LIHUE — A picture, taken in 1997, shows a smiling 7-year-old Jamie Chambers holding up a cup of tea.
She is joined by her grandmother, Alice, and cousin, Rain, as they enjoy an afternoon at what was then the Princeville Hotel and where Jamie’s mother worked and served tea.
It was there Jamie discovered tea. Tasted it. Liked it. Loved it.
“Tea was a big part of our home,” she said. “My mom was a tea connoisseur.”
And somehow, she knew even then her life would revolve around tea. Perhaps evening running a luxury tea company.
She was right.
Chambers today is the owner and operator of Hobbs Tea company, which she started in 2013.
“I still do everything from sales to distribution to manufacturing,” she said during a phone call with The Garden Island on Tuesday. “It’s a one-woman show, pretty much.”
That includes tying tea bags by hand — which she’s done about 80,000 times.
At that revelation, she laughs. Doing something like tying tea bags that often might drive one crazy — unless, of course, you love what you do. Which Chambers does.
“I want to make the world’s most luxurious tea that’s easy for people to drink on the go,” she said, then adding, “without the toxins. That’s really what I’m trying to do.”
The 2006 Kapaa High School graduate’s company is, after a slow start, growing. Sales this year are on track to be about $60,000, which is double from last year. And projections call for sales doubling again in 2020.
“We are for sure seeing massive growth and increased demand,” she said. “We are seeing a lot of really great success this year.”
Another indicator that sales will keep heating up, Hobbs Tea is currently being featured in the Tory Burch Seed Box out of New York, making it the first Hawaiian company to do so.
Tory Burch Foundation’s goal is “empowering women entrepreneurs.” Its Seed Box, which sells as a gift box for about $100, features products from women entrepreneurs, with all proceeds benefiting the foundation.
It had this to say about Hobbs Tea and Jamie Chambers:
“Raised in a small beach town in Hawaii, Jamie spent afternoons helping her mom serve tea at the infamous Hanalei Bay. She was instantly inspired by the tradition of tea. After studying the culinary arts and business in college she set out to start a business that was both personal and rooted in her own family history – the ultimate tea company. Today, Hobbs Tea produces small-batch teas in Hawaii and features biodegradable tea bags.”
The biodegradable part is important to Chambers.
While she has long loved tea, she was disappointed, as she looked into the industry, to learn that most tea packaging is plastic-based and contained ingredients like bleach, glue, nylon and metal. None of that, she said, is good.
“When I started, I was very, very grossed out,” she said.
Chambers wanted to do better, so Hobbs Tea bags are 100% natural fiber-based and are hand-filled with Hawaii-grown and premium organic teas.
All the packaging is biodegradable, too, with the goal to reduce waste and be earth-friendly.
The handcrafted tea sachets are made on Oahu with tea grown on the Big Island.
Hobbs Tea Hawaii varieties include white, green, black, and oolong. Hawaii rainforest grown tea blends include “Wild Hibiscus,” “Spicy Chai,” “Vanilla Bean Colada” and “Mango.”
Chambers continues to look at creating new blends.
And it’s not just about something to drink.
It goes right along with her active lifestyle of hiking, yoga and surfing.
“I’m a total water baby,” she said. “I love being in the ocean.”
She talks of having green or black tea in the morning for a caffeine boost, white tea around mid-day for the antioxidants and herbal tea at night “to wind the day down.”
While the outlook for Hobbs Tea is bright, getting to this point took perseverance and sacrifice. It’s one of those stories of someone with a big dream who actually took steps to make it a reality.
After graduating from high school, she moved to California, where she worked in culinary arts. Her website describes it like this:
“Her morning routine consisted of fresh organic fruit from the farmers market, a health drink, and out the door with at least two big mugs of tea for the two hour commute ahead. She loved her tea, but it took too long to brew- and everyone else was drinking chemical treated tea dust mechanically filled into bleached nylon and plastic tea bags. Not good. Not healthy.
“She, however, was drinking something fabulous. On the bus, in the office, on airplanes, taxis… Everywhere, but, it wasn’t easy- packing the tea, straining equipment, dumping the tea leaves (that are great to re-brew), usually spilling and burning herself, cleaning, drying, re-storing. Her most precious luxury was turning into a complete nightmare. She searched for a simple solution- nowhere to be found.”
In 2013, she took a leap of faith and founded Hobbs Tea. In those first years, she continued waitressing full time on Oahu as she guided her company.
“Every single dollar I made I would not even buy myself a Rice Krispy Treat,” she said. “I put every single dollar into this company.”
A small business loan, a tight budget and smart business decisions helped turn the corner from losing money to breaking even and finally, making a profit.
“Last year, I made my first dollar,” she said.
Hobbs Tea isn’t inexpensive. It costs from $9 to $20, depending on the blend, for a package of four to five sachets, which can be used several times.
It’s available at hobbstea.com and locally at select stores on Kauai, including the Princeville Resort, PV Eats, Kauai Juice Company and Ohana Shop Kauai in Hanalei. The Grand Hyatt Resort &Spa will begin carrying it at its coffee bar in December.
Chambers, just as she did as a girl drinking tea in Princeville 22 years ago, still loves tea and firmly believes it is an essential part of life.
The name Hobbs Tea, by the way, also dates back to when Chambers was a girl sitting in the Princeville Hotel lobby waiting for her mom.
Guests would ask her, “What’s your name?” and Chambers wanted something that sounded a little more formal so she embellished and would tell them, “Jamie Paulette Chambers Hobbs” and added that she was from New Zealand.
It was, she said, her “tea name” so when it came time to naming her company, “Hobbs” it was, in part because it’s short and easy to pronounce.
“Any culture can say it,”she said.
The goal is to expand sales to international markets like Japan, and provide a healthy, environmentally friendly tea that everyone can enjoy “and keep growing our Hawaii agriculture,” she said.
And eventually, hire someone so Chambers doesn’t have to hand tie another 80,000 tea bags.