Interview conducted by @KralTunes
Question: What does the member of an alternative, glam, post hardcore, hard rock band do to occupy his time when said band decides it’s time to pause?! If you’re Foxy Shazam’s Sky White, you become an importer/exporter in the fine tea biz. I needed a conversation with the ‘Art Vandelay’ of tea.
Frustrated with tea shops and vendors that routinely price gouge their customers, Sky started to buy tea straight from overseas sources. The problem? When ordering tea from exporters overseas, you have to order quantities that are “not suitable for the average private consumer”. Thus, like anyone else would, Sky’s solution was to establish a business. He asserts that Wendigo offers a square deal on tea that “beats the world’s most strict organic standards or complies with EU regulations which have much more strict pesticide control standards than the US”.
Not only does Wendigo Tea offer some of the best tea that I’ve ever tasted, but he is spicing up the centuries old biz by developing a line of fine tea leaves named after world-famous cryptid beings (e.g. Bigfoot and Loch Ness Monster)! Sky White graciously took time to share his love of tea and he company he has created.
KralTunes: What’s the more glamorous lifestyle, hard rocker or tea importer/exporter?
Sky White: I’d have to say tea importing is more glamorous mainly because there is no way to have a pile of rock dudes working hard all day on tour and have it not smell real bad. Also the usual way that people want to show appreciation for musicians they like is buying them a drink… As CEO of Wendigo Tea Co. I get tea sent across the planet packaged in what looks like an ancient scroll from a farmer talking about how this tea has never been on American soil and that his family has been guarding these tea trees for a thousand years.
KT: I am a big fan of tea, (green tea, specifically). I first got into green tea on a trip to Japan several years back (couldn’t stand it at first…the real, unsweetened deal is certainly is an acquired taste). That trip really opened my eyes to the world of green tea and the variety and complexity behind it. When did you realize that tea was your go-to beverage?
SW: I may have a cup of some nice coffee once a month but made a pretty strong transition to tea about 10 years ago. Not sure if it is a coincident or not but that was the same time Foxy started heavily touring.
I’m jealous of your trip to Japan. I have to get so much stuff shipped here to try to find the best available from a region. I tried maybe 100 different high-end Japanese green teas before finding my Wendigo Green Tea. KT: Speaking about the tea, the free stuff they give guests in the hotel rooms is 10X better than any store-bought brand here in the U.S. Just sayin’.
KT: To quote you from your ABOUT page:
Most American tea drinkers LOVE TEA but don’t know that America is the dumping ground of the world’s bad tea. Many store-bought tea bags are filled with ground-up old, bad, or dead bits that fall off of the good tea leaves, then are scented or flavored with fruit or herbs to improve the taste.
Why do you think America is the dumping ground for the worlds bad tea? From my experiences, people do find it arduous to have to seek out quality products and would rather settle for the inexpensive alternative.
SW: There are a ton of reasons that help explain why we have poor taste in tea. One of the biggest is our geography. We happen to be on the exact opposite side of the planet of where most of the world’s tea has always been produced. And until very recently, it had to be heavily oxidized or fermented as to not spoil before it gets here. You just would never do that with a good tea. So there was no way to avoid that bitter taste for generations unless you overpowered it with some sort of scenting or flavoring.
As for modern times, we can get the best tea in the world shipped here in a few days but it for some reason is still appealing to most people to buy really bad tea that has been flavored with flowers, extracts, and chemicals. I can order from China a garbage bag of the stuff that fills your tea bags for a few bucks. But never would because it doesn’t deserve to be anywhere but in that above stated garbage bag.
KT: I notice you regularly use mason jars for drinking tea. Are mason jars the optimal tea drinking vessel, or is it a personal preference?
SW: Yes there are proper size and shape tea cups. But I disagree with all of that so do the opposite. I like my tea to cool quickly so the large amount of glass of a mason jar lets more heat escape so I can get that delicious tea into my body faster. Tea cups are thin and delicate so the liquid stays hot as long as possible.
KT: For me, A good green tea goes a long way. What is the ultimate, most enjoyable tea leaf for your money?
SW: Honestly my Wendigo Green Tea is my favorite tea on the planet right now. I just tried a Japanese green tea that is 10x as expensive as it and don’t think it came anywhere close to being as enjoyable. I love the grassy taste of Japanese green teas but sometimes you get the “kelpy” taste in there too with a fine leaf tea. I enjoy Wendigo Green Tea so much because it has none of the unwanted flavors ( unless you brew it weird) and also has an unusual amount of natural sweetness.
KT: Lets see if you can help me with this one. My local tea shop is run by a great guy, who offers a wide variety of tea leaves. As I was perusing the current tea catalog, I noticed a green tea (Uji Superior Gyokuro) that was priced at over $50 per 100 g. Now I like my green tea, but $50 for a few leaves!?! Im not asking if he is ripping me off or anything, but can tea really be that pricey and worth the money?
SW: I have had that kind of Uji Gyokuro, or at least one very similar, and it was pretty darn good. With tea I always say just go for it and see what it is like.
That example right there is one of the main reasons why I started this company though. I am sure that this tea place has 100 or so teas right? (KT: you would be correct) That makes a lot of shipping costs for the business and with that many to deal with it becomes easier to deal with american wholesale companies rather than import from each specific area. Which will double the cost of tea to the consumer. The business model for a tea shop really works a lot better for carrying many different kinds of relatively cheap teas. Otherwise if your one ridiculously high-grade thing doesn’t sell such as that Gyokuro you might end up eating a multiple thousand dollar loss or be forced to sell it long past when it is at its freshest. I bet I could nearly half that price if I were to get that exact tea just because of the difference in our business models. I only carry very good tea because there are so few people selling it because most business models don’t work well with them. But mine does…
KT: As of now, you deal primarily with a small handful of teas. Do you hope to branch out with more of a selection? Any future products/teas coming soon? How do you decide which type of tea leaves to work with? Is it a long process?
SW: I only want to sell something if it is special. I don’t see myself carrying more than a dozen or so teas. The goal is to find, in my opinion, the best of every kind of tea and then a few just super unique or interesting finds along the way. I tend to fall in love with teas that have a natural sweetness and a complex flavor a bit different those of similar styles. I’m about to put in an order for some samples of stuff that I didn’t even know existed and seems like no one on the internet has heard about either…
KT: Now, being a fan of Foxy Shazam, I had to at least ask one question, as I may never have this opportunity again. You probably have been asked countless times, but fuck it..you guys are on a bit of a break at the moment. Is there a future for Foxy Shazam (if the answer is not what I am anticipating, feel free to lie to my face and tell me everything will be alright).
SW: We think so.
KT: Short, sweet, and under 4 syllables. For now, I’ll take it!