Don, Jackie and Morghann Buckingham dedicate themselves to fresh, homemade tea
You can get a cup of coffee nearly anywhere in America. But quality tea, a beverage drank the world over, with a history stretching back over a millennium further, is harder to come by.
This was the observation that drove Palm Coast residents Don and Jackie Buckingham to establish Flagler Tea Company. The Flagler Beach tea bar located at 208b S. Central Ave. opened in June 2019 and has established a wide-ranging variety of teas for its menu, from greens to blacks to herbals and more, raw and latte, with multiple combinations thereof.
“We have a spreadsheet,” Jackie Buckingham said, to keep track of what’s selling best, which ingredients and types of tea mix together well, where each tea comes from.
The difference between their tea bar and a tea house is the fast pace and lack of much indoor seating (though the family hopes to expand that) or food (though there are sandwiches and fresh-baked scones and cookies).
They work “at least 18 hours a day” making everything themselves, even the soaps, shampoos and other sweet-smelling products up front in the “aromatherapy bath and body boutique” called A Scent to Remember. The time not spent brewing or baking is spent finding suppliers for specialty ingredients and working with tea brokers to get faraway varieties from China, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, Japan and elsewhere.
Something for everyone
None of the Buckinghams are eager to hog credit for their sweet-smelling success.
“Jackie’s been the boss in this since it opened,” Don Buckingham insisted.
“But Morghann’s been crafting the tea,” Jackie said.
Morghann is their 20-year-old daughter, one of the five Buckingham children, and she has been helping at Flagler Tea Company for eight months.
“I haven’t come up with the blends!” Morghann said. “That’s all [Don], I just say what I want him to shop for. I had no idea about tea before.”
She had become confident enough behind the bar to improvise flavors for customers who come in asking to be surprised and to whip up concoctions from memory for their regulars. They’ll just nod, and she gets to work.
“People love it,” Don Buckingham said. “We can’t duplicate it.”
“We’ll talk it out, figure out what they like,” Morghann Buckingham said. For the indecisive, different teas can be blended.
“We try to have something for everyone, but also create an experience,” Jackie Buckingham said.
“I come here all the time,” said holistic coach Yani Kelly. “They’re amazing. I always bring my friends here, and they love it.”
Kelly enjoys Flagler Tea Company’s output so much that they’ll be providing tea for those meditating at her monthly retreat, something they also provide for other local yoga studios.
Morghann Buckingham made her a dark chocolate chip latte, served with a piece of Ghirardelli dark chocolate on the side. Drinking it, Kelly’s face conveyed the flavor in a manner that a verbal description would have cheapened.
Everything slows down
Coming up with flavors, Don Buckingham said, comes down to following and anticipating trends and listening to their customers.
“We like to make ‘em happy,” he said.
Their luna blue tea, for instance, is primarily a blend of the butterfly pea plant, lemongrass and blueberry, the interaction of which in hot water creates a unique, heavy-scented fruity sweetness.
“A lot of our regulars say as soon as they walk in and smell the aroma, everything slows down,” Jackie Buckingham said.
The family had been selling loose-leaf tea in ounces for a year before actually opening Flagler Tea Company. They moved into their current space because their customers wanted to know when they would be able to have a cup brewed on the spot. Since opening, the Buckinghams said their biggest hurdle has been letting people know where they are.
"Folks are great here, you get to know them," Don Buckingham said of working in Flagler Beach. "They're like family, that's what I like about here."
They are thinking of finding a larger space, if there is demand for more seating than they can add to the current location; there's not a lot of room for tea parties in a 490-square-foot shop. And Don Buckingham would like to find local spice and honey.
“If you’re not a tea-drinker, give us a try," he said. "You might be surprised.”