chai and packaged teas at the Portsmouth Farmers Market. White Heron did markets for 10 years, popping up at nearly every farmers market in the Seacoast, NH area and Newburyport, MA. This is where we really started to grow as a company.

We began making and selling our famous “All-Day Breakfast Wrap” and other food at market. About 7 years ago we started roasting organic coffee as well. In 2013, we opened “White Heron Tea & Coffee Community” at 601 Islington Street in Portsmouth, NH’s growing West End and have been crazy busy ever since.

We no longer sell at farmers markets, but our 40 seat Cafe offers 80+ organic teas by the cup and for sale by the tin. We have a rotating selection of organic coffees that are roasted in-house 4 days a week, so coffee is always super fresh. We purchase our organic coffees seasonally, so we always have the freshest beans available. Our kitchen produces home-baked English muffins, scones, vegan donuts, whoopie pies, muffins, coffee cakes and more. Finally, we also make smoothies, wraps, sandwiches and salads.

We are located in a neighborhood with yoga studios, gyms, a bike shop and the arts, so lots of people interested in healthy stuff, vegetarian, vegan and wheat-free options. We are in the business of making people happy, so we do the best we can to accommodate everyone!

In any case, we really appreciate the support we have been given over the past 12 years. Our website, www.whiteherontea.com is a great place to check out our tea and coffee offerings.

We hope to see you in our Cafe sometime soon!

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
As with any business, there have been many obstacles and things that seemed like good ideas at the time etc.

In 12 years, we have relocated twice, changed packaging three times, have launched and discontinued numerous products. We almost went out of business in the early days because I didn’t know what to charge and it wasn’t enough.

What saved us was the determination to do something better every day, whether improving our offerings, our customer service, trying new things. Our commitment to doing our very best makes it easy to figure out what to do each day. We just look for something we can do better and make sure it is the best use of time for that day.

One thing that trips many businesses up on the path is being too stubborn about sticking to their original business plan, even if the plan doesn’t work. At the beginning I had planned to sell wholesale tea and eventually have a small tea cafe. I hadn’t planned on farmers markets, roasting coffee, lots of other things, but as opportunities arose, I decided to see where they might take me. Ride the wave, just make sure it takes you somewhere you want to go.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about White Heron Tea & Coffee – what should we know?
White Heron is an Organic tea and coffee company with a 40 seat Cafe. We are known for unique tea blends, chai, and smoothies. Organic coffee is hand-roasted in-house 4 days a week. We are a hands-on place, and make our own English muffins, baked goods, fun and funky beverages, breakfast wraps, salads, rice bowls and sandwiches. Our Cafe is bright and sunny most days and is popular with customers as a place to catch up with friends, study, read a book or get some work done.

Our staff really makes the place special. Everyone works as a team and we get many, many compliments on how friendly and helpful our staff is 🙂

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
Determination combined with adaptability. If you give up too easily, you don’t get very far. If you don’t learn, grow and change with the world around you, you get stuck.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Teapot pouring and colorful tea package photos are by John Benford (http://www.johnbenfordphoto.com/). The rest of the photos are by Kate & Keith Photography (http://kateandkeithphotography.com/)

Getting in touch: BostonVoyager is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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