Local Woman’s Tea Company Takes Off

dee's teas


By Eric Wilson-Edge

shelton dental centerIladee King takes a canister from her bag and sets it on the table. The lid opens with a satisfying “pop.”  Inside are thousands of rice sized tea leaves. A deep scent of apricots and peaches rises to the top.  Mixed in with the leaves are chunks of dried fruit.

“I started out with three hundred dollars and eight pounds of tea,” says King. That was almost seven years ago. King’s Company, Dee’s Teas, is quickly becoming the worst kept secret in Mason County.  Dee’s Teas now offers more than 40 blends of teas. You’ll find it in local coffee shops, the hospital and Little Creek Casino just to name a few.

King and I meet for tea at the Sweet Shack Bakery and Tea House in downtown Shelton. I sip from a ceramic mug. This particular blend tastes like a cupcake. King made it special for the bakery.

dee's teasIladee’s journey to tea maven has been circuitous. She’s been a housekeeper and an aide to senior citizens.  Her decision to start a business began with a health scare. King’s pancreas stopped working properly. “I got really sick and had to go to the hospital,” says King. Her doctor ordered a healthier lifestyle which meant cutting out grease and caffeine. “I drink a lot of hot water and I was thinking there’s got to be something to put in this hot water.”

Soon after, King started working as a consultant for a company called Let’s Do Tea. She did well but found the position limiting. “I knew I could do better,” says King. “I’m doing really good with this company but I’m sending 75 percent of the profits to Texas.”

Iladee started small. She visited 12 places and got her tea to be sold in six. “I always knew it was a good product but I didn’t want to bite off more than I could chew,” says King. This meant putting Little Creek on hold. In between time King increased her knowledge. She held a tasting at the local library and even went to the World Tea Expo.

dee's teasTwo years later King got a phone call. Her niece had just stayed the night at Little Creek and wasn’t impressed with their tea selection. “She told me, ‘you’ve got to get your tea in there,’” says King. So, she scheduled a meeting. King, who is a member of the Squaxin Island Tribe, met with the manager. “I went in with 15 teas,” says King. “The first two she opened, she smelled those teas and said ‘we’ll take those for the rooms.’”

Dee’s Teas is largely a one woman operation. Iladee runs the business from her home and gets help from her husband. Little Creek orders roughly 8,000 bags every three months. King doesn’t own any fancy machinery so she fills each tea bag by hand. “I wake up at six in the morning and can make 500 tea bags by noon,” says King. “I race myself.”

Iladee is short, on her tippy toes she’s probably just over five feet tall. Don’t let her height fool you.  King is tough. Besides running her own business, King also homeschools her daughter and cares for her mentally disabled sister.

dee's teasA few years ago King called the Suquamish Clearwater Casino Resort to see if they were interested in her teas. She didn’t get a response. She just recently called back. “I called the CEO and I said, ‘hello my name is Ila King and I own a small company and I’m calling to find out do you or do you not support tribal businesses?” King got a meeting and soon Dee’s Teas will be in rooms at Clearwater.

A group of older women file into the Sweat Spot. They’re part of the Red Hat Society. One of the staff greets them and on the way back stops to talk with Iladee. King has a warm personality. The two chat about a tea bag shaped pin the hostess is wearing. Iladee mentions a pair of tea bag earrings she used to own.

The ladies at the next table order their tea – Dee’s Tea. It comes in a combination mug and pot. Iladee isn’t big on having her picture taken so I ask the group. They huddle together as I click away. Iladee watches from a near distance, happy to see people enjoying something she made.

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