Couple brews a national tea party emporium

Amy Cavalier

When Charlene Phillips started making scone mixtures in the basement of her home in 2000, she had no idea that she had tapped into the recipe for a national home tea-party business.

“Initially we thought we’d sell them (scone mixes) to tea rooms and gift shops, yet as I got into the manufacturing part of things, I realized it wasn’t so much fun,” she said. “I wanted to share them with people. I was excited about them and I didn’t want to be stuck in the basement with the flour.”

And what better to go with scones than tea?

“I have a Scottish-English heritage,” she said, “and growing up I got to visit England when I was 12. I was enamored with the whole tea-time experience.”

Collaborating with her husband, Eric Phillips, a Gates, N.Y., native and Rochester Institute of Technology packaging technologies graduate, the two came up with the idea to do in-home tea parties.

“We took our assets and we combined that into a business that worked for us,” said Eric Phillips. “I think that’s a successful formula for anybody. You take what you’re good at and you work it.”

Today, Tealightful Treasures, based in Bermar Park in Gates, N.Y., has about 100 consultants in 35 different states. Consultants throw tea parties in people’s homes. The Hostess of the party picks certain themes such as the “You are My Sunshine Mother and Daughter Tea Party” or a “Decadent Dessert Tea Party” and consultants bring a specific line of products along for guests to sample, while ordering out of the Tealightful Treasures catalog.

Seven years after Charlene and Eric Phillips invested in the industrial kitchen equipment to make scone mixes in their basement, Tealightful Treasures has expanded so much that the 2007 offerings filled a 19- page catalog. The collection includes specialty lines of china, Zen oil burners, scented sachets, natural soaps, teas of all varieties, herb and fruit mixtures that can be used like loose tea, hand-crafted tea pods made of exotic flower blossoms and green tea leaves that bloom into a decorative and drinkable work of art, and of course, scone mixes.

It didn’t happen overnight though.

First, Charlene tried it herself, bringing her scone mixes and tea products into the homes of friends and families for parties. Then, in the summer of 2004, the couple invited hostesses and customers to a tea to share their vision to grow the company into a national direct-selling home tea party business.

“When we investigated this business model, it was apparent that you could be successful on a small regional scale as well as on a national scale,” said Eric Phillips. “It allowed you to take steps to get to that point.”

For the next year, the group worked to develop policies, procedures and a training manual for consultants, all while going out into homes to host parties.

“It was very exciting because as they started having their first tea parties, they were having the same results I was,” said Charlene Phillips. “Good attendance, good sales, and that’s what I needed to see, that it wasn’t going to work just for me.”

That inspired the Phillips’ to take the next leap of launching the company nationwide. Tealightful Treasures Inc., grew state by state, with consultants in Illinois, Florida, Pennsylvania and New York.

“We have a huge vision and the tea industry is growing phenomenally,” she said.

“When I started this there were about 100 tea rooms nationwide. Now there’s well over 1,000. And the specialty segment, loose teas and specialty teas, which we do — it’s forecasted to be $12 billion by the year 2011.”

Consultants can get into the home tea party business for $199, Charlene Phillips said.  Tealightful Treasures provides consultants with a lot of support such as Web sites, training materials, networking opportunities, weekly conference calls and incentives to bring more consultants into the company. There’s even a certified CPA who specializes in home-based businesses available to help consultants with their taxes.

“We encompass everything you need to know to be successful,” said Charlene Phillips.

Wendy Palczynski of Chili, N.Y., recently started as a consultant to make a little extra cash since her other job as a mortgage consultant has been slow lately.

A tea drinker for years, Palczynski said, she’s learned a lot more about tea. She even went so far as to recommend her friend use it to help her older dog’s bad breath. And when a tree fell on her neighbor’s house during the recent wind storm, Palczynski brought her some scones and tea over to help calm her down.

Tealightful Treasures promotes tea not just as a drink, but as an ingredient to cook with and a way to incorporate anti-oxidants into your diet. Tea adds an interesting spice to foods and the tannins make a wonderful natural meat tenderizer, Charlene said.

Foods being sampled at an open house last week featured Tealightful Chicken soup, cooked using Tealightful Treasures’ Apricot Tea; Pork and Mushroom Stew, using Tealightful Treasures’ Lapsang Souchong tea leaves; Jasmine Tea Rice, and Herb and Tea Cheese Scones.

Lisa McMahon of Rochester, N.Y., was surprised at just how tasty the foods were.

“It’s not something I would think to put in my chicken noodle soup,” she said.

Gates-Chili Post writer Amy Cavalier can be reached at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 243, or at

Fun facts about tea

- A few wet tea bags applied to sunburned skin will take out the sting.

- Revitalize tired, achy, or puffy eyes by soaking two tea bags in warm water and placing them over your closed eyes for 20 minutes.

- To give a natural shine to dry hair, use a quart (liter) of warm, unsweetened tea (freshly brewed or instant) as a final rinse after your regular shampoo.

- To ease toothache or other mouth pain, rinse your mouth with a cup of hot peppermint tea mixed with a pinch or two of salt.

- Schedule an occasional tea-time for your ferns and other acid-loving houseplants. Substitute brewed tea when watering the plants. Or work wet tea leaves into the soil around the plants or place a few used tea bags on top of the drainage layer at the bottom of the planter before potting.

- To speed up the decomposition process and enrich your compost, pour a few cups of strongly brewed tea into the heap.

For more information about Tealightful Treasures, or for recipes from the Healthy Comforts collection, visit