Hillary and Thomas Steinwinder started Longleaf Tea Company in 2018, only a few months after they moved home to Laurel. The couple began planting on Hillary's family land that had been passed down for five generations. Despite the long and laborious seasons, they believe that Americans and the US tea industry will be impacted greatly by just a cup of their Longleaf Tea.
It all started when Thomas was based out of Shanghai as an Engineer between 2010 and 2012. Hillary visited him in China, and they spent months traveling the countryside, tasting new foods, speaking a different language and sipping the world's highest quality tea.
Thomas said, "There was a tea shop next to my apartment, and I would go and have tea with the lady that owned it to practice my Chinese and Mandarin. She asked me about the tea in the US, because she heard that we drink a lot of tea as well, but it's all sweet tea and iced tea. She asked where we grow our tea, because it's a really big deal to know where your tea comes from in China."
Thomas explained that China's tea regions are like the United States' wine region on the west coast. These regions prove to be extremely valuable and lucrative in worldwide commerce.
He continues, "I realized that we don't grow any tea in the US, and she thought that was weird. She asked me why we don't, and I didn't have a good answer for her."
That conversation sparked something within Thomas, an innovator who lives to find solutions to the big and small problems. While tea leaves are small, he saw a huge opportunity.
Like a good engineer, Thomas began researching the process of growing tea and finding out why we don't grow in the US. It became a seven year research project filled, and when Hillary and Thomas moved home in 2018, they decided to give it a try.
He shares, "We planted our first 1,500 plants in 2018, and that's how a conversation in Shanghai in 2011 turned into actual plants in the ground in Laurel, Mississippi seven years later."
Longleaf Tea Co. is one of only a handful of tea growers and tea makers in the US. There's a small contingent that are trying to disrupt the whole global market, because 99.9% of the tea that we drink in the US is imported. The Steinwinder's are trying to develop a American made option for tea, and it's hardworking.
Thomas shares, "We have a processing area where we produce all of our tea that we grow in the field. We're so thankful for Ben and Erin for helping us renovate this house to be a gathering area. We're excited to have a tea house of our own where we can offer it as a venue space and a place to come taste what we've grown all season."
While America is slow to compete in the tea industry, tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world after water. It is a much bigger industry than coffee, beer and wine. The Steinwinders are hopeful and excited to be on the front end of the industry here in America.
Longleaf Tea is special because it's one of the few products that is actually grown in the US. Most often, the process is splintered. Tea farmers will grow the tea, tea picking companies will pick the leaves, and then tea makers make their own brews of tea.
Thomas and Hillary are proud to say their entire product is made right here in Jones County from start to finish. The entire family and extended family hand-plots and hand-picks every tea leaf each season, and they process the tea and focus heavily on the quality. Every single batch has a little bit of a different flavor, because it's made by hand in one place.
Obviously, Erin and Ben are big fans of people like Hillary and Thomas. They appreciate and back the small business owners who see a problem and want to fix it. They especially support those who want to create jobs and make our small towns and our country strong with American-made products.
That's why it was a pleasure to transform their family's generational home into a hospitable tea house. Ben created two builds for their new space to allow more guests to gather. He created a 12-foot Cypress table for their teahouse for large gatherings and tastings, along with a functional and surprising gift for their tea tables.
Hillary shares, "There's a special type of tea tray called a Gongfu tea tray, and it has like a false bottom, so it allows you to pour water for parts of the tea on the tray. The base of the tray holds the water so it doesn't spill all over the table. It's a really intricate tray, and they took the time to figure out how to make one from the wood from our barn. It meant so much to us!"
We're so excited to see what will become of Longleaf Tea Co. We have no doubt that Hillary and Thomas Steinwinder will change the world and make America stronger with their deep-rooted desire to bring good tea to the US.