Cup & Kettle Tea Company is like an image on Pinterest. Right down to the delicate china hanging on the teal walls and colorful floral upholstery, you get a sense that everything has been meticulously thought-out. I sat down with Kayla Maldonado and Jessica Messmer, the women behind the brand, to talk about the power of social media, women in business, and a good cup of tea.
So, where did the idea for Cup & Kettle come from?
Jessica: Kayla and I have loved tea since we were toddlers. We met when we were in college, and we both have always had online businesses. Kayla made jewellery and I had a children’s boutique. We had always talked about collaborating and we both just happened to be in a place where we were looking for something new, and looking for a change… I thought maybe this is a great time to start the tea shop I have always wanted, and the next day Kayla called me and asked me if I wanted to start a tea shop!
Did you find it hard transitioning from an online business to running your own shop?
Jessica: The process of finding a space is a full-time job and we weren’t expecting that when we first started. That’s part of the reason [opening the shop] took so long.
Kayla: It was worth the wait though, definitely.
Do you have any advice for someone starting a business?
Jessica: The most important thing is to build a team; find a good bank, a good lawyer, an insurance agent. Build that core group first because they help to open doors. They are in your corner, because if you succeed, they succeed. It helps integrate you into the local community and to build your brand and your product.
Kayla: In Bloomington, the local businesses that we have met have been super helpful.
Jessica: When we first started we kept hearing “no, no, no” to our ideas but once we got the right team in place, all the doors started opening up.
Kayla: Our early advertisement really helped us since we were not able to find a space as quickly as we wanted to. We really focused on the product, so by the time we had opened a lot of people already knew who we were.
What would you say to someone who describes Cup & Kettle as a female space?
Kayla: Everyone has been saying it’s cute!
Jessica: Before we found this space, we were planning on making [the tea shop] very modern, with lots of dark wood tones but … this is just our style. This is our baby, it represents who we are as people.
Kayla: We are artists, so it was natural to us to put it together in this way.
Describe your partnership.
Kayla: Now that we are open it has changed a lot! Before we were focused on creating the tea line and now that we are open, we have to focus on so many other things too, like food.
Jessica: We have been working with a lot of local businesses for our food. Piccoli Dolci bakes all our pastries, Lucky Guy Bakery bakes all our brownies, Baked! do a special cookie for us made with our own Earl Grey. We also sell Blu Boy Chocolates and Hoosier Honey. We make sandwiches and salads in-house.
Kayla: But the main focus is the tea, that’s why we buy in most food.
#Spoontip: The Earl Grey cookies are weirdly really good.
Where do you source your tea from?
Jessica: Everywhere! The tea comes from China, Sri Lanka, Japan, Africa, South America … We have 50 different tea varieties and we are working towards 100. Everything except for maybe one tea is organic—we try to stay away from flavorings. So, our Earl Grey is made with essential oils instead of bergamot flavoring. We try to get products of the highest quality and the tea is either fair trade or direct trade.
Kayla: Tea caffeine and coffee caffeine are very different. Tea caffeine is more sustained throughout the day and you do not get the jitters or the “crash” from it.
Jessica: But we do have some coffee!
#SpoonTip: Ask for your tea in the specially designed mug by CMT Pottery.
Of course, my caffeine-devoted friends and I had to test if the proof was in fact in the pudding. I sampled the Irish Breakfast tea (how appropriate for a girl from Ireland) at optimal temperature (Kayla timed it), and am happy to report a foreign but pleasant of feeling calmness. We also tried the lavender-infused Earl Grey, and it was so good.
Cup & Kettle is a cup of something different in a town heaving with coffee beans. On a personal level, it was inspiring to meet two ladies who are killing it in the business world, and rightly so, because they are seriously good at what they do.