As founder of The Qi, here's how she turned a storied Chinese tradition into a multi-sensory business.

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headshot of lisa li of the qi
Credit: Courtesy of The Qi

Have you ever wondered how to turn your dreams of owning your own business into a reality? We can help. Each week, as part of our Self Made series, we showcase female entrepreneurs—as well as their quality, handmade goods—and share their best advice related to starting, maintaining, and growing your own business.

For many people, the day doesn't begin without a cup of coffee or tea, but while an early morning pick-me-up is essential for tackling that long to-do list or dialing into back-to-back Zoom calls, it's has become more of a quick, caffeine-laced fix than a relaxing, daily ritual. Lisa Li proves the value of slowing down and enjoying life's tiniest moments with The Qi, her line of organic whole-flower teas. Thanks to her brand, it's possible to have a beverage that appeals to all the senses.

Burnout-Turned-Bright Idea

After spending years working in the fashion industry, Li was ready to switch gears and pump the brakes on the non-stop grind. "Stress and burnout were two big motivators for me," she explains. "I think for modern individuals or women, living in a big city like New York City doesn't help." Though Li was interested in launching a sustainable fashion business, a trip to Yunnan Province (often referred to as China's birthplace of tea) in 2017 changed the course of her career forever.

"We went to a tea market, and the very first store we went to sold rose tea," she says. "It was this combination of a relaxing experience of [the store owner] making the tea, and the sensory experience of drinking it. Not only did it smell amazing, but also looking at this dry whole flower come back to life in the water, watching it unfurl, and tasting it was this out-of-this-world experience."

Li's experience in the tea market struck a chord in—harkening back to her childhood—and inspired her want to give the storied, tea-drinking tradition a modern, accessible twist. "Tea has always [been a constant] in my life," explains Li. "I wanted to go back to a place where I was more calm and slow. I think coffee is about more energy and 'do more,' but tea? It's a little slower and more joyful."

A Slow Grow

Though Li was determined to launch her brand, it would take her two years to source organically-grown, edible teas. "Here in the United States, we're one of the first—if not, the only brand—specializing this whole flower tea product," she explains. "After a lot of research, I found out that the USDA doesn't have this listed. [Plus], the small family farms we wanted to work with didn't have the resources to get certified organic."

Li was able to overcome this hurdle by doing her diligence and making the most of her frequent flyer miles. After traveling tens of thousands of and sampling over 100 flowering herbs, Li joined forces with small family-owned farms that grow single-origin whole flower herbs—and officially launched The Qi in 2019. "Qi is a very spiritual word," she explains. "It means life energy, so I wanted to honor that philosophy of flowers giving an amazing energy, be it spiritually, physically, or emotionally."

teapot of the qi tea bloom
Credit: Courtesy of The Qi

In Full Bloom

Fortunately, all of Li's research paid off. Today, The Qi offers an array of healing whole flowering herbs that are "Instagrammable" and "good-for-you" in equal measure. Each dried flower is individually wrapped in a packet that's designed by a New York-based watercolor artist. Simply break open a packet, place the flower in water, and watch the once-dry bud loosen up, emitting floral scents and healthful nutrients along the way.

Though many shoppers use The Qi's flowers to create a delicious, caffeine-free tea, Li says they can be used throughout your daily routine. "Because these are food-grade, you can eat or drink them," she explains. "You can also use them for top applications, whether it's a facial steam, addition to your bath, or mixed into a facial mask." Li also says she adds her flowers to smoothies or crumbles them on top of a salad.

Currently, The Qi offers three types of dried flowers: Shangri-La Rose (from $28, the-qi.com), Royal Chrysanthemum (from $32, the-qi.com), and Blue Lotus (from $38, the-qi.com). Not only are all three difficult to find stateside, increasing their e-cart appeal, but they also bring a wow factor to your mug. "We chose these three because they're very iconic and big," adds Li. "Lavender is an edible tea, and it's really good for you, too. But, you really don't get [that] grand experience."

Of course, each of The Qi's flavors have a lot more to offer than good looks. Sourced from Yunnan, which Li likens to the Champagne region of Shangri-La roses, the best-selling product is packed with nutrients like iron, calcium, as well as vitamins A, C, and E to promote healthy skin and hair. Royal Chrysanthemum uses the healing properties of the flower to support your immune system. (Historically, chrysanthemum has been used to treat everything from high blood pressure to headaches.) Known as the Egyptian Dream Flower, blue lotus has been linked to deep relaxation, stress relief, and lucid dreams, making it the perfect option to enjoy after a long day.

To complete your tea drinking experience, you can pick up The Qi's small glass server ($18, the-qi.com), cups (from $30, the-qi.com), and bamboo tongs ($3.50, the-qi.com).

Relax, Restore and Renew

With photogenic teas, well-appointed packaging, and a handful of new launches—Li teases a collaboration with an artist and a special holiday offering—The Qi has plenty of appeal. But, as a founder, Li knows that social media platforms can make it all too easy for an entrepreneur to compare their success story to others. But, Li encourages fellow entrepreneurs to focus on what makes them happy and the lifestyle they want to create for themselves.

"I think, sometimes, it's really hard not to think about the traditional success: The bigger, the better, the faster," she says. "I try not to look at what anyone else is doing, because you'll get into this black hole of comparing yourself. I just want to focus on what I love doing and what makes me happy."

After all—just like savoring a great beverage—it pays off to slow down.

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