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“You can’t make a good dish if you don’t start out with good ingredients.”
This advice has guided Wayne Ha’s career since he graduated from SAIT’s Professional Cooking program in 2009.
“One of my instructors used to always say it,” Ha remembers. “SAIT is where I learned the love of using quality ingredients and making sure everything was done properly to create the best flavour.”
In 2013, Ha opened his first restaurant, called The Tea Factory. Located in Calgary’s Mission district, it specializes in premium loose leaf teas and also offers sandwiches by Sidewalk Citizen, cupcakes from Buttercream and macarons from Ooh La La Patisserie.
“I wanted to use what I had learned at SAIT about good quality ingredients and flavours to start my own company,” Ha says.
Ha didn’t start out interested in tea. His first job after graduation was at an Italian restaurant. He worked there for two years before deciding that working for someone else just wasn’t for him ― he really wanted to be out on his own. So he took a break to travel the world. During his travels, Ha saw countless tea shops and realized how popular the drink is globally.
When he returned to Calgary, Ha began to study tea in more detail. He attended tea conferences in Las Vegas and Toronto, where he says he was awakened to the possibilities of using only natural, organic teas.
“As I was looking for different tea shops to try, I noticed that some were using artificial flavours and pre-made powders — the tea just didn’t taste good to me,” says Ha. “So I thought, maybe this is where I should start.
“At The Tea Factory, we specialize in lots of traditional teas, but we also have many tea blends that all use the highest quality ingredients we can find. Every time we make a tea latte, it’s made from scratch with loose leaf teas, not powders. The quality of our drinks is what makes us stand out ― we care so much about how tea should taste.”
Ha’s passion for tea has now come full circle back to SAIT. He was recently approached by Odyssey Coffeehouse — the SAIT Students’ Association (SAITSA)-run café in Campus Centre — to sell his teas in their shop. “It was always my plan to do wholesale and expand my market, so it was really good timing. The Odyssey is such a big café with so much traffic — it’s been a really great way to showcase my teas.”
Jocelyn Colaiezzi, Operations Manager for SAITSA, says that feedback from Odyssey customers has been fantastic. “People are thrilled with the flavour choices and quality of the tea. Our tea sales have increased approximately 35 per cent from last year.”
From here, Ha says he wants to continue learning about tea and share this knowledge with his customers.
“That’s the beauty of tea,” says Ha. “A lot of people don’t know much about it. Once they learn, their minds are blown and they want to know more.”
Written by Alison O'Connor