Homegrown Business: Michiko Ono of Matsu Kaze Tea

Located in Calgary, Matsu Kaze Tea sources authentic Japanese tea and tea ware for online shoppers and wholesalers as well as for a number of festivals and events. Blending traditional and modern Japanese tea culture and connecting farmers, craftspeople and artisans with customers is the basis for an exploration of tradition as well as new, creative approaches. Founded by Michiko Ono and her husband Ian Simpson in 2011, the business draws its inspiration from Michiko’s passion for Japanese teas and the tea ceremony. Matsu Kaze Tea invites Calgarians to join their journey and experience both traditional teas and tea ware, often the product of generations of dedicated work and learning, and the unique and sometimes surprising new products and innovations created from those roots.

Matsu Kaze Tea

What is your business called and what does it do?

Matsu Kaze Tea– We import and sell authentic, quality teas and tea-ware from Japan. We source all of our products directly from tea farmers, artisans and other businesses in Japan. We sell retail online and at events and wholesale for both serving tea and as point-of-sale.

What made you want to do this work?

Michiko had been practising the Japanese tea ceremony and decided to become certified by the Japanese Tea Association as a Nihoncha Instructor (Japanese Tea Expert) so she came into this as a business with a passion for Japanese tea culture. One of the things she missed the most in Canada was quality Japanese teas and she was disappointed that people didn’t understand or fully appreciate those teas. We had been considering various products we might try to import from Japan and this seemed to be an obvious choice.

What problem did you want to solve with the business?

When we started, green tea was just starting to enter the local market and there were a lot of misconceptions about these teas. We wanted to be part of developing an awareness of and appreciation for Japanese tea culture in Canada and globally. We also wanted a business that we could grow into and would keep us learning.

We meet tea farmers, artisans and people in the tea business in Japan and we meet with our wholesale and retail customers. We’re kind of “farm-to-table”, but across the ocean. Really, it’s about connecting communities and sharing knowledge and experiences. We want to help maintain the viability of Japanese tea farmers, especially unique, small farms as well as the craftspeople involved in creating tea-ware.

Michiko’s passion for Japanese tea culture was a great place to start and it continues. As our business has grown, she has been certified as a Tea Sommelier by the Tea Association of Canada and applied this to helping our wholesale customers with food pairings, tea drinks, tea cocktails and cooking recipes using teas. She continues her practice of the Japanese tea ceremony and is now also studying Sencha-do (sencha tea ceremony). Michiko is also serving as an official Tea Ambassador from Japan and works with the Japanese Consulate and Japanese cultural organizations.

Japanese tea culture is an amazing lens into Japanese history, art, food and philosophy. From the tea ceremony to modern tea cafes, there is a lot to explore and enjoy. We’re encouraged by the growing interest in Japanese teas and tea-ware and excited for the future.

Who are your clientele/demographics?

Our teas and tea-ware are carefully selected for their quality, authenticity and value, so we reach a variety of demographics.

Many of our local customers have been to Japan, some have lived there and some are Japanese and they have clear ideas about what they like and are looking for, though many like to be surprised by something new or unique.

We find a lot of younger people enjoy tea trends and many come from cultural backgrounds that also have a rich tea culture. Many of them are increasingly familiar with Japanese tea culture or at least very open to it.

Many customers, but especially older ones, are looking at the health benefits of Japanese green teas. We are very careful about this and do our best to provide advice about which teas provide the greatest amounts of various nutrients and some of the research we find, but always caution our customers to talk with a doctor about any particular health issues they may have.

Our wholesale customers certainly appreciate our products, but also our support and knowledge in helping them select products that work for them and their customers as well as supporting their staff with information and training. We have our teas in a variety of restaurants, cafes, bakeries and other establishments in Alberta, Saskatchewan, BC and Ontario and are proud to have them in 3 Calgary restaurants (Lonely Mouth Bar, Eight and Shokunin) that were selected in the Top 100 restaurants in Canada.

How does your business make money? How does it work?

We select teas and tea-ware in Japan and sell them retail online, at events and festivals and through about 45 wholesale partners who serve them, use them as ingredients and also sell off-the-shelf. These include restaurants, cafes, bakeries, chocolatiers and ice cream makers. We also occasionally do tea tastings for individuals or organizations.

Where in the city can we find your profession?

We can be found at events like Otafest and Japanese Omasturi festivals in Calgary and Animethon in Edmonton in the spring and summer and sometimes at other events, often at the Nikka Yuko Japanese Gardens in Lethbridge. Otherwise, our teas can be found at a variety of restaurants and cafes in Calgary.

Matsu Kaze Tea

What is the best question a prospective customer could ask a member of your profession when comparing services? Give the answer as well.

Why should we choose your products? Because we have personally selected the best quality, most authentic and often unique products from Japan. You can find high-quality inexpensive teas as well as some of the best top-quality Japanese teas found anywhere. You’ll also get any support or advice you will need to learn about Japanese tea products and make the best selections for you. We’re all about value.

What is the best part about what you do? What is the worst part?

The best part is easily the people that we meet. We travel to Japan and meet with farmers and artisans. Without exception, we are well received and enjoy meeting with them and learning about what they do. We spend time with our retail customers in Calgary and Edmonton at festivals and other events and we spend a lot of time with our wholesale customers. We love to share our products and our suppliers’ stories with our customers and we love the sense of community that connects all of these businesses and individuals.

The worst part is when something goes wrong with an order, especially anything dealing with shipping! Usually, it happens when we’re busy. Fortunately, we work closely with our shippers and know how to track things down and solve problems as quickly as possible.

Where can we follow you?

Website | Instagram | Facebook | Youtube | Vimeo

PAY IT FORWARD: What is another local business that you love?

We love our wholesale partners, but thought we’d be neutral and choose Knifeware. We met Kevin Kent when he was just starting up and once did a summer pop-up in their Inglewood location. They have expanded across the country and have started up the Kent of Inglewood shave shop. They are a great business and we’ve remained friends over the years, sometimes collaborating on Japanese-themed events.

 

About Emilea Semancik 83 Articles
Emilea Semancik was born in North Vancouver. Emilea has always always wanted to work as a freelance writer and currently writes for the Vancouver Guardian. Taking influence from journalism culture surrounding the great and late Anthony Bourdain, she is a recipe author working towards publishing her own series of books. You can find her food blog on Instagram: