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John & Maria Harrison, Tea Gallerie

Thanks to Accion San Diego for this story!

johnandmariaharrisonteagallerieJohn and Maria Harrison have always shared a deep passion for fresh loose leaf tea. Whether it’s the rich aroma of a traditional black tea or the bright, fruity scent of an herbal blend, this couple has always appreciated tea’s ability to excite the senses, calm the nerves, and offer a variety of health benefits. It is out of this passion that they started Tea Gallerie in December 2010 from their home.

Specializing in importing and mixing organic, fair-trade tea leaves from all around the world, Tea Gallerie found an instant niche in a market typically dominated by uninspiring, brand-named tea bags. Tea bags tend to be less flavorful and fresh compared to their whole loose leaf counterparts. Tea Gallerie offers a variety of unique and creative blends with names such as White Coconut Crème and Sicilian Lemon Love. Furthermore, their tea is imported fresh from all over the world and blended locally to hit shelves in the U.S. within eight weeks. By selling its goods at local farmer’s markets and to restaurants, hotels and cafes, Tea Gallerie has quickly built a brand focused on high quality, fresh teas.

The company grew quickly, and John and Maria soon moved into a dedicated 300 square-foot showroom. They needed extra capital to keep up with their growth and they sought financing from their local bank. Being a new business, they had a hard time securing financing, and were immediately referred to Accion by their small business banker. In 2011, they received a $10,000 loan from Accion to develop a website, purchase inventory, and market their business.

Since receiving their loan, Tea Gallerie has doubled its revenue every year, and it earned a profit for the first time in 2012. They also relocated again in 2012 to an 800 square foot facility, and hired two part-time employees to help meet increasing demand. In 2013, Tea Gallerie secured an even larger 2,500 square-foot location featuring a tea tasting room, gift shop and a classroom where John and Maria will run “tea and health talks” to educate the community on the benefits of drinking tea.

When asked what she loved most about her job, Maria answered, “I love helping people, knowing that we are assisting them to implement new, healthy habits, and I love constantly learning new and exciting facts about tea while tasting teas all day long from every region of the world!”

Today, you can find their teas not only at farmers’ markets and local vendors, but online and even at grocery stores such as Whole Foods Markets. They have also started selling their teas in farmer’s markets outside of California, and have over 100,000 loyal tea drinkers from at least 27 different countries.

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