Photographers. Teachers. Humanitarians. Entrepreneurs. Gamers. Multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-talented. Dan & Connie Kazmaier, our July Teafluencers, are what we like to call true over-ateavers!
Fresh off the heels of the wildly successful Kickstarter launch of their original board game, Chai, the Kazmaiers are an inspiration to anyone who dreams of following their passions. From their first date over London Fog tea to their present-day pursuit of all things Chai, Dan and Connie are livin’ the tea dream.
Read on to see how the road to Chai began, and what’s next for this tea-loving couple.
Harney: Tell us a little about each of you as individuals, before you became Connie & Dan! Where are you from, what’s your family like, what’s your educational background, etc.
Connie: I was born in Beijing, China, and immigrated to Canada with my parents when I was six. I remember being super nervous stepping into the Toronto airport-- hearing a new language and experiencing a new culture. My family spoke Mandarin and English simultaneously growing up, and sometimes my siblings and I spoke to each other in a hybrid language that must’ve sounded strange to others.
Being a planner and a dreamer, I had all kinds of career aspirations growing up. My craziest aspiration was an astronaut-doctor-teacher combo! I finally settled on Queen’s University’s kinesiology program in Kingston, Canada. After being offered a Residence Life Coordinator position, I moved out west to Calgary where I met Daniel.
Daniel: We both live in Calgary (yeehaw!), Canada, where I was born and raised. We’re a couple hours away from the Rocky Mountains, where our family frequently camped in and visited Banff. My brother and I were both adopted at birth from different families into a wonderful German family of two teachers. It’s funny I married one too!
I went to Germany after high school for a year and completed an English Literature degree at the University of Calgary after starting in business. Thereafter, I did a Masters at a local seminary while working at a humanitarian NGO. This was our past five years before transitioning to board games full time.
Harney: Now tell us about Connie & Dan. How did you two meet?
C&D: We briefly met at a church event in November 2012, but it took us a whole year before we reconnected. Even though Connie thought she was being really obvious when suggesting going for tea, I (Dan) didn't clue in that it was a date until halfway to Starbucks! She had sent me a quick text offering to buy my London Fog since I was running late, which was when I finally clued in. We've been going for teas together ever since and got married in 2015.
Harney: So, you have two businesses. Let’s talk about Connie & Daniel Photography first. Are you both photographers? How did you get started? What kind of photography do you do?
Connie: My dad had always loved capturing all of our family’s moments growing up-- he took thousands of photos a year. I also caught the “photo bug” and had a big moment of realization at a friend’s wedding years ago. When her photographer’s SD card failed, my photos turned out to be the only set she had of the reception. I knew I wanted to do something more with this hobby, and when I met Daniel, we decided to put our photography experiences together.
Daniel: For the past five years, we’ve been capturing weddings, families, events and babies. Connie specializes in portraits and sets the pace for the shoots, whereas I like photojournalistic and environmental angles. I’ve always enjoyed capturing the human, authentic side with candid angles. Becoming friends with refugees in Iraq and Greece in the past few years really helped push me to try to convey their story through pictures.
Harney: Your other business is Steeped Games. Connie, your title is listed as Creative Director and Daniel, yours is Director of Creativi-tea. First, here at Harney, we have been BIG fans of tea puns for oolong time, so we already know we’d get along famously! Feel free to use as many of them in your responses as you’d like! But mostly, tell us about the inspiration behind Steeped Games. Are either or both of you gamers?
Daniel: Like many of us, I grew up playing mass-market games like Risk, Monopoly, Parcheesi, and Uno! In grade three I made a hex-movement "Hobbit" game as I adored Tolkien's world and joined the competitive chess world in junior high. I’ve been playing chess in tournaments for 15+ years now at a Canadian Master level. I’m still steeped when I see a beautiful combination, but I’ve put the game aside for the time being to focus on modern board games like Scythe, Santorini and Food Chain Magnate.
To me, gaming has always been about meeting new people and sharing in a creative, immersive experience where we learn about each other while exploring and strategizing. There’s so much we can learn about each other while enjoying a deligh-tea-ful game (and perhaps a tea!).
Connie: I grew up playing tea-riffic card games like President (or Cheat) with my family long into the evenings. I was introduced to modern games in university during a Settlers of Catan marathon at 4 AM. My current favourite games include Pandemic, Imhotep and Morels, and we’re currently working our way through season one of Pandemic Legacy.
We started Steeped Games last year with some initial game ideas and quickly realized after playtesting Chai with other gamers that we’d found a unique theme that everyone adored.
Harney: You recently had a big success on Kickstarter with your board game, Chai. Tell us about the game. Where did the idea come from? How long did it take to develop? What did you learn during the development and testing phase?
C&D: Chai is a family game where you step into the shoes of a tea merchant that focuses on green, black, white, oolong or rooibos. During the game, you buy ingredients, solve puzzles and combine flavours in order to satisfy customers who are in your tea shop or are open to other players to fulfill. It was difficult to try to limit flavours down to a handful, but we landed on lavender, berries, mint, jasmine, lemon and ginger. We’re working on a bubble tea expansion, but the base game includes honey, milk, sugar, vanilla and chai spice tokens as extras that some customers crave. When you complete an order, you actually place all the tokens in a teacup and collect a tip… players love hearing that satisfying *clank*!
Inspiration struck coming home from testing a different game at a designer’s convention. We put together a draft, posted it on different forums and quickly realized other gamers and tea lovers were just as excited! Incredibly, we had over 1000 unique playtesters from dozens of countries try our game by printing it out and sending us feedback. We learned that the collective (our incredible communi-tea) can find details that we would’ve missed. After honing the game for a few more months, we brought our idea to Kickstarter.
Harney: How was your experience on Kickstarter? Did you feel prepared for how the campaign went? Any surprises?
C&D: We’ve said to each other that conducting a Kickstarter campaign is like having a newborn baby! In our case a Chai-ld, perhaps? We were perpetually tired and had an unending to-do list, but were spurred on by family and new friends we’d met online along the way. English Breakfast and Greek Mountain tea helped as well, and if we’re completely honest, we’re thankful for frozen food too!
A lot of experts cautioned us to steer away from a December Kickstarter as it’s a slow month, but we decided to give it a chai. We were excited and surprised by the amount of organic traffic that helped us blow past our initial goal and unlock all of the planned bonuses. There was no way we could completely prepare for this, so we definitely had to learn on the fly.
Harney: What words of advice would you give to people who want to invent a game or create something they’re passionate about? What have you learned through this whole process?
C&D: Entrepreneurship is tough and exciting at the same time. On the one hand, you have complete creative control over your project, and you can innovate on everything from marketing to production to game mechanics. At the same time, we’re learning how to set boundaries or Steeped Games could definitely seep into all areas of our lives. Decide early if you want your passion project to become your work or if it remains as a hobby. As millennials, there’s pressure to monetize our hobbies, but it’s totally okay to just enjoy an activity. Continue pursuing joy, even if that’s just inventing something like a board game for the fun of it!
Harney: Now that the Kickstarter campaign is over if people want to purchase Chai, when will it be available and where can they get their hands on one?
C&D: Because we’d had so many people discover Chai after the Kickstarter campaign, for a limited time we’re selling pre-orders for Retail, Deluxe and Tea Master Editions at the same price at chaiboardgame.com. Games will arrive in the fall, and we’re planning a second Kickstarter for Chai: Tea for 2 closer to Christmas.
Harney: You’re both obviously tea lovers. What role does tea play in your life?
C&D: As we’ve mentioned, a cup of London Fog brought us together on our first date! We still enjoy filling our thermoses with a good tea and going for walks together at the end of the day. We also love having friends over and chatting about life over a strong cup of tea or while playing games. Tea is such a welcomed addition and sets a relaxing mood when life can get busy.
Harney: Do you have any favorite flavors or types of Harney & Sons tea (or anything you’ve been wanting to try)?
Connie: I’m a sucker for uniquely flavoured tea, so I love Cherry Blossom and Winter White Earl Grey. Both are amazing experiences, from the moment you open the tin to the finished tea. I also love a good milk black tea; the Harney & Sons Earl Grey has fantastic flavour for that.
Daniel: Since people have started calling me the “chai guy,” I’ve gravitated towards those blends the most. Harney & Sons’ brew is incredible, and I also like starting my day with a Pu-erh. We’re both excited to begin trying some more matcha as well, so they’re on our kitchen table with some other games also ready to be tried.
We’re grateful to the Kazmaiers for sharing their story with us, and congrats to them on Chai’s launch. Again, if you’d like to check out their board game and place an order, you can find it at chaiboardgame.com. All photography has been provided by Connie & Dan.