"The packaging was born out of necessity and style" says 30-yr-old Steep founder Jeff Piazza. Steep puts its teas in a paper tea "ball" which makes a conventional paper envelope inappropriate as a secondary package. The matchbox not only protects the ball but "gets attention and drives home the company's image." Piazza says it's part of a phenomenon he calls "cereal box culture" where consumers want to read while they're eating their cereal or drinking tea. Introduced in 1995 Steep gained national distribution via a road trip that Piazza took to coffeehouses around the country. Seventeen varieties are currently available with a suggested retail price ranging from $1.25 to $2.25. BP Products (Hamden CT) supplies the trays and sleeves as well as a shipper. Made of a kraft/chipboard combination and offset-printed in two colors the box is shipped to Steep as a flat blank for manual assembly and filling. Tea balls are made by hand too. Pressure-sensitive paper labels are flexo-printed by Action Packaging Systems (Ellington CT) and are hand-applied as well. Piazza admits that costs for the tea matchbox are at a premium yet there are still some specialty companies with more expensive packaging. "We wanted folks to think about tea" reiterates Piazza "even if they're drinking coffee at another table....that's the power of packaging."