High-quality, organic loose-leaf tea is the speciality of The Naked Leaf in Kensington

How does a small, independent business become successful? In any market, you need to establish your brand by identifying something that others are not doing, and that consumers can recognize as your own, to set you apart from competition.

It doesn’t matter what tea shop you frequent, it’ll have cute décor, friendly staff, and a few customers browsing a wall full of premium tea blends that the friendly staff will be more than happy to pop the lid off to wave at your face.

The Naked Leaf in Kensington, owned and operated by Jonathan Kane, adopts some of the aforementioned tea shop customs but the backbone of his business model is to immerse himself in Calgary’s culture, celebrating the creative spirit of the community and reflecting it back to his customers.

Opening in the fall of 2008, when most people only associated premium tea shops with larger chains found in upscale malls, such as Teaopia, now Teavana, The Naked Leaf established it’s reputation in Calgary as a go-to source for quality organic loose-leaf teas that franchised stores didn’t offer.

“For our one shop, we have 12 suppliers,” Kane says. “I’m trying to find the best quality and things that no one else has. Of course we have Earl Grey, but people really come from all over thecity because for our Earl Grey doesn’t taste like everybody else’s Earl Grey.“

“We have some of our own blends that are made exclusively for us now. So that’s been exciting,” Kane adds.

Using The Naked Leaf’s Maple Chai as an example, Kane will work with a blender, telling them what kind of flavours he’s looking for. They’ll send roughly 10 variations of the blend back to Kane, based on his description.

“I sample them and say, ‘I like the strength of the maple in version two and the chai spice blend in version four better,” Kane says. “Can we put that together? Then they’ll send me about three new samples, either I’m happy with that or it needs a little more whatever,” Kane added. “Then they send one or two. So it’s a big process; it takes usually weeks or a couple months to get right.”

The Naked Leaf name, derived from selling organic teas that are free of any additives, artificial colours, flavours or preservatives, was also a catchy way of educating customers about organic teas and why they are important.

“Unlike organic fruit, for example, where you can wash it or peel it; with tea, you’re putting it in the water, so there is no way to get rid of it (additives), so they’re going into your cup and then you’re drinking it,” Kane says. “So that was important for me to do as much as we can.”

 Local artists submit artwork to be displayed on The Naked Leaf’s tins. Photos by Cory Knibutat.

As a small business, you can’t spend large amounts of money on advertising and branding so word of mouth is the best way to boost your presence in the community, but you need something worth talking about. For Kane, he envisioned incorporating the works and designs of local artists to help showcase his tea.

The artists Kane enlists design everything from the tea tin labels to chocolates, hand cream, body wash and soap made with herbal tea; even the ceramic tea-pots and kettles are designed by local craftsmen.

“People are impressed by the tins,” Kane says. “We only print 100 of each image and when they’re gone, they’re gone, and we let a new artist have the space. The selection on display is always changing every few weeks.”

Kane wants you to truly understand what goes into your tea and enjoy the process of making the perfect cup, taking the time to enjoy every spice and floral note of the tea as you open the tin. He wants you to enjoy the warmth of the steam dancing under your nose drawing you in for your first, cautious sip and take note of every flavour as it washes over your tongue, allowing you to steal moments of your day to yourself to enjoy your cosy beverage.

“It’s still educational,” Kane says. “I like where we’re at but they’re always places to grow. We’ve got a nice clientele who are looking for those really unique teas that you can’t get at the other stores.” Look for The Naked Leaf to grow in their new Kensington Road location, where they are neighbours of Higher Ground Café.

“It’s beautiful, there’s a fireplace in it and hardwood floors; it’ll be lovely.”

Kane’s 5 Favourite Winter Tea blends

Maple Chai – warming spices, great on it’s own but really lovely with a shot of Baileys.

Spiced Green Tea – fresh, but also richly spiced with cardamom and pepper.

Imperial Feng Qing – thick, rich, earthy black tea.

Milky Oolong – naturally creamy. It tastes like buttered popcorn. This is a great one for snuggling up to the fireplace with agood read.

Japanese Roasted Herb Blend – caffeine free with a nutty, toasted almond flavour and a sweet finish.

The Naked Leaf is at 4, 1126 Kensington Rd NW, 403-283-3555, thenakedleaf.ca, @The_Naked_Leaf

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