The New Forest Tea Company was inspired by a lifelong love affair with the world's most popular drink
AFTER running a popular tea house in the New Forest and seeing first-hand the impact of Covid on the hospitality industry, Lyndhurst couple Ian and Kelly Tiffen were ready for a new challenge.
The pair set up modern teahouse Tea Total in the village 10 years ago and went on to run the Tip, Leaf & Bean Cafe at the New Forest Heritage Centre, and it was this immersion in the world of tea that inspired them to launch their retail business, the New Forest Tea Company, last year.
“A lot had changed in hospitality following that first lockdown,” said Ian. “Our staff were furloughed and it was just Kelly and I running the cafe over the summer, with all the many restrictions that were in place.
“We took a step back and realised that, for the sake of our wellbeing, we needed to make a change.”
The couple had experience of working in retail from their time on cruise liners; Ian as the manager overseeing all outlets on the ship and Kelly as his assistant, so it seemed like a natural progression to move back into that world.
New Forest Tea sells premium blends, including breakfast, Earl Grey, peppermint and green, that are ethically sourced and packaged in compostable materials.
The blends are created with a tea importer that Ian and Kelly have worked with for 10 years, and the couple say they are ethically motivated in their approach to business.
They ensure the tea estates they work with are ethically certified, and many are part of the Ethical Tea Partnership, which aims to create a fairer, more sustainable tea industry for workers, farmers and their families.
A question Ian often gets asked is: why tea? “For me, a lot of it is to do with growing up in a family that always drank loose leaf tea – we never had coffee and I still don’t,” he answers.
“I try not to be a snob about tea but there is so much knowledge to be had and so many teas out there that people have never thought to try.
“A lot of people don’t know that you should never pour boiling water on green tea because it scorches the leaves, or that the caffeine contained in tea has a lesser effect on us than that in coffee because it drip-feeds into your system.
“It doesn’t have that hit that coffee does on the body but it does keep you alert for long periods.”
Ian and Kelly are soon to launch evening educational workshops using Instagram Live, during which tea lovers can learn all there is to know about the iconic drink.
“What I would say to potential customers is, try our tea against what you normally have – I can promise you you will taste the difference,” said Ian. “It has got a freshness and a clarity to it – it comes back to the freshness of the leaf and that translates into the tea.
“A lot of people say they love the smell of fruit teas, but the taste is disappointing and that’s because synthetic ingredients are used. We, on the other hand, use dried fruit which changes the quality and the taste.
“It’s the same with our Earl Grey, the lovely scent of the natural bergamot we use translates into the cup in a way that is just lost with synthetics.”
The company currently operates out of a garage space, but the couple are looking for a local premises where they can install their own tea packing machine.
“This would allow us to be autonomous and create bespoke blends for our customers,” said Ian. “We don’t want to go too big too quickly and lose the quality and service we provide, but we are growing and we do need the space.
“Our goal is for our customers to have an immersive experience, for them to come along and see the tea being blended and packed before they buy it.”
New Forest Tea Company supplies Setley Ridge Farm Shop in Brockenhurst, Queensmead Village Shop in Beaulieu, Shappen Stores in Burley, the New Forest Heritage Centre in Lyndhurst, the Forest Foodie, Love2Refill and Bakehouse24 in Ringwood and Parlourmentary in Southbourne.
It is also used by New Forest Escapes, local Airbnb hosts, the Master Builder’s in Beaulieu, the Gun Inn at Keyhaven and the Big Blue Cafe in Totton.
To try New Forest Tea or pick up a sample box, go to newforestteacompany.com