Revival Tea builds off a booming market business and opens a new tasting room in Downtown Spokane
by Cara Strickland
photos by Noreen Hiskey & Ari Nordhagen
In October 2018, Drew and Cerina Henry launched a kickstarter for a new company: Revival Tea. Though both had full-time jobs, they’d spent countless hours, early in the morning and late at night, for four months perfecting their first tea–a chai.
But this chai was different. It had nine ingredients, far above the average, and it’s a sticky chai—with local honey in the mix. The plan was to release this one blend to see if there was interest before doing more. Drew thought that if things went well, they’d build slowly and he’d quit his job in two or three years.
Thanks to the kickstarter, they shipped their first teas on December 1, 2018—to 17 countries and over 30 states! Over the next three months, they shipped to over 30 countries and every state. The feedback was phenomenal. Customers wrote claiming their tea was the best chai they’d ever had. Drew quit his job at the end of January 2019 to focus on tea full time. He developed new flavors, including Earl Grey, Passionfruit, Mango and Hojicha, launching 11 teas as part of their signature collection on May 1, 2019, ahead of the farmers market season.
This recipe for success was almost never created. The Henrys were originally interested in making whisky. Part of Drew’s family is from Northern Ireland, and he and Cerina traveled around the country, visiting storied distilleries in the hope of learning from the masters. On one such trip, they were sitting in Dublin drinking tea and realized that they drink far more tea than whisky. Revival was born.
Though Drew’s family distilled in Ireland, neither he nor his wife had a background in tea, other than drinking lots of it. For Drew, that’s a strength, as he brings elements of what he loves from the craft spirit and beer world to the tea world. For many years, certainly in the United States, tea has been an exclusive thing, seen as stuffy, fancy, or intimidating. Although tea rests as the number two drink in every other country, it’s still number three in America, behind coffee and water. The Henrys are hoping to change that perception, making tea accessible to a larger number of people and being transparent about what all is going into the cup with the idea of educating consumers about tea.
“We made a decision very early on that we weren’t going to buy the cheapest tea,” he says. “All of our tea, whether it’s white, green, black or oolong, all comes from what’s called the flowery orange pekoe. It’s the smallest leaf at the top, whereas most teas you’ll find in a grocery store take the leaves and even take the stem and grind it.”
Revival uses three tea brokers to source the finest teas from China, India, Ceylon, South Africa, Kenya, and Argentina. When formulating a new tea, Drew goes through a rigorous process to pick the right one: “If I want an oolong, I’ll get a hundred samples and we’ll do a traditional cupping where we go through one by one, gurgle it, spit it out, and choose the one we want,” he says. “If you are drinking our black tea or our white or our oolong you’d know it’s ours just by the finish. All of our teas have a very smooth finish, and they’re always maybe a little more bold and dark than you might expect.” Besides teas made with actual tea leaves (from the Camellia sinensis plant), Revival also makes tisanes and herbal teas including varieties of rooibos, and locally sourced peppermint.
The sheer demand for tea has been one of the most surprising elements for Drew. “I had in my mind what a tea person looked like. Farmers markets completely dispelled that. I had construction workers walk up with their big thermos, put it on my table and say: ‘Do you know what I fill this with every day? Your white tea.’ There’s more tea people out there than you think.”
Another surprise for Drew came in the form of his youngest customers. “I wasn’t drinking tea when I was four or five years old like these little kids that gravitate towards tea,” he says. One such young patron clued Drew into a drink he’d never thought to try: a blend between black and white teas the girl called the Black and White.
Though the tea creation and the farmers markets were great outlets for meeting customers and for creativity, something was missing. Revival is served in 100 cafes and counting, and sold in some retail spaces, such as Spokane’s My Fresh Basket and From Here, but there wasn’t a consistent place where people could come in and learn about the teas, drink them in community and try new flavors as they were released. The Henrys started looking for a central space to create a tea room with inspiration from the craft brewery model with taster flights, limited edition mug releases, barrel-aged chai, and new teas “on tap” to gauge their popularity before being packaged.
The perfect place for this endeavor presented itself in the form of an old speakeasy on Main Street in downtown Spokane (part of the speakeasy is currently known as Durkin’s downstairs bar). When I visited with the Henrys, construction was in full steam, but it was easy to see the good bones—the original pillars, floors, and base of the old bar were taking shape as Revival’s new tea bar.
Though they won’t be serving alcohol, the Henrys plan to have a nightly “tea mocktail” happy hour, giving customers a place to unwind even for those who’d rather not drink. The space will become the new home for their Tea 101 classes, and they plan to add blending classes as well.
Also, based on the brewery model, customers will be able to watch production in process, including seeing the new tea-bagging machine in action—which will ease the workload for the Henrys who up until now have been bagging their teas by hand. Drew is excited about having a dedicated space to create after renting time in a shared commercial kitchen for the first part of his tea-making career.
Immediately, the tea offerings will expand to 60 upon opening, with a goal of up to 100 or so eventually, depending on space. “We have very ambitious goals,” says Drew. “But we’re not going to try to grow bigger than the market wants us to. We’re going to continue to grow as the demand is there.”
The name Revival has a dual meaning, one of them going back to World War I propaganda. “England actually used to run propaganda that said ‘tea revives you,’ that to the soldier meant ‘Yeah, we know it’s tough, but we gave you tea. You’re good. Get back out there.’” The other part stems from the changes the Henrys have seen in Spokane as they’ve grown their business. “Spokane’s going through so much. We’re just scratching the surface of how cool a place this is going to be to live.” Revival comes in many forms. This time, it comes in a teacup.