With its collection of over 1,000 different single estate harvests and exclusive tea blends from every tea producing country in the world, gourmet tea brand 1837 TWG Tea is taking the country by storm—one luxurious cuppa at a time
For the longest time, tea has lost out to coffee as the Philippines’ beverage of choice, confined to barely noticeable spaces on supermarket shelves or to inconspicuous containers in health stores. Even when diehard coffee drinkers turn to tea to treat ailing throats, they generally return to coffee the moment the soreness is gone.
Recent times, however, have seen tea gain back that bit of “sparkle”. With more places now offering high tea sets and buffets, and this on top of the growing milk tea craze, it’s safe to say that tea is finally shrugging off its second-class status and is developing a growing number of followers.
Blending Luxury With Tea
With Europe and the U.S. slowly treading the path toward recovery from the global economic crisis, more and more luxury brands are taking their business to Asia. “Big brands like fashion houses Chanel and Louis Vuitton are expanding into Asia because this side of the world is where the market for luxury is right now,” shares Louise Benzrihem, senior PR manager for luxury tea brand 1837 TWG Tea.
Benzrihem adds that the same scenario applies to the gourmet tea market. Today’s tea lovers are no longer content with indifferent mass-market products packed in skimpy tea bags and have graduated to higher-quality tea bags, choice loose tea, and even costly, carefully plucked leaves from single estates. Tea companies like TWG Tea are responding to the demand by offering different tea varieties, single estate harvests and exclusive tea blends.
“It’s actually a unique concept to bring luxury gourmet tea to Asia, which is where the bulk of tea-producing countries are located,” shares TWG Founding Partner Maranda Barnes, “because selling tea to the Chinese, for example, is like selling water. It’s a challenge to say, ‘listen, come and sit down and experience gourmet tea.’”
But making tea a luxury when it has become commonplace was exactly what the Singapore-based brand set out to do. With names like Silver Moon, Emerald River, Japanese Green Tea Samurai and Ethnic Jewel, the teas reflect a wide range of exotic flavors, attracting an almost religious following among tea lovers. “We wanted to bring a product that was very democratic to a luxury positioning, elevating it to that level. It’s why we had to be big, why we had to go strongly into the market, and it’s also why we’re opening solidly in the Philippines,” Barnes says.
Last January, the company launched its second and largest TWG Tea Salon and Boutique in the Philippines at the Newport Mall in Resorts world Manila. “Today, it’s actually the biggest TWG store in Asia and the world,” informs Barnes, adding that when they opened their first store in Greenbelt last year, the Philippine market took them by surprise. “We were absolutely blown away by the interest, the excitement and the curiosity of the customers,” she shares.
Not The Starbucks Of Tea
While the intention is to solidly grow four to six stores in 2013, Barnes clarifies that they are not becoming “a very mass, find-us-on-every-corner type of shop,” as the quality of the tea the company offers, like its limited edition White Tea collection, is not always available in bulk.
“They’re not the types of tea you can source tons in a year. That’s not possible because of the quality. So we do cherry pick our locations, and we have different quantities of tea available for each different store. We do have limited harvest products, and there might be a time when there’s just two or three kilos of a certain tea that comes in for the spring or fall,” Barnes says.
Even when these limited edition teas tend to be exorbitantly priced, TWG Tea has proven that they have successfully carved a niche in the market. “We had a special Japanese green tea launched in the U.K. last year that sold at 9,000 pounds for 50 grams. That type of tea has never left Japan ever in history, and we were able to bring one kilo of that tea out of Japan. In three months, it was all gone. There’s an interest for it, because there’s a market of people who want to try the most expensive, most exotic limited edition products,” shares Barnes.
It isn’t TWG Tea’s intention, however, to market itself as an exclusive brand that’s accessible only to an elite group of connoisseurs. “We want to be the very opposite of snobby, but at the same time we want every visit to our store to be a unique experience. Maybe that’s why we’re in the luxury malls—we want it to be a place, a destination that you come to because it’s an experience you want to remember,” Barnes shares.
At the end of the day, Barnes says that TWG is an “accessible luxury.” It’s not just for one particular market, because there is something for everyone. “What we really want to do is to also help people understand the depth of the brand, the product we are serving,” she says. “In the wine industry, there’s a very big conglomerate that comes together to educate people about wine. In the tea industry, however, it’s still a very closed market.”
According to Barnes, one needs a key to unlock the door to tea plantations, as they only work with a few people and companies in the world. “They don’t market themselves, they just do what they do, and they work very well with people. Our president, Taha Bouqdib, knows them all personally, and he tells them what type of tea he wants, what harvest, what quality and quantity…and that’s exactly what we want to initiate our market to about tea,” Barnes says, adding that this is also why, apart from its over 800 varieties of exotic tea blends, TWG Tea also features a wide range of tea-related products in its stores.
“We have different types of products in different types of packaging, different types of service, we’ve introduce tea into gastronomy…we want people to appreciate the depth and the feel of what tea can do as a beverage and as a luxury product…that there’s this great tradition around it,” she says.
Published February 25, 2011 in the Business Agenda section of Manila Bulletin