Interview: David Segal on the future of tea

David Segal, cofounder and namesake behind DavidsTea, spoke to The Hustle about the future of tea, and his latest venture, Firebelly Tea.

First things first, how did you get into tea?

I’ve always liked it. Before starting DavidsTea, I realized no one was doing it in a fun way. Through the process of building DavidsTea, I developed a real love for it. I got to travel to some amazing tea-growing regions, and my passion for it just kept growing to the point where now I totally geek out over it. The way people collect wine, I want to collect tea. 

How did Firebelly Tea come together?

After leaving DavidsTea, I moved back to Ottawa and met Harley Finkelstein. We became really good friends, and he told me he was having a hard time sleeping because of his afternoon coffee. I told him to switch to green tea, and since he didn’t know what to buy, I started curating a collection of green teas for him, and he loved it. That really rekindled my love for designing teas and curating tea collections and sharing them with others.

Why isn’t there a market leader in tea?

It’s remarkable how small the market for tea still is today, and I think it’s because people still think it has to be either coffee or tea rather than coffee and tea. Tea is a product that can help you rejuvenate, relax, focus, and energize. There are so many different varieties that can offer all kinds of benefits. Because of that, tea can be perfect for an afternoon pick-me-up or to wind down in the evening. In America, there really hasn’t been a company that’s captured people’s imagination about how tea can fit into their life. 

What makes Firebelly different?

Our 1st focus is on making incredible teas with high-quality ingredients. Unlike the majority of tea companies, we don’t use any artificial flavoring whatsoever. As far as our product mix goes, half of our teas are traditional (green, oolong, black teas) and the other half are blends, where we’re mixing different ingredients together — we’ve come up with some really cool flavor combinations that we think people will love.

Our 2nd focus is on design — we wanted to create a product that you feel great about displaying, drinking with friends, and can work into your daily rituals. Design is a huge focus from the tea boxes down to our accessories. With work from home becoming a bigger part of our lives, building rituals is becoming more and more important throughout the day. You no longer need these quick substitutes to compensate for the real thing because you’re not on the move in the same way. Tea can really be that ritual and fuel that afternoon break and evening wind-down. 

With Harley involved, I would imagine D2C is the main focus for now?

Exactly — Firebelly is a D2C product for now. With DavidsTea we launched a website first, but that was 2008, when we didn’t even have Instagram. Now you can sell online at a completely different level. 

Is there a brand that you admire, that you might say… Firebelly is the X for tea?

I admire so many brands who have created categories. One is Allbirds, who entered a category that seemed saturated at the time, but they came in and took a whole new perspective on it. There really isn’t a Nike or a Starbucks for tea, which I think in part is due to the stereotypes around it. We would love Firebelly to be that brand that inspires people to make tea part of their life. 

What’s your favorite tea?

That’s like asking me to pick my favorite kid. I really like Japanese Senchas, and we actually blended ours with a Japanese Gyokuru, which is something I hadn’t seen before, and it turned out incredible — we called it Makes Good Sencha. I love another tea we’re making called No Ordinary Joe, which is a Mate that has chocolate and coffee flavors as well. 

What’s your favorite tea experience?

Before I started DavidsTea, I was going to school at McGill in Montreal. My girlfriend (now wife) and I were going to a movie, and had some time to kill. There was a teahouse across the street called Camellia Sinensis, so we decided to check it out. It was there that I had the idea for DavidsTea.

Teahouses are amazing. I would love to do a really modern, cool teahouse with Firebelly. If we’re able to capture people’s imagination and attention with this brand, that would be the logical next step.

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