Harry Carr-Ellison, Founder of the Lost Tea Company, on a mission to share his love of organic, fermented green tea with the UK.
Here he shares details of his journey from first discovering the product grown in the hills of Myanmar to creating the brand.
Tell us about your work and business background.
Since taking a trip to Sri Lanka after leaving university with a Bsc in Anthropology I have been totally captivated by the country and what it has to offer. During my time there I toured the tea plantations and it made me realise what a special and versatile product this was. So when I returned to the UK I was determined to go back as soon as possible to find out more and started reading up about the country, its culture and history.
To be able to return and work in the country I spent six months (while also working on a farm in Northumberland) emailing and contacting tea companies asking for a job. Finally, in 2015, the Mufindi Tea Company, based in Tanzania, offered me a research position. I was on my way.
What was the inspiration behind Lost Tea?
Why pick tea in Myanmar as a product? When I was working for a recruitment company in Yangon I drank a lot of the local green tea and ate vast amounts of fermented tea salad ‘Lahpet thoke’. Actually for the first few weeks or so, I didn’t even realise it was tea leaves in the salad, and I loved it. It amazed me that such a delicious tea and truly unique dish wasn’t used more by the international community. I am not just talking about exporting the tea itself, but I realised that a lot of the hotels and restaurants within the country didn’t stock or sell the products.
I was intrigued that some tourists to Myanmar never even tried a tea leaf salad! My concept of selling locally was never about creating competition for my suppliers, but more for trying to create a new international market for them. That remains my goal today.
What challenges did you face when starting out and how did you overcome them?
Being my first business venture, I found it was like running a hurdle race where you can’t jump. However, it is from these various hurdles that you really learn. From getting my head around the accounts to sales and marketing, it was all new to me and so I realised that in order to overcome these issues I had to get as much advice and help as possible. You can’t be shy or worried of asking questions, especially if people are giving you their time.
What is the ethos behind your company and how do you want to present your products to the market in the UK?
My aim is to increase people’s awareness of Lahpet and the delicate taste of Burmese green tea, so we can help as many smallholder farmers in the country as we can. Spreading the word about the product’s health benefits is also a big driving force. I want to create a profitable business while also helping to build a sustainable international market for Myanmar tea, both drinking and edible.
When choosing business partners, including a branding studio what were your criteria?
As a startup, there are endless aspects that we needed help with and a partner DBC STUDIO to offer expert advice, going above and beyond to help us. On meeting Warran Brindle, the studio’s founder, and talking about how we could best present our product to the market I was impressed with his passion to not only understand me and the ethos of Lost Tea Company but to inspire people to love our tea and want to make it a part of their lives.
The aim of creating a ‘Living Brand’ appealed to me. It’s the idea of asking consumers to make Myanmar tea part of their lives and not just another product to pick up off the shelves. I feel that he really cares about our company and is emotionally invested in the project. I feel that with him it’s all about people and our emotional relationships with the brands we choose to bring into our lives.
Was it and is it still important to you to have a collaborative approach to getting your product message out there?
Absolutely. There is still so much that we don’t know and as mentioned above it is vital to understand the areas where we are still learning and how working with the strengths of others we can maximise our potential.
Tell us how you chose your branding partner and how you work with them?
We chose DBC STUDIO because I instantly felt a rapport with them. From day one they were excited by my idea and offered good constructive advice. The design side of starting up a brand scared me, and after talking to a couple of other firms I was getting a little worried.
However, Warran at DBC STUDIO changed that and it became and continues to be an enjoyable aspect of my journey.
What valuable lessons have you learnt from seeing the Lost Tea Company brand identity created?
The importance of getting your packaging and designs right, not rushing but taking time to properly understand what will or won’t work. Of course, there will be alterations along the way but it’s important to get the right blocks in place which will make said changes easier.
Bringing a product that was fairly new to the UK market we didn’t really know who our customer base was going to be. Would it be tea lovers, fermented food fans, people looking for something a bit different? This made the initial steps a challenge, but an exciting one.
What advice would you give other founders looking to launch a brand?
Don’t underestimate the process. This is how the world sees you. It may be expensive, both financially and time-wise, but it will be far more expensive if you cut corners now and have to redesign again in future.
Most importantly, choose a company and people you can work with collaboratively and who also have a passion for your product.