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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

What’s the Tea on Whistling Kettle?

Twenty years after launching what would become a tea empire, owners Meahgan and Kevin Borowsky look back at how their business became a perennial Besties shoo-in.

Have you ever wished you had an instruction manual for how to achieve your dream? Well, when self-proclaimed “tea people” Meahgan and Kevin Borowsky were thinking about opening their own tea shop, they found just that.

While they were living in Manhattan in the early 2000s, the young couple heard about a class at the Learning Annex on—yep—how to open a tea shop. “We took it,” Meahgan says. “We were like, ‘What are the odds?’”

“The guy running the show was honest,” Kevin continues. “He was like, ’95 percent of you are never going to get to the point where you open one.’”

“Kevin and I looked at each other,” Meahgan jumps in, “and were like, ‘We’ve got this.’”

The Borowskys did indeed have it. After quitting their corporate city jobs and relocating to Round Lake, the couple discovered Ballston Spa, where the Medbury Inn and Spa was undergoing a huge renovation that was expected to draw traffic to the area. Though they’d originally been eyeing Saratoga for their tea shop, Meahgan and Kevin stumbled upon a larger space just down the road from the Medbury. In 2004, Whistling Kettle was born. 

“People thought we were opening a T-shirt shop,” says Meahgan, pointing to the fact that tea wasn’t as popular back then as it is now. But after successfully opening their Ballston Spa restaurant (the size of the space warranted more than just a tea shop), they got to work on schooling the Capital Region in the fine art of loose leaf tea. 

Whistling Kettle’s Meahgan Borowsky with her husband and business partner, Kevin.

“There’s way more to the tea universe than what you see at the grocery store,” Kevin says. “That’s literally like one-one thousandth of what’s out there.”

“If you imagine a screen, and they take the tea leaves and the good tea leaves stay on top of the screen and the dust falls underneath the screen, the dust is what’s in the grocery store,” Meahgan says. “Our tea is the good stuff.”

Clearly, the Capital Region agrees. Ten years into running the Ballston Spa location and a small e-commerce operation, the Borowskys opened a second location in Troy, followed by a third location in Schenectady in 2019. During the pandemic, their retail tea business exploded, and they moved operations to a 10,000 square-foot warehouse in Albany. Whistling Kettle now has a tea of the month club, a tea & book club, an online “tea university,” and a library of recipes for everything from tea-infused cocktails to a play on Starbucks’ Pink Drink. The Borowskys are also in the process of developing a grocery store line, as well as a line of sparkling tea that will be packaged by Nine Pin. And, oh yeah, they’ve won Best Tea in the Besties every year since it’s been a category.

“Tea can relax and calm you, but it can energize you, too,” Kevin says. “It’s really an extremely versatile beverage because there are so many teas. It’s something that’s just a lifestyle.”

After 20 years of serving Oolong and Yerba Mate, Matcha and Rooibos in the Capital Region and beyond, it’s safe to say Whistling Kettle has become a lifestyle, too.            

Natalie Moore
Natalie Moore
Natalie Moore is the director of content at Capital Region Living and Saratoga Living.

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