If you had asked me a decade ago whether I would be growing Tiree Tea into a business, I would have thought you were mad! But here we are.
The first experiment
When I dreamed up Tiree Tea a few years ago, it was a pie in the sky idea. I thought the name had a nice ring to it, and then I filed it away under the “daft ideas” heading in my brain and let it marinate.
I finally decided to put my veg growing sideline on ice in 2019 (long story), and started throwing about the idea of tea again. In September 2019, when I came up with a 4 month experiment in order to test the market, the name still had a nice ring to it, and the idea was taking a clearer shape.
I decided to throw mself in at the deep end and figure out how to produce a product, market it and shift a designated amount of it between September and Christmas. If I hit my goals I would consider moving from an experiment (real though it looked), to an actual “thing”.
The first blends
I started with two blends – Crofter Breakfast Tea and Tilley Mint and Nettle Herbal Infusion.
If the tea was going to work as a product, I knew that it would be really important to get the branding right. I had a rough idea of what I want to acheive and I worked with the brilliant Catriona Black of Black Prints to design a logo and the labels. The artwork is a huge part of the brand now, and I am still working with Catriona!
I learnt a lot in that initial experiment – about producing a product, branding and marketing it, as well as actually selling it – never mind the intricacies of shipping things (the patience of Barbara in the Post Office cannot be understated.)
I set what felt like a scary target, and I opened pre-orders on November 1st. Before I left for a Christmas break on the 18th of December, I mailed my last order. I hit 150% of my goal in 7 weeks. I didn’t expect it, but it made for a fantastic Christmas present.
Growing Tiree Tea (the business, not the plant!)
Returning in the New Year of 2020 I decided I would give it a shot and turn Tiree Tea into a fledgling business.
I added Gneiss Earl Grey and Machair Herbal Infusion to the existing Crofter Breakfast Tea and Tilley Mint and Nettle. And I spent ages trying to calculate how many tea bags I could sell to tourists. The expected season was from Easter to the Tiree Wave Classic in October.
The best part of 70,000 tea bags were ordered. I even started writing a funding application for a wee catering trailer. The ideas was to use it to pack the tea in, and to sell from. I had a cashflow forecast and everything. It was all going so well.
If this was a video, there would be that big onimous zipping sound right about now.
2020. The year of Covid.
As Covid struck it dawned on me that selling tea to tourists was going to be more of a challenge than I had anticipated… I pivoted to selling online and trying to find ways to build the brand. One of those ways was to build a network of other people in the same boat and see if we could drive traffic to each other’s online shops. And so isle20.com was born. It is an ecommerce platform selling products and listing businesses from across the Scottish islands. It has grown in leaps and bounds and was the inspiration for Isle Develop CIC. Isle Develop is a social enterprise. It’s a home for isle20 and an opprtunity to develop new ideas. Ideas like the fledgling isleHoliday.com.
Ok, where was I? Covid. Well, buy the end of the summer trade was doing ok online, and tourists were back in limited numbers. The tea was selling and people seemed to like it.
In October 2020 I brought out a limited edition Ferry Berry blend. Ferry Berry is a mulled, spiced, chilli infused delight that looks and smells like Christmas. Another wee experiment! This winter it came back and due to being so popular, earned itself a place in the main range!
Growing the Tiree Tea brand
In 2021 I focused on growing both retail and catering sales. The goal was to break-even despite larger bulk orders to suppliers! I posted my last 2021 order on the 21st of December, and hit my goals.
So what next? Well, subscription boxes have arrived. These are a great way to get regular deliveries of your favourite tea! I am definitely hoping to bring out another blend this year AND there is an expansion on the horizon.
I’m not giving away any secrets yet, but it is exciting!
Does Tiree Tea grow in Tiree?
The short answer is no. It’s a bit like Yorkshire Tea in that regard!
Will there ever be a Tiree-grown ingredient in the tea? I really hope so. Tea is legally a food. That means that there are huge costs associated with growing, harvesting, drying and incorporating local ingredients. I’ve got a lot more to learn before I can think about it reaching that stage.
In the meantime, I will label and pack all the products in Tiree. The blends and their labels have been inspired and developed with the language, stories, culture, plants and animals of the Hebrides in mind – particularly those of Tiree. I very much hope you will taste that authenticity in every cup.