We Are Tea live by one simple philosophy; to bring you ethically sourced, exceptional whole-leaf teas from artisan producers. They are proud to be a British brand with all of their tea hand packed here in the UK. Bringing a new level to the tea experience, with their focus on design, innovation and collaborations to bring the highest quality whole-leaf tea to new audiences. The standard of the tea delivered by We Are Tea has been thoroughly recognised and they have achieved 46 Great Taste Awards since their launch in 2012.
The Interview (London) talk to Spence, the founder of We Are Tea on how he has found himself as the tea connoisseur behind the brand, the career transition he made to get there and the simple secrets to making the perfect cuppa!
Hi Spence! Please can you introduce yourself and your company?
My name is Spence and I run We Are Tea – we are a London-based, independent tea company that follows a simple philosophy: we ethically source exceptional tea and hand pack it right here in the UK.
What were you doing before you started We Are Tea?
I was a Chartered Tax Accountant – the antithesis of Robin Hood.
What strategies did you have in place before launching?
Youth and naivety were on my side. At no point did failure cross my mind.
What was the catalyst for starting your own business?
I was completely underwhelmed by the tea-drinking experience in the out of home market. I was being charged £2.50 for what was effectively a 1p teabag in a paper cup and I thought there had to be a different way. Being young and naïve (see above), I was confident that I could do better. As it happened, I could and did. My strong view is that the consumer needs to see some value add when it comes to ordering tea in a café/restaurant/health club and although it is getting better, we still have a long way to go.
Did you ever expect yourself to be an entrepreneur?
While working as an accountant, I had access to some really inspiring entrepreneurs. I got the bug by default and while travelling around the world, visiting clients, I would often note down ideas for starting my own business. Tea kept popping up as I thought it was an industry that was completely unprepared for the onslaught that was the coffee-shop phenomenon.
When did you first have the idea for We Are Tea and what steps did you take next?
I first had the idea for We Are Tea when I bought my first cup of tea from a very well known high-street coffee shop chain. It was so awful I decided right there and then to start a tea company. Although the business model has changed since inception, my focus remains the same: to source exceptional tea and reach new audiences with innovation. No fuss. No chintz. Simply ethically sourced whole-leaf tea without the pomp.
Your company has achieved some serious success, with receiving 46 Great Taste Awards in only seven years! How do you get your teas and infusions to taste so good?
We work with some of the finest tea gardens on the planet and we have built strong relationships with them over the years. The difficulty has never been finding great-tasting teas, it has always been convincing the producers to let them leave the country – I have become very persuasive over the years. Ultimately I buy tea with my consumer head on. Buying tea is like buying anything, it is important to ensure that you like it otherwise chances are that no one else will.
Could you tell us about the ethos and values, which your brand stands for?
In a world where big brands are masquerading as cute start ups, we are refreshingly exactly what we say we are. From our work with the Ethical Tea Partnership to our charity support for Contact the Elderly to working with other British independent businesses and our ingrained family values, the ethos absolutely running through the veins of the business is that we try to be a ‘good business’. Good in every sense.
We love your Simplicitea Infuser at The Interview (London). What is the magic trick that makes it brew the perfect cup?
It is relatively simple – you cannot make a good cup of tea from bad raw ingredients so ensure that you start with a really good whole leaf tea. Our Simplicitea infuser is designed to allow even the most novice tea drinker to achieve the perfect cup and get the most out of their tea. The design allows the tea leaves to really dance and let loose their fantastic flavours. It is my most used kitchen accessory by a country mile and is picking up a bit of a cult following.
There are so many studies out there proving the health benefits of tea, especially the young leaf of the camellia sinensis plant, which creates green and white tea.
Could you tell us about the health benefits of tea and how keeping your tea leaves whole impacts the essential oil/nutrient quality of your teas?
We take a lot of pride sourcing the finest whole-leaf teas on the planet. Health benefits aside, to grind them down would be a travesty. For me, whole leaf tea provides a richer more complete tea experience. On a good day, it can export you back to source so put the kettle on and let your mind run free – you could be in the foothills of the Himalayas without leaving your favourite armchair….
Have you always been a tea lover? And what is your favourite tea?
I got much more into tea when I stopped drinking coffee. What fascinated most was that tea is kind of the antidote to life – it can wake you up, it can help you sleep and everything in between. Coffee is so one dimensional in comparison.
My tea of choice depends on the time of the day and what mood I am in. In the morning it has to be Assam – it provides the hit to kick-start the day. Having so many teas at my disposal, I may not try certain blends for several months and then I rediscover them again and it’s like bumping in to an old friend and I think ‘where have you been?’ all over again.
What are your future plans for We Are Tea?
We are going through a very exciting period of growth with our export strategy taking effect and some brilliant product development in the pipeline. I have my hands full ensuring that this exponential growth is sustainable. I am still enjoying the every day so shall remain at the helm for the foreseeable future. I am an ‘enjoy the journey’ type of person, as opposed to an ‘are we there yet?’ type.
What key piece of advice can you offer to others looking to start their own business?
The timing will never be absolutely right to start your own business. The world does not work like that unfortunately. My advice would be to get the business in good enough shape to launch, say 80%, and focus on getting the final 20% right once you are operational, proven that there is a demand, have consumer insight etc. History is littered with businesses that look 100% on paper only to fail once launched or founders trying to get to 100% and in the process they miss first mover advantage or worst of all, do not launch at all. Do not be one of these businesses.