Just the names elicit a smile.
There’s “Don QuixoTea” and “War and Peach.”
And that’s not to mention “The Picture of Earl Grey,” “Oliver Lemon Twist” and “Pride and Peppermint.”
What, you may be asking, are these pun-embracing titles all about?
They are among the selections of NovelTeas, billed as “Tea Tins With a Novel Twist.” And NovelTeas, which blend wordplay with world-class tea, is carving out quite a following among lovers of tea — and literature.
Not bad for an idea that got its start in a New Canaan kitchen.
It was some three years ago when Johnny Pujol was home for the holidays and having tea with his two younger sisters.
“My mother’s British, so tea has always been in our home,” Pujol says.
They were, he says, goofing around, when he was asked if he had brought them a gift — and he playfully suggested the wet tea bag.
“We riffed on it for a while,” Pujol says.
Eventually, he would head back to California, but that light moment continued to steep into a product idea that’s as creative as it is fun.
“This is a great idea,” Pujol says he realized. “People read books. People drink tea. There’s a lot of juice to squeeze there.”
So he enlisted his airbnb guest, Jorgen Stovne. The native of Norway just happened not only to have a background in marketing and advertising but had worked with a fitting client, Lipton.
Stovne was game from the start.
“Johnny’s passion for the project was what attracted me initially, but over time I think we all fell in love with the process of making the tins,” he says. “I’ve also always been fascinated by old book covers, so this was a great excuse to spend unhealthy amounts of time researching the right look.”
Also heavily involved is Mitch Kraemer — a friend of a friend who’s also an avid reader. “He’s technically an investor, but he works with us day to day,” Pujol says.
With a team in place, what began as a joke suddenly became serious when the initial investment was buoyed by an incredibly successful Kickstarter campaign.
Pujol, chatting with WAG in New Canaan during a recent visit home, says people were connecting with the company’s offbeat take on the importance of literature — something lost in what he calls today’s “YouTube culture.”
These great works are, he notes, “classics for a reason.”
ANOTHER CUP OF TEA
It all came about at the perfect time for Pujol, the culmination of a journey from New Canaan High School to a bachelor’s degree in economics from Boston University to less-than-fulfilling work on Wall Street.
“I think part of the problem was I was losing some creative excitement,” Pujol says.
He ended up relocating to Berkeley, California.
“I love Berkeley,” he says. “I want to be the mayor of Berkeley.”
By example of his devotion, he points to a nearby tree. “This tree is nice… Have you seen the trees in Berkeley?”
There, he’s earned a graduate degree in water engineering from University of California at Berkeley and is founder and CEO of water-testing firm SimpleWater Inc.
He can talk at length about water, contaminants and climate change, but that passion extends to NovelTeas.
THE PERFECT BLEND
It’s essentially a two-part process, Pujol says, starting with the artwork that will interpret the spin on a classic title.
The company works with an ever-growing roster of independent artists from Seattle to Spain, who share the NovelTeas vision.
“The best recipe is finding artists who’ve loved the books,” he says. “It’s been giving us this cool reach into the world of art.”
The teas themselves, though, are no joke — with each flavor custom blended.
“It’s all about creating these teas that reflect the book,” Pujol says.
The company has been approaching small-batch tea companies, often to a great response.
“They want the challenge of making a flavor that tastes like a book,” he says.
Take the “Don QuixoTea,” which is said to be “Cervantea’s tea blend — Man of La Manchai.” It’s designed as a “delicious and adventurous brew of organic and traditional chai spices: red cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper and the root of ginger.”
Integral to the company’s continued growth has been crowdfunding, from Kickstarter to more recently Indiegogo, with the latter supporting the launch of book-shaped refill cartons seen as the paperback versions of the tin’s “hardcovers.”
“We use a recycled paper product, so it’s a bit of ‘feel good’ there,” Pujol says.
KEEP THE KETTLE ON
As the NovelTeas library continues to grow, Pujol notes the company may one day bring the concept to other products.
It’s also balancing a strong social-media push with reaching out to potential customers the old-fashioned way, in person. That included a successful appearance at the San Francisco International Tea Festival in November that found the products, Pujol says, “gone before noon.”
At the moment, Pujol, Stovne and Kraemer all have day jobs — but NovelTeas is a passion, one in which New Canaan remains a strong tie.
It was, in fact, design solutions in town that gave NovelTeas its brick-and-mortar debut some two years ago — and continues to carry the tea tins.
Owner Pauline Dora, who has known Pujol for years, immediately connected with NovelTeas.
“Knowing Johnny and his sense of humor, it’s perfect,” she says. “It’s very clever.”
At first, she says, she promoted Pujol’s local roots, but in time NovelTeas didn’t need any justification.
“It stands on its own,” Dora says.
The NovelTeas team, she adds, has a key asset, something that it just happens to share with the best of literature — “It’s their imagination.”
For more, visit novelteatins.com.