The Gilded Teapot is a specialist loose leaf tea and coffee merchant, founded by me 14 months ago. We’re based in Dorset’s rural county town of Dorchester, in an old tobacconist’s shop, bringing over 100 of the world’s finest loose leaf teas to Dorchester’s teapots. We source and blend the classics, like our Dorset Farmer’s Brew and Earl Grey Supreme, through to some of the rarest teas you can find.
We have also established a strong relationship with artisan importers and some of world’s finest unsung tea estates. As well as the teas, we have all kinds of paraphernalia for brewing imported tea from Shanghai and crafted by hand by local and UK artists, and we launched our online shop last autumn. Our coffees are sourced and roasted just down the road (around the corner from Thomas Hardy’s Cottage) by our Master roaster, Nigel Green, from the Dorset Coffee Company, and a local tea lover, Grace, helps us in the shop.
My first love in life is culture and the arts, which I studied through Bachelors and Masters degrees at the University of Winchester. As the cuts came in, these areas were the first to suffer, and any doors to opportunities that where there when I began my studies were firmly shut. To support myself through my studies, I had worked in the tea and coffee industry that had always been a passion of mine as an avid tea lover. I used my years of experience in the sector to set up my business.
There are lots of websites devoted to tea, but many of them have no shop. You can’t walk inside, smell the aroma, see tea being blended, feel the tea ware and have a good chat about it to a sales person. On a trip back to my home town of Dorchester, I found out there was a huge fondness amongst the residents for an old tea merchants shop called Parsons that had been in the town from the 1920s right up until the 1980s. It became clear that Dorchester was the right place to open a shop. People missed Parsons so much, so I wanted to make something that could follow in its footsteps.
There had been a tobacconist and confectioners in the town for about fifty years, and the owners had decided to retire. Suddenly I had found the perfect place. I made an offer and began drawing up the business plan. It was important that this was the right business for the landlords, so we had to plan every inch, even the colour on the walls. No stone was left unturned.
I was very fortunate that my parents had savings that they wanted to invest, so they kindly chose to invest in the start-up fund.
With all the benefits that a bricks and mortar shop has to offer, it does come with an awful lot of negotiation, organisation and business focus. It was a long road that took months and a great deal of determination, but the feeling when you get the keys is indescribable.
We sell directly to the people of Dorchester and the local community. We also have local delis, two cafes and a brilliant farm shop that sell and serve our teas, too. We have a wide range of customers. I remember a few weeks ago I was serving a lady in her seventies while two teenagers, an estate agent, and a punk were in the shop! That’s the great thing about tea, it brings people together.
The customers we love are those who are fed up with dreary teabags on supermarket shelves, who are looking for something more exciting for their teapots. We also want to involve people at the other send of the spectrum who really appreciate ethically sourced, rare, quality tea estates. We think this is what makes The Gilded Teapot special – it is an accessible way for tea and coffee drinkers of all kinds to find and taste something exceptional that is right for them. We love to explore – rather than just having one green tea, or one Assam, we have a whole library of tastes and experiences, and everyone is welcome.
The most important thing for us is including people. Just as we welcome people to our shop, we use our online activity in the same way and it is a wonderful opportunity to let people know about our products, upcoming events and the wider world of tea. Currently we use Facebook, Twitter and a WordPress Blog in conjunction with our online shop as we feel that it’s a great way to stay in touch with our customers. It’s also a brilliant way keep up to date with local foodies and people who are generally interested in tea.
We’re working hard to make 2012 a really exciting year for The Gilded Teapot. The biggest development for us will be our traveling tea and coffee house to take to festivals and events. We’re thrilled to have this chance to take ourselves on the road to meet more tea and coffee lovers and provide delicious, quality infusions where normally you’d have to settle for instant coffee powder or teabags in a polystyrene cup For the future, we really want to focus on and build our online shop, aim to open another merchants and tea house, and travel to the far-flung tea growing parts of the world to meet the growers face to face and bring back as much of their knowledge as we can to share with our tea lovers.
The advice I’d offer to anyone interested in creating this sort of business would be to immerse yourself in this world before setting out. Drink, eat and breathe your passion and talk and share things with as many like-minded people as you can so you know which teas really stand out. Your passion is the driving force behind the business.
If I were to do this again, I don’t think there’s much I would change at all – a business is an organic thing, that’s always changing and evolving with the people and products that you meet and taste. What’s open to me now wouldn’t have been there at the beginning, and that’s exciting.
Jo Davies at The Gilded Teapot: www.thegildedteapot.com
Blog address – www.thegildedteapot.wordpress.com
Follow Jo on Twitter @TheGildedTeapot