Entrepreneurship is Kelsea’s cup of tea
Kelsea Williams started drinking tea in university to stop her weight creeping up.
“I don’t remember how much weight I gained,” the 29-year-old said. “But I think it was all the sugary juices I was drinking.”
Looking for a healthy, flavourful alternative she fell in love with the many offerings at Canadian tea chain DAVIDsTEA.
“I had no idea there were that many different types of tea,” she said. “I was in a whole new world. I really became interested in teas and where they were from.”
Back in Bermuda after graduation from a marketing programme at Western University in London, Ontario, she couldn’t find much that was similar.
“The flavoured teas I found were limited to certain brands,” she said.
So, last November she decided to fill the gap, with her own loose leaf tea business NovelTea.
“It was really scary to go into business,” she said. “I didn’t know how people would react to the product. I’d never run my own business before.”
But she did a lot of research ahead of time, and took a tea merchants’ boot camp at the World Tea Expo in Las Vegas, Nevada in June 2017.
“Learning to blend loose leaf teas wasn’t difficult, but it was a lot of work,” she said. “You really have to learn what flavours go together. It is like cooking. Some ingredients work together and some don’t. Some ingredients smell great together, but don’t taste so good. You really have to learn your bases.”
She put together flavours, basically by trial and error. If it smelled and tasted great, it was a hit.
“I’m still experimenting with a few blends though,” she said. “Especially with our beverages and making iced teas for the summer. Sometimes we put together teas and it just doesn’t taste great. It is all subjective too. Some people might like ginger and some people might not.”
It was a challenge figuring out what appealed to the majority.
“Putting it together and making it look nice is one thing, but selling it is different,” she said.
Now she offers 60 different flavours for whatever your frame of mind.
Unwell? What about turmeric cider tea to boost your immune system? Hung over? What about black tea blend Java Jitters? Looking for adventure, try Key Largo, a blend of green and black rooibos tea and tangy fruit pieces.
Her line of Bermudian-inspired teas, which include Sip & Swizzle, Dark & Stormy and Morning Glory Hypnotic Hibiscus are particularly popular.
“The tourists are interested in tasting something Bermudian,” she said. “And they like to take something home to remind them of the island.”
In May, she was one of six winners of the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation Vend 2 Win competition, held in the Bermuda Athletic Association gym.
“The win was a surprise,” she said. “I found the competition flyer at the last minute and put something together. The actual competition was great. We set up and talked to customers.”
Her prize included a trip to Brooklyn, New York to sell her product at The Reserve market earlier this month. The event was hosted by the Driven Society in New York.
“It was a good experience and I got to network with people,” Ms Williams said. “It was nice to be out there and show off the products to an international audience.”
She admitted she had to explain to some people where Bermuda was, exactly. But those who were familiar with the island, were enthusiastic about her products.
Ms Williams produces and packages her teas exclusively in the Southampton home she shares with her mother, Stacey and brother, Donovan.
“We have a room with all of the teas, all organised in shelving and by category,” she said. “In the living room we package the tea, put it together and get it ready.
“There are boxes everywhere in my room, my mother’s room, and my brother’s room,” she said. “We walled in the back porch to create a climate controlled room. Heat, humidity and moisture are all enemies of tea, and unfortunately, Bermuda has all of that.”
Sometimes there is grumbling about the boxes, but her family have been extremely supportive.
In fact, her mother helps her with the business. “She’s really gotten into tea too,” Ms Williams said.
It has been challenging sourcing the teas from around the world. “There are some teas that grow in Sri Lanka, China and South America,” she said. “I have definitely learnt a lot about the business and trading world. Coming right out of university and going full steam ahead has been definitely interesting.”
Meanwhile, she has a full-time job doing marketing for AS Cooper.
“Sometimes it is difficult to balance the two,” she said. “I get a lot less sleep than I normally used to do. A lot of it is about time management and organisation. When I get home from work, I’m often up past midnight doing tasks for NovelTea.”
NovelTea’s mantra is “tea in touch with tomorrow”.
“I want to run the business in a sustainable way,” she said. “The other aspect is bringing tea into the modern era. A lot of people think of it as your grandmother’s drink, or something you only drink before bed.
“There is so much more to it than that. Tea is the most popular drink in the world, second only to water. And it is such a diverse beverage. It can be made into iced teas, cocktails. You can cook with teas.”
Her dream is to one day have her own tea bar.
“It would be somewhere where people could come and relax and get their tea,” she said.
But for now, she’s content to just grow her business. “I want to see where it takes me,” she said.
• Ms Williams’s teas are available on her website www.noveltea.co, at Urban Cottage, Front Street, Harbour Nights on Wednesday evenings in the City of Hamilton and at the Farmer’s Market at the Botanical Gardens on Saturdays from 7.30am to 12pm