Tim was recently interviewed by Sean Coley from The People's Tea Club in Wellington about how we started Informal Tea Co and some of the stories behind some of the teas. It was nice to sit back for a moment and think back to those early days and what continues to make us different to this very day.
What inspired you to get started with Informal Tea and what has the journey has been like?
The company was launched by my good friend Chris Johnson and I shortly after graduating from University. We both studied and lived together in Wellington and our flat was a big tea drinking flat — every time someone was in the kitchen there would be a request hollered from the lounge… “time for a brew?!”
We are both entrepreneurial sorts of guys and given our love for tea it was only inevitable that we’d start up our own tea company sooner or later. We’re both pretty casual and relaxed and felt that the tea industry was quite stuffy and old fashion — there was a lot of old rusty ‘englishness’ about the industry so we decided to go with something a big more fitting to us, hence the name ‘Informal Tea Co'
What kind of core values or philosophies are important to you?
I think the most important thing is to sell tea that I’d want to drink. There are a lot of companies that try to stock every tea under the sun regardless of the quality. But we decided when we launched just to do a few teas that were really good, that had fascinating stories and were produce by passionate growers in environmentally and socially sustainable ways.
The decision to be organic was an important one for me. Tea is said to be the #1 most drunk beverage in the world after water, which means there are vast amounts of land dedicated to growing the stuff. With that kind of scale, it means that there is a lot of damage the tea industry can do to both our land and to the people who produce it when poisonous toxins, pesticides and farming habits are used to drive profits over ethics. The farmers we buy our tea from are wise and brave enough to see this and resist against the momentum of this giant global industry and we are proud to support them and their efforts by purchasing their tea and bringing it to New Zealand for your enjoyment.
Do you have any interesting stories that go along with any of your teas?
The pure green tea is quite special to me — when we were launching we ordered in a ton of organic tea samples from all around the world. We wanted to launched with just a green tea and a couple of green tea blends, so we wanted a tea thats was unqiue and blew away the competition. For us, it was this delicate and intriguing MingMei Green Tea from the Wuyuan Mountains of China.
We had no idea about micro producers or what kinds of processes and complexities went into making tea but this tea tasted good and we knew we had found our winner. It wasn’t until we started looking into and researching the tea and where/how it was grown that we discovered how well it was produced. So it's cool to think that you can really taste the difference in this tea, that all the hard work from the tea farmers really pays off!
The Classic black tea is great too, it comes from the oldest tea cultivation area in the world, so all the hundreds of years of local culture and tradition go into making this rather special large leaf black tea. One thing that came from selecting our original green tea is that it helped us find some really great connections in China that have helped connect us with some of the best tea growers in the country. I’ve learnt so much about the country, it’s history and it’s tea which has been great. So without the Pure Green tea, we wouldn’t have this black tea!
The Chai has been one of our best sellers since we launched it a few years ago and it has a really fantastically strong, loyal following. The thing with a lot of chai teas (or any flavored/blended teas) is that they are typically flavored with a vaguely named ingredient called ‘flavoring.’ We didn’t know this when we first launched, we were just veering off doing our own thing without looking at what anyone else was doing.
So instead of using flavoring, we accidentally used actual ingredients, things like cinnamon, cloves, cardamon etc. Turns out the result is much better when you use real ingredients like we did! It wasn’t until about 6 months later that we discovered what everyone else was doing, and realised that this was our point of difference.