If you live in Mendocino County, you’ve seen the now iconic Mendocino Tea packaging in stores like Harvest Market. The bags are hard to miss with their distinctive super cool throwback design by poster artist John Chamberlain. The bags also say, “More Than Just Tea”, which is a tagline anyone who has partook can attest to. Lee Larsen White, the founder of the Mendocino Tea Company and creator of its infamous Tuber Tonic, in fact, started her company because people were having such amazing effects from drinking her herbal concoction. “I had always made teas and sold them at the Farmer’s Market but when I introduced Tuber Tonic the feedback I started getting was really wild. People were telling me how the tea cured their arthritis or stopped all their body pain. That’s when I took it a step further.” White is a longtime Mendocino County resident who ran the infamous Toad Hall music venue in the 1970s, and she also has been a bartender, real estate broker, and taught high school in Fort Bragg. White was one of our amazing competitors in Startup Mendocino as well.
Why did you start Mendocino Tea Company?
I started Mendocino Tea Company because I have always had a passion for creating food and drinks that were really healthy and great tasting. For nine years we lived off the grid in Comptche, 22 miles east of the town of Mendocino. We had to be self-sufficient, so knowing how to use natural remedies was very important. I began making Farmers Market Blend tea and went to the local Farmers Market to sell it. The rules there were that vendors could only sell those things that they grew. So I made a blend out of herbs and flowers that grew in my yard.
I had a great profusion of Lemon Balm and many kinds of mint growing in my yard, and I love roses, especially the fragrant ones, so that became the base of my homegrown tea. I bought a dehydrator, and dried the flowers and herbs as I picked them.
In 2013, I lost a dear friend to cancer, and became interested in making tea drinks that provided not only great taste but immune enhancement and better health. I started experimenting with Tuber Tonic which is a blend of turmeric, cinnamon, elderberry ginger and black pepper. I started getting really crazy feedback from people telling me how much it cured everything that ailed them, and so I developed it into a product.
What has been your biggest challenge in starting your business?
My biggest challenge has been having to learn so much about business and marketing and wearing the myriad of hats necessary in order to sell a product. But seeing my teas on the shelves and hearing from people how much they have helped them and how much they enjoy them is my biggest reward.
How has West helped in running your business?
West Company has helped me by giving me positive feedback and validation, as well as giving me nuts and bolts information about how to successfully run a business.
What’s your favorite thing to do in Mendocino County?
Since I have discovered a new fascination with mushrooms, my newest favorite thing to do in Mendocino County is hunting, gathering, and identifying mushrooms. While I have been gathering mushrooms for years, I had no idea how beneficial they are for our health. Now they have become a new passion – one that I will be incorporating into some new teas – stay tuned!