Although it might not seem so to the average American drinker, tea has just as many complexities, flavor-wise and culturally, as wine, beer or coffee.

Those complexities are what turned Winterport resident Debbie Holmes from a casual tea drinker into an avid enthusiast. So much so that eventually she and her husband, Dan, made tea their business.

The couple launched Tea Maineia in 2012, selling hand-blended loose-leaf teas in eastern Maine farmers markets and online. Then in October of 2013 they opened a retail shop in downtown Winterport, offering their teas, as well as teaware and gifts.

“I think there are a lot of misconceptions about tea. There are a lot of people out there that have only ever had tea bags, not loose-leaf,” Debbie Holmes said. “We teach people about tea every day.”

Before they even got started with the business, it was Debbie Holmes teaching her husband about tea. She was the dedicated tea drinker in the family, but eventually got Dan into the brew as well.

“I drank powdered iced tea, if you can believe it. She got me into the good stuff,” Dan Holmes said.

About five years ago, the couple began seriouslydfs brainstorming about what a potential small-business venture would look like for them. They’d wanted to open a business for some time, but they didn’t land on tea until the end of 2011.

“I remember just having a vision one morning of opening a tea shop,” said Dan Holmes. “We both loved the idea. It just worked for us.”

Months of research followed, including visiting other tea houses and tea businesses in Maine and perusing tea wholesalers to source tea leaves. By March 2012, they mixed their first blends and were selling them at area farmers markets.

When they first started they offered just a few varieties, including their Wild Maine Blueberry black tea (still their most popular blend), some green teas and oolongs, and a few herbal teas (which aren’t teas at all but infusions).

As they gained customers, tea lovers in Maine would ask them about other varieties, such as Golden Monkey, a Chinese tea that’s one of the finest varieties of black tea available, and Scottish Breakfast, a blend distinctive from English Breakfast and Irish Breakfast — all of which they sell now.

Other popular blends sold at Tea Maineia include the green tea blend Wild Strawberry, herbal tea blends Cranberry Apple, Vanilla Almond Rooibos and Sweet Pumpkin Spice, and their special Winterport Breakfast tea, a proprietary black tea-based breakfast blend.

Since opening the retail shop in 2013 — located at 115 Main St. in downtown Winterport, formerly the location of Molly’s Gift Shop — the couple has been surprised to see just how many Mainers are passionate about tea. They regularly get customers who travel from as far away as Millinocket and Ellsworth just to buy tea.

“It’s really all different kinds that come in, which really surprised us, because we thought that our demographic would likely be women in their 40s, 50s, older,” Debbie Holmes said. “But it’s all kinds of people. It’s burly guys in plaid. It’s teenagers — it’s a lot of teenagers, actually. We had an eighth-grader come in and spend a lot of money on tea here. A couple of years ago there was tea drinking club at John Bapst High School. We had no idea.”

There are just as many customers who aren’t used to tea, however. At their Winterport shop, the Holmes’ always have a few different varieties of tea ready to brew for samples, and they also offer free mini-workshops on proper brewing techniques for all the various types of tea.

“The big thing for us is to take the intimidation out of tea. It can be overwhelming. [People] have seen Japanese tea ceremonies or British people having high tea, and that seems so complicated,” Dan Holmes said. “But it can also be very, very simple. … It’s all about starting with good quality loose-leaf tea, good water and correct time and temperature.”

The couple has attended a number of tea trade shows and expos all over the country, sourcing not only teas but also tea pots and cups, which they also sell. Eventually, they hope to attend the International Tea Expo in Shanghai, China.

“We’re always learning and finding new varieties all the time,” Debbie Holmes said. “Our customers teach us as well. There are just so many out there. It’s really fascinating.”

Tea Maineia is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. A selection of popular Tea Maineia teas are also sold at Tiller and Rye in Brewer, West Market Artisan Coffeehouse in Bangor, R&K Variety in Hampden, the Local Variety in Bucksport, the Belfast Co-op, Fine and Dandelion in Carmel, Windmill Hill Gardens and Market in Castine, and at Vickie’s Olde School Gift Shoppe in Limerick. All varieties also are available online at

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Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.