Its not often that I do a blog that’s just focussed around the business side of things, rather than the tea or coffee side of things, but I’ve recently signed up for a business event, where the idea is that you take one thing that represents your business, and use that to showcase your business. So, forgive me if this comes across as not particularly business-like, but it is what it is!
The item which I think represents Seibiant is the tea plant, of which we have a few dotted around the shop, at home, and more recently, seeds germinating in Portugal. We do also have a coffee plant in the shop – which people often think is tobacco, but I bought as a coffee plant!
In 2016, I was keen to have a change in career, from nursing, to something which I felt I would be able to work at, for many years to come, despite my increasing age! I signed up for the shop in Conwy, before deciding what I was intending to do with it, but had a clear idea that I was interested in the provenance of our food, and in the whole #farmtofork movement. My first thought was to have a greengrocery, but that felt like too much hard work. A delicatessen was too expensive to set up – I was very much limited in my budget. Shifting the focus to what I enjoyed, we made the decision to specialise in tea and coffee. Initially, we were a cafe, and the focus was coffee, which we sourced locally from the many superb small roasteries, but we had no expert knowledge in tea at this point, and had to be guided by suppliers. There was some resistance in Conwy to yet another cafe, and the council came along in a few weeks and said we did not have the required planning permission. The options were to apply for planning permission, or to remove the tables and focus on being a shop. And the rest is history!
I well remember people standing outside the shop, saying that it would never last as it was far too specialist, but leap forward to today, and we are more specialised than ever, and that I believe is our USP – unique selling point.
We cater for a wide range of customers, from those who want rare, exclusive and quite frankly, luxury teas, to those who want basic looseleaf tea, to stop using teabags, or who want to explore the health benefits of different herbs and tisanes – in fact, we often have people coming into the shop to look for functional teas, which we can help with, so long as they’ve done their own research, as we are definitely not herbalists! We supply tea from both ends of this continuum, but the most fun for me is to be had from the rare and exclusive end of the range.
We set up the website and the webshop quite early on, which gave us a head start when the pandemic hit. We had previously attended a course at the North Wales Business Academy on Strategic Business Analysis, which was helpful in giving us a focus on where we wanted the business to be.
Sustainability has always been at the forefront of our minds here, and pre-Covid, we won awards for our green credentials. For me, sustainability has been about more than just single use plastics, and recycling, and bearing in mind our enormous carbon footprint as a result of world-wide sourcing of teas, we felt we had to go further than most small businesses in Wales in terms of sustainability.
So where does the tea plant comes in?
Tea is a seasonal product, and to be able to get the same tea, which tastes the same, all year round, requires the use of pesticides, fertilizers, and a business model which puts the tea picker at the bottom of the pile. The bush is harvested every three weeks, so pickers will be working continuously, with considerable pressure put on them to work. This also keeps the price to the consumer low and when we consider the number of middlemen involved, each taking their cut, the amount of money going to the farmer, and then the pickers, is minimal. The issues relating to living and working conditions for tea pickers around the world have been discussed in a previous blog, click here to read more. So where we can, we source our tea direct from farmers where the focus is on seasonality, and the expectation is that the tea will taste different depending on the time of year it was picked, from one year to the next. For example, our oolong farmer in southern China has recently started processing some of their tea as black tea, and naturally, it’s different this time from last time! Luckily the customers who choose this type of product expect this. The advantage to customers of my buying direct from farmers is that by cutting out the middleman, the tea trader, wholesalers etc, we can keep the price down – so still excellent quality, but also value for money. The downside of this however, is that we are vulnerable to logistical problems, which I have described in a previous blog post. Many of the farmers have changed shipping companies, resulting in huge price increases, but at least it means that my tea arrives in a timely manner, and within the same season.