Simple Loose Leaf: Bringing Tea Directly to Your Door

UPDATE: Since this post Simple Loose Leaf has changed the format of their subscription service significantly, so most of this information is out of date.


You may have seen the teaser post I put up recently for Simple Loose Leaf and today we're going to take an an in-depth look at what I think about their new customizable tea subscription service. 

SLL_Packaging.jpg

Description:

Simple Loose Leaf offers the first custom loose leaf tea subscriptions.  

We believe in changing the way loose leaf tea subscriptions are sold.  At Simple Loose Leaf we believe that every tea lover should have the opportunity to create the perfect tea time experience for themselves and those they love.

We offers almost 130 different loose leaf teas that our customers can use to create exceptional moments in time, through tea, for themselves and others.  Our subscriptions can go as long as 6 months and include 2 oz. and 4 oz. size options for every tea we offer.

Other Information:

Type: Monthly Tea Subscription

Where to Purchase: 

Review:

Things that really stood out as being done right

Shipping Time:

The first tea in my six month subscription arrived a day early. 

Tea Packaging:

I loved the fact that even though I ordered 2 ounces of tea it was packaged in two resealable 1 ounce packages. I think this is a great idea because my second ounce of tea will remain fresh longer. I really do hope that they continue to ship tea this way. Unfortunately, not 30 minutes after I wrote that I got an email from Andrew, one of the owners, letting me know they were unhappy with the way the tea was currently packaged and are considering changing to a larger size package.

So I sent him a lengthy email. Want to read part of it?

It's funny that you mentioned that you were changing the packaging, because I had just gotten done writing about how much I liked it. I'd be curious to know what exactly you didn't like about it. I haven't had the chance to open the tea yet, but it looks like it is a resealable package, which is very important in maintaining freshness.  I also really like the fact that the tea is packaged in one ounce increments because I can open one bag, drink from it, and not worry about my other ounce of tea becoming stale from repeat exposure to air. I also prefer a bag that doesn't have a window on it. I'm notoriously bad about leaving my tea laying around and the exposure to light has a very negative affect on the flavor. The only real downside I see to your current packaging is weight. It is quite a bit heavier than most of the packaging I see other vendors use.

What type of packaging were you considering as an alternative?

His response:

The packaging will actually still be basically the same Kraft bags.  We are just looking at moving from the 2 oz, the one we used, to a 4 oz.  We are not looking at any packaging that has panels/windows in it.  We may consider doing bags that do not have the valve depending on how the bags manage the air when sealing the bag.  All tests that are going to be doing over the next few days.  The primary issue we have with the 2 oz bags, and you nailed it when you mentioned shipping, is that they cost more to ship because we have to ship more of them. 

UPDATE: Since my initial review Simple Loose Leaf has moved from shipping teas in individual 1 ounce packages, unless you have ordered a 1 ounce subscription plan. They now arrive in a single 2 ounce package for 2 ounce subscriptions, or two 2 ounce packages for 4 ounce subscriptions.

As a customer I really appreciate the fact that Simple Loose Leaf is going to great lengths to make sure they keep shipping costs economical. With USPS raising rates yet again on January 26, 2014 this is going to make the challenge of economical shipping that much harder for small businesses nation-wide.

Things I'd like to see done a little differently

Packing Materials and Shipping Costs:

First off, I would love to see a little more care taken in the packaging of the tea for shipping. My first shipment arrived in an unpadded kraft envelope, and although you can't see it in the photo, it didn't arrive in the best condition. At the very least I would like to see bubble wrap to give the tea a little cushioning, although I would prefer a padded mailer, or even a small box. 

The problem with changing how the tea is packaged for shipping is that it is going to negatively affect shipping costs. My package cost $2.24 to ship via 1st class mail and Simple Loose Leaf only charged me $8.75 for shipping the entire six month subscription. Shipping rates have been raised slightly since I placed my order. If you take a quick look at Simple Loose Leaf's shipping FAQ and follow their given breakdown for shipping (6 teas x $1.75) + (1 tea x $.50) = $11.00 will be the new shipping cost for an entire six month subscription containing seven teas. If you do the math, they are still losing $2.44 over the course of six months, more actually since I ordered seven teas, one of which was 4oz. Keep in mind none of this is factoring in the costs for printing labels and packing materials.

I appreciate the fact that Simple Loose Leaf is not trying to make a profit on shipping. They have also addressed the issue of the type of envelopes used in shipping. They have plans to move to a padded envelope in the near future.

UPDATE: Since my initial review Simple Loose Leaf has made some changes to how they ship their teas. They have discontinued using the tan mailers you see in the photo above and now use bubble mailers. This offers much better protection in transit and my last two shipments have arrived in perfect condition. 

Quality Control:

Let's move on a bit to the fact that they've actually lost a bit more money in shipping by forgetting to front load my subscription. Personally I chalk this up to the fact that it is the first shipment and they're just getting in the swing of things, we know all about that around here, don't we? My subscription lasts for six months, however, I ordered seven teas. This means that my first month I should have receive two teas. A simple email solved this problem and I was given the option of either receiving my missing tea with my next shipment or having it sent out immediately. My missing tea is already in the mail, but I don't have a tracking number for it.

Tracking Number:

Since I'm on the road quite a bit throughout the year tracking numbers are incredibly important to me. I like to give my husband a heads up when I'm expecting a package so he can bring it in for me. I did receive a shipment confirmation so it shouldn't be very difficulty to include the tracking number with it.

Holiday Section:

The transition from summer to fall typically brings seasonal favorites including apple, pumpkin, cinnamon, and maple. These seasonal favorites bring in big money in both the coffee and tea industries and this is one area that Simple Loose Leaf is neglecting. The current Holiday section only includes two teas, neither of which are geared towards autumn. While the site does include a few other teas that would fit into the Holiday section they are not easy to find without reading each description.

Rather than a Holiday section I would rather see seasonal offerings. I find that in the Autumn I drink a lot of Earl Grey and Lapsang Souchong, during the summer I tend to lean more towards fruity blends. I just love a good peach tea on a hot summer day, don't you? I think the seasonal section would be much easier to maintain, I mean, what kind of tea could you possibly list in the Holiday section for the 4th of July? My point is, the Holiday section is going to remain neglected much of the year because many Holidays don't have specific flavor profiles associated with them.

Other things I'd love to see:

A really spectacular Black Friday or Cyber Monday deal. A New Year's deal would be nice as well since I typically don't have money during the holiday season, but am occasionally gifted some by my generous family. I think a lot of companies miss out by not having a post-holiday sale.

A Free Sample included in every order. This will give customers a chance to try a wider variety of teas, perhaps letting them discover one they just can't live without. 

I would love to see a 1 ounce package available for the subscriptions. I have to really love a tea before I would considering ordering 2 - 4 ounces of it. 

UPDATE: 1 ounce subscriptions are now available.

On the website:

A drop-down menu allowing me to sort by Price (low to high and high to low), New, Bestselling, and Highest Rated. 

UPDATE: This feature is now available on their website.

Steeping instructions listed on the website, not just on the packaging.

UPDATE: This feature is now available on their website.

Are the teas Vegetarian/Vegan friendly? This is a popular question these days and I would love to see the answer listed in the FAQ. Simple Loose Leaf says since they can't be 100% sure, they're going to err on the side of caution and say the tea is not Vegan friendly. Their wholesaler does not currently provide that information to them.

One last thing you may not have even noticed, but I did.

Many companies undervalue what a good photograph can do for a product. It can either catch the attention of a potential customer or turn them away. If you've read my About section on this blog, then you know that I have a background in commercial photography and more specifically product photography. Knowing this, it should come as no surprise to you that the photographs Simple Loose Leaf uses immediately caught my attention, and not necessarily in a good way. I couldn't help but wonder why all of the tea was photographed in what looks like Terra Cotta flower pots.

So I asked.

I was told that the photographs were provided by their wholesaler. I looked up the company and it immediately made sense as to why they choose Terra Cotta pots to photograph their tea in. The whole sale company carries both tea and spices and the line of spices is called Terra Cotta spices. For the wholesaler, the use of the Terra Cotta pots makes sense, it ties the tea and spices together. For Simple Loose Leaf, the photographs just don't make sense. Eventually I would love to see them use photographs that fit the simple design of their website better.

Overall

I was please with this service, even if it has a few rough edges to smooth out. Since this is the first month shipments have gone out, I fully expected to run into a few issues. Simple Loose Leaf responded quickly to my concerns and let me know that they were already working on several of the issues that I had, trying to find the most economical solutions. I look forward to seeing their progress over the next six months, right now I think they are off to a good start.

Disclosure:

In an effort to be open with my readers I want to let you know that Simple Loose Leaf has provided me with a $50 credit to use towards their subscription service. It did not cover the cost of everything and I paid $9.54 out of pocket. As always, all opinions are my own. If you are a company and would like to send me an item for review feel free to drop me an email.