From sipping builders tea to building a tea empire; Daniel Grey’s accidental tea company

These past few months have proved to be a challenge. What we’ve had to be is mindful of taking time out to switch off, relax and reward ourselves care. That’s where this story comes in. I recently had an inspiring natter with Dan from Lewisham Tea Company about the tea (of course) and how this accidental cup-of-joy came about. Rosanna Head

Tell us about Lewisham Tea Company?

Sure, so I’m Daniel Grey, a local boy from Lewisham who accidentally started a tea company. Basically I was trying to get fit, gyming, boxing, that kinda thing and in doing so I set myself a challenge to see if I could go six months without boozing (in hindsight, starting over Christmas was probably the worst time)… Anyway, it subsequently lead me to getting into green teas and herbal teas. Prior to that, I was more of a four to five cups of English breakfast a day kinda person (easily going through a packet of ginger nut biscuits with every cuppa), so I was hardly an expert! 

Before I knew it, I had boxes of tea from all over (India, Sri Lanka, Singapore) being delivered to my nan and grandads house (they would help me try them out). And while they weren’t making me any better at boxing, I was definitely feeling much fitter and healthier… not that that’s all down to the teas of course, but they were very much a part of that cleaner, healthier way of living for me at the time.

How did the business idea come about?

It was around that time I was looking for a business opportunity, something I could work on and grow while also having a “normal job”, but very much wanted it to be something I was passionate about. I got talking to people, telling them about the teas I was tasting and in many cases just turning up to friends houses with boxes of tea, it became clear that there was a demand/interest. But for me, I saw it more from a social angle, an evening with friends, not getting hammered for a change, trying out different teas over food etc… so I guess that’s where it kinda began. 

Lewisham Tea Company; the growth of something fragrant….

Since we started last summer, our teas can be found in 10 brilliant shops, delis, cafes and pubs around South East London and also online. We’ve met some lovely local business owners along the way. It’s scary going into business, especially on your own, but to have something that so many have kindly shown an interest in, given feedback, stocked in their cafes and shops really has been amazing. And what with everything that’s gone on recently, although it kinda feels like we’re having to start again, we’ve got a years worth of experience, a great network of local businesses who have since become our friends and a fantastic customer base all behind us.

What teas does Lewisham Tea Company produce?

At the moment we produce Six teas, from flavoured green teas like Apple & Ginger and Bora Bora fruit infused tea, to herbal teas like Peppermint and Vanilla Rooibos. We wanted to try something a bit different with our black tea (rather than a standard English breakfast), so we’ve gone with a chocolate spiced Assam tea. We’re also adding 3 new blends to the selection over the coming months, one of which will be voted for by our customers.

The teas are blended just outside of South London. It was really important for us to work with a local supplier as it gives us the opportunity to work together/collaborate on the range of teas we offer. Our most popular tea is the Bora Bora which is a fruit infused green tea that gives it an unusual reddy-purple colour, while the Apple and Ginger and Chocolate spice are also popular. As we move more towards the autumn, we’ve started introducing more seasonal blends, the lemongrass and orange black tea (as voted for by our Instagram followers) and a masala chai which will be available on the site from next month.

We’re also adding three new blends to the selection over the coming months, one of which will be voted for by our customers.

Sustainability in tea

Having a sustainable business was something that was important to us from the start. Plastic tea bags were very topical when we started out (and still is) and we really struggled to find a supplier that could offer us an alternative to this. Initially we opted to go down the loose tea route, but fortunately at the last minute (thanks to one of my best mates) we were able to find a supplier that used biodegradable cornstarch tea bags. We also pack our bags with 3 grams of tea (which is quite a lot), so we encourage our customers to use them twice or in a teapot (for 2). To be honest, after a chat with one of our customers, I really think we need to talk more about how we support and champion sustainability, which is something we will look to do more of going forward.

Which local independents do you serve?

Sure, we’re in Middletons Deli, Agas Little Deli, Pistachios in the Park, Good Food, The Larder Ladywell, The Mayflower pub, The boathouse Cafe (Barking), and we’re about to be in Sans Store, a new store in Forest Hill.

Have you been busy during Covid-19?

I try to hand deliver as much as I can (anything within walking distance around Lewisham basically). During covid, with all the shops and cafes shut, I was getting a lot of online orders, so I was out doing deliveries most days, as part of my daily exercise (haha!). I’ve tried to keep that up as much as I can since. It’s actually been a really nice way to meet customers face to face (from a social distance of course), as I’ve worked online for years, so never really had the opportunity.

Are you involved in your community at all?

Not yet, but this is something we are working on for 2021.

Where are your favourite south east london spots?

I’m a short walk from Blackheath, so I’m a regular up there in the summer (love Point Hill with its great views of London). Also a big fan of Peckham Levels. I’m gutted we haven’t been able to get up there this summer, but would love to have some kinda tea hut or stall there some day.

If you could part a little wisdom to anyone looking to set up a business what would it be?

Definitely find something you’re passionate about! And be prepared to make mistakes… better to make a mistake and learn from it, than not learn at all (and I’ve made plenty). Also, try to encourage and build a dialogue with your customers, they’re the ones that will support you and ultimately help you grow as a business. I’ve learnt so much from my customers! 

Thanks Daniel, best of luck with the company and we will meet for tea very soon.

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