Eastern Market profile: Intu Tea
In each issue of Detroit City Limits, we’ll profile a regular vendor at Detroit’s Eastern Market, focusing on some of the lesser known vendors and products. This week: intu tea.
Vendor: Mary Jones
Products: Tea, teapots, infusers.
Location: Teas are blended in a small kitchen in a church in Detroit; at Eastern Market, intu can be found outside Shed 2 on the Germack Nuts side.
Q&A with Mary Jones
DCL: How did you get started?
MJ: I’ve had people try to quiz me, because I’m fat, black and bald, and they wonder what would I know about tea? Sometimes I make fun at them when they try to drill me. My father was in the Navy, and when he travelled, he would send me things from wherever he was, and that opened the door to tea for me. I didn’t really know where to go with it, though. Then I saw that TechTown Detroit was looking for small businesses to help them grow. My best friend and I got an appointment with Howard Bell, executive director of TechTown. We knew we only had 30 seconds to wow them. I went in and had her set up a display while I talked, and I could see Howard leaning back with a look on his face like “What the heck?” And then he told me everything I’d done wrong. He asked if I had a business plan or money, and I said no. He asked what I had that would make him believe I had a business. I said I had knowledge of the product and a passion to bring it to market. So, I was accepted into the program. My mentor helped me with things like how to write a business plan.
DCL: What was your first big break in the business?
DCL: How did you get involved with Eastern Market?
MJ: I think it was 2008 when I came to Eastern Market. I was vending at a different farmers market, and I sold more teapots back then. I would buy them and give them new life by repainting them, and I had a company who would fire them for me. Many vendors knew me as Teapot Mary. Randall Fogelman, vice president of business development, saw one of my beautiful displays, and it caught his eye. I’m not vending at Eastern Market right now because I just had surgery, but I will be back there is the first weekend in May. I love Eastern Market, because the customers there are so loyal. It will never be so cold that you won’t have a customer.
DCL: Where else can customers find you besides Eastern Market?
MJ: I’m the blender for The Whitney. The manager was putting on 60 teas a month and using tea bags. He knew they needed to fix that, and he asked me about training their staff. I went on to host teas at The Whitney. I’ll come in and do different presentations. I just did one before Valentine ’s Day called “Aphro-tea-siac.” One I did on “High Iced Tea” went very well. We did it in the garden and it was beautiful.
DCL: What do you think more people should know about tea?
MJ: I like putting the emphasis on teas that have nothing in them. The new in thing is throwing everything into tea, but you still need to know the base. I’m not impressed with a lot of blenders, because you need to know characteristics of gunpowder tea or of oolong tea before you add anything to it. There’s a tea called Dragon Well, and I think it’s just perfect, and I won’t blend with it, because it doesn’t need anything. Or you see commercials talking about “full flavor” white tea. Well, real white tea has just a whisper of flavor – blink and you’ll miss it. Just taste it in its pure form.
DCL: What’s in the future for your business?
MJ: I have several teas I brew in apple cider rather than in water that I call City Cider. Everybody is after me to have it bottled. That’s a venture I hope before I leave this world to complete.
DCL: What do you like about Detroit?
MJ: Detroit has such a wonderful energy. There are so many little nooks and crannies. For instance, I love that we have falcons downtown. If you’re in the NEW center area — look up!
–Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in southeast Michigan. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.