Looking for a new way to savor your favorite fandom?
Jasmine Dragon Tea Company is serving up blends that evoke characters and themes from popular geek properties, from Voltron to Dungeons & Dragons.
Love Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Try a sip of a white tea dubbed The Slayer. Obsessed with your current D&D campaign? Choose from a steaming mug of Rogue, Sorcerer, Bard, Cleric, Fighter, or Paladin.
Still missing Firefly? Chocolate hazelnut black tea blend The Browncoat will sooth that nostalgic ache. Are you a Picard groupie in need of an elegant caffeine buzz? Earl grey The Captain was tailor-made for you.
Speaking of tailor-made, Jasmine Dragon founder Nicole Kingsley will whip up a custom blend to complement any fandom you desire. Or, if you prefer variety and trying new things, you can sign up for the Etsy shop’s monthly subscription service.
A fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender, Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, and D&D, Kingsley launched her tea business at the age of 16. After losing her voice prepping for a musical and learning to appreciate the hot beverage, she filled a gap in the nerdy tea market and now reps her wares at craft faires, conventions, and other events across Southern California.
I met her at Los Angeles Comic Con, where she managed to tend her booth and keep up a running conversation with passing cosplayers on a dizzying array of geeky franchises and subjects. Nicole’s enthusiasm is infectious, and you might soon find yourself addicted to her tea, as well.
You can follow her on Instagram here.
Your business, Jasmine Dragon Tea Company, offers fandom loose-leaf tea blends and accessories on Etsy, “inspired by everything from Voltron to D&D.” How did this venture begin?
So, 4 years ago, I didn’t even really like tea. I didn’t know you could burn it by oversteeping it, so I always made it wrong. Then, after I lost my voice during tech week of a musical, I kind of had to live off tea until the show was over.
That’s where my appreciation of tea really started, but it didn’t grow until I saw Riddle’s Tea Shop with all her fandom blends inspired by The Doctor, Legend of Zelda, and things like that, and even though her blends were good, they weren’t 100% tailored to me. So around 2 years ago, I started looking into making my own blends to make sure they were things I would enjoy, and it kind of just avalanched into a business.
The shop I mentioned before, Riddle’s Tea Shop, moved from the SoCal area to Baltimore. Because there was a vacuum of sorts for nerdy loose leaf tea, and I already had some made, I figured I’d step in.
You’re pretty young to have your own business, which makes it even more impressive. Why did you decide to jump into that so early?
Back when I started the company, when I was 16, I had a grand master plan that, when I was of an age that I needed to support myself after school, my tea career would be so big that I could live off of vending tea at conventions and craft shows.
I love the name of your Etsy shop. What was the inspiration for the title?
So there’s this cartoon that was on Nickelodeon called Avatar: The Last Airbender, which I absolutely adore. In the second season, one of the characters opens a tea shop called the Jasmine Dragon, so it seemed perfect to use that as my real shop name.
Please tell me about the process of putting together the various blends that Jasmine Dragon offers.
So, first it starts with wanting to represent a certain fandom with tea, whether it may be just because I like it, or because there’s a convention themed around that I want to get into. So, then I’ll try to analyze the character to see if something makes sense with them, i.e. spearmint for Slytherin, blueberry for the 10th Doctor, jasmine for a rogue.
Then I’ll google what flavors go well with the one I’ve chosen and try to build something complex out of the ingredients my supplier has. After that, I make the cover art in Publisher or commission an artist to come up with something, before ordering the finished project already packed and sealed.
Did you know a lot about tea before you started the business? Did you have to do any research or learning before you started?
Before I started all this, I was clueless about tea, hated it, even, so it’s been a gigantic learning curve. And I did a little research before settling in with my current supplier, trying different companies, looking up flavor combinations that seemed to work, deciding how the first characters I represented would taste, but mostly I like to think I jumped right into it, researching as I go.
All your blends are inspired by various fandoms or characters, such as Avatar: The Last Airbender, Sherlock, Outlander, the Camp Half-Blood Chronicles, Doctor Who, The Princess Bride, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Harry Potter. When you’re creating a blend, do you start with the tea or with the fandom for inspiration?
I’d say I do a fair mix of both. Sometimes I start with the fandom, see what I want to have a tea blend for, and work from there. However, I do have a list on my phone of flavor combinations I want to try that I see in everyday life from baking competitions to candles, and just wait until a character comes along that fits that flavor.
The tea comes in these cute little tins with illustrations that go with the theme. Do you do the art and design for the tins yourself?
Sometimes. A lot of the older tins, like Outlander or Doctor Who, I did myself using Publisher for WordArt or certain textures and shapes. Other fandoms, like Harry Potter or the Felines, have art commissioned by artist friends.
Jasmine Dragon offers tea-of-the-month subscriptions featuring different themes. They’re also customizable. Tell me more about that.
Tea of the Month is a way for people to try a wide variety of tea that they might not have before, or a way to give tea as a gift while still keeping choices open. I plan a calendar for the year for what tea people will receive in any given month, and make sure that no matter when someone gets a subscription, they won’t get all of one type of tea, in case they don’t like it, or all of one fandom that they’re not into. Personally, I’m really picky about the tea I like, so I like having the option to choose what you like, even if it’s the same tin every month.
You do custom orders by request. What are some of the more interesting ones you’ve created for customers?
One person who played Dungeons & Dragons wanted a custom blend for their sorcerer. When I asked what the character was like, I believe they said that it was a tiefling that loved dealing with poison, so naturally I had to make the tea include apple and almonds, because of the arsenic and cyanide contained within those foods.
When I met you at Los Angeles Comic Con, you were talking to all sorts of cosplayers and fans as they walked by your booth about a wide variety of fandoms. You seem pretty knowledgeable when it comes to geeky interests. What are your personal favorite fandoms?
I’d say Percy Jackson and Harry Potter take the cake by far. Smaller fandoms like Artemis Fowl, Kingdom Keepers, Cirque du Freak, etc., hold a special place in my heart, too, but chances are, if it’s YA, fantasy, or sci-fi, I’ll enjoy it.
Do you play Dungeons & Dragons? If so, how did you get into that?
I had a campaign that we’d been playing for a year disband in August, so as much as I love to, I’m not playing at the moment. And back when I was 12 or so, I met a fellow vendor at a convention who was looking for players in a campaign, and I played with them for a few years, well cementing my love for the game.
Let’s talk about your geek origin story. How did you discover this side of yourself?
Honestly, I’d have to say Star Wars is what made me geeky. When I was 3 or 4, living in El Paso, there wasn’t much to do. The original trilogy was something I loved to watch, sans the parts with Jabba, of course, and was the first nerdy thing I got into.
At L.A. Comic Con, I think your Mom mentioned that you grew up in libraries. Does that have something to do with your geekier inclinations?
Oh, absolutely. I used to go to the library every week or so, getting as many books as the library would let me. Reading has always been a passion of mine, and being exposed to it at such a young age has let me enjoy some really amazing stories.
You take your teas to a lot of conventions and events. You recently did a couple of craft fairs and holiday boutiques. What’s that experience been like?
More causal craft faires have always been fun. It’s where I first started out. I’m lucky that even though everything in my shop is nerdy, it’s not exclusive to just the people that like to go to conventions. To normal people at craft faires and boutiques, I just sell interesting tea with funny names, but to the nerdy people there, it’s like a mini vendor hall in a local storefront.
I haven’t done a study or anything, but it seems to me that a lot of geeks are into tea. Why do you think that is?
I think that while tea is more popular because of places like Starbucks, it’s still a little subversive, just like certain books and movies are. It’s true that I get more people that are interested in tea at a convention as opposed to normal craft faires, but as to a definitive reason why? I think coffee got a big mainstream boost, and now it’s tea’s turn.
Are you a big tea drinker? What’s your favorite kind of tea?
Absolutely! My favorites are chais and earl greys. As for flavors, I love fruity, chocolate, and mint.
Tea drinkers tend to have their daily rituals and routines involving their favorite hot beverage. What are yours?
When I do have tea, it’s usually midday or at night. I tend to not use caffeine to wake up, but more to stay up. As for rituals, if I ever need to pull an all-nighter, I turn to The Captain, a citrusy earl grey that I’m particularly fond of.
Do you have a favorite mug or tea cup that you use?
Now that I think about it, not really. I usually just use a mug that we’ve gotten from a vendor friend, or ones that we’ve gotten from the dollar store.
What are your future goals, plans, or dreams for Jasmine Dragon Tea Company?
I’m hoping to get into my local farmers markets to sell my tea, and then eventually upgrade to the point where I can sell tea, as in the drink, not just the leaves. Also, I’m hoping to travel around the country and the world, getting into bigger and farther conventions.
As for the dream? I think I’d want a brick and mortar store for my tea, kind of like a sports bar, but totally nerdy, holding events whenever a season premiere/finale airs, maybe with a little Diogenes Club in the back.