There was a time when Nicholas Lozito considered himself to be a bit of a tea snob.
The former wanderer-turned-recent-Clovidian spent his early 20s roaming the globe with a camera in hand, focusing his lens on a particular subject: the detailed preparation of tea and coffee. Lozito’s family is firmly rooted in the agriculture industry, and something about the two drew him in — he wanted to see them being made.
In 2010, Lozito found himself taking photos in the tiny village of Xishuangbanna in southwestern China when he unexpectedly got stuck in the middle of a rainstorm. A nearby tea farmer invited the stranger in as a form of refuge, immediately pouring Lozito a cup of Pu’er tea as a customary form of hospitality.
“That cup of tea turned into three years of living with him and his family,” Lozito said, chuckling. “It was just a stroke of luck. We were born the same year and were somewhat worldly in that we wanted to explore. He saw me as an opportunity to see the world, in a way, and I saw in him an opportunity to see tea ... He took me out the next morning and said, ‘Just stay with us. Just watch.’ So we stayed.”
Cobbled together conversations via Google Voice evolved into the complete immersion and education behind the region and its coveted tea leaves. Turns out, Lozito unknowingly stumbled upon the place where the drink originated, with its thousands-year-old plants also producing some of the most expensive tea in the world that only becomes more valuable with time.
As someone with absolutely zero background in running a business, he let his curiosity lead the way and started by messaging a thousand or so tea shops in America with a simple query: “I’m in this village right now and have this tea. Would anyone like to try it?” And just a year later, Lozito’s venture, Misty Peak Teas, was officially operating — all from a remote village in China.
“I’m sending emails and people are writing back, but then you realize there are a thousand other people selling just this one tea,” he said. “You have to set yourself apart, so I became an expert and was able to travel and do seminars on this tea.”
Lozito also helped connect the dots for the tea farmers and their international customers, bringing transparency to a whole new level through live Q&A videos and online communication between both sides so clients not only became familiar with the farmers’ stories, but vice versa.
Misty Peak Teas’ fair-trade product earned further street cred when it was voted. No. 1 out of 54,500 different teas by the world’s largest tea review website — but a few years of cultivating a niche for serious tea enthusiasts and Lozito realized that narrow model wasn’t scalable from a business standpoint, even after bringing the company stateside.
“In the beginning, I was super strict about it,” he admitted. “People would ask if they could make the tea with this utensil or drink it from a cool Spider-Man cup and I’d be like, ‘Man, no.’ But after a while, I was like, ‘Who am I? Just send the stupid tea in the mail and let them drink it however the hell they want do drink it. That’s what they like.’ ”
With a renewed — and slightly evolved — take on his simple, yet poignant mission of making high-caliber tea more accessible, Lozito did a little revising. Misty Peak Teas’ menu of just-aged black Pu’er tea expanded to include personal, dedicated relationships with farmers of premium green, oolong, chai and chamomile teas. It also established shipping warehouses in Sacramento and Clovis in addition to the company’s original location in Portland, Oregon after the owner settled down in the Fresno County community with his young family last year.
Still, don’t expect to find a Misty Peak Teas storefront anytime soon.
“I think of it as an art gallery versus putting art on the street,” Lozito said. “If I want people to drink really good tea, I don’t want it to be where I’m just sitting there waiting and hoping somebody comes in. I think it’s cooler to take great tea to the people. I’m in pizza places, Japanese restaurants, all kinds of different places I never thought to try.”
Misty Peak Teas is sold in 1,500-plus restaurants, cafes and tea shops throughout the world — not under the company name, necessarily, but by how tea drinkers can relate to them. In Chinese culture, tea is considered to be one of the only things people can consume as medicine every day, Lozito explained, and he wanted customers to understand the tea in a similar fashion: how they’re best utilized.
Green (Happy), Pu’er (Balance), oolong (Focus), chai (Energy) and chamomile (Relax) teas can be found at both Collect Coffee Bar and Cold Mountain Coffee Co. locally, as well as online through the tea company’s website. Lozito plans on participating in local events in hopes of developing one-on-one relationships with potential customers. Because for him, it’s all about making it easier for people to experience a quality cup of tea.
“Tea is a tricky thing to sell. The only way to get people to see the value of drinking more expensive tea is by educating them,” he said. “Hopefully through education and bringing great tea to the Valley, it will spark an interest and get people thinking.”