Gaï Assouline is a co-founder and art director of boutique tea brand Inari Tea, which has its Asian headquarters in Hong Kong.
What do you do?
We’re a tight-knit group of five tea enthusiasts. Alongside our tea farmers and tea engineers, our aim is to source and provide the best single-origin tea in Asia. Our vision is for Inari Tea to influence the next wave in the tea world, changing the way people view and enjoy tea.
Today, few tea brands are truly involved in farming and production. Often the identity of those behind the journey is lost along the way. We want to make sure that the story of our tea is preserved throughout the whole process, and shines through in our products.
How does your business work?
Inari is a collaboration between tea lovers. Our co-founder and visionaire, Aaron, is based in the US and drives Inari’s vision through all of our operations. I mainly develop the supply chain in Hong Kong and the brand’s marketing, amongst other things. Yanbing is our incredible tea engineer who manages farming projects and works directly with our friends who produce teas that we don’t make. She regularly sources both agricultural and non-agricultural categories and keeps things running smoothly in China. Finally, Shihwei and Yiming both produce tea in several regions including at their own family fields in Taiwan. When not producing tea themselves, they travel to help develop their own capabilities and oversee the consistency of our current partners, as well as find new potential suppliers.
How did your business get started?
Although we launched two years ago, the journey started in 2004 when Aaron moved to China and started traveling all over Asia in search of high-quality production, which took him to Nepal, India, Japan, Taiwan, and of course, across China. He approached me with the task of building a cool, elegant brand that would showcase these incredible teas. It was something I and the others all felt compelled to pursue, and so Inari was born.
Who are your clients?
We believe people from all walks of life should enjoy good tea and so we sell to restaurants, cafés, fitness centers, breweries, wine shops, and more, in addition to selling through our website. We’ve had the opportunity to work with top restaurants such as Alinea in Chicago, Yardbird in Hong Kong, and most recently David Thompson’s new sensation, Aaharn.
We’re passionate about collaborations and experiments, too. We’re currently working with with pastry chefs here in Hong Kong such as Gael from Sweet Fashion House, who is using our tea to develop some incredible cakes.
What’s a day in your working life like?
I spend most of my day working with people, either talking to our tea partners or serving our customers as best I can. During the harvest period, we are constantly traveling to produce our teas and help our friends with the teas they produce. Outside of that, we try and focus on the whole experience in terms of keeping the process simple, clean, and as exciting as possible. Of course, we are constantly on the lookout for the best teas to renew and expand our portfolio, so I spend time working in this area, too.
Where do you see your business in the future?
Going forward, my dream for Inari is to hold onto our roots, our story and our quality while pushing for new and innovative high-quality teas in an accessible way. We want to redefine what people associate with tea. We’re pushing the idea that tea is cool and exciting, while people often think of it as an elite, traditional beverage. For us, tea is as relevant at the beach with a surfboard as it is in a hotel with afternoon canapés. I hope in the future Inari can help change these perceptions and that Hongkongers can enjoy some amazing tea along the way.
An elevator convo with Gaï Assouline. See here for more from our Next Up series.