Start-Up Stories – Tipsy Tea
We had the pleasure of sitting down with the co-founders of Tipsy Tea, Tom & James. They gave us the lowdown on the obstacles in start-up life, branding and all things Tipsy Tea…
What is Tipsy Tea and how did you come up with it?
Tom: I was out for dinner with my then-girlfriend, now-wife. At the end of the meal they brought over a coffee liqueur menu and I said, why do they never do something similar with tea? And she said, I’d call it Tipsy Tea. We told James the idea, we then went on holiday for two weeks, came back and James had designed the current logo! He then got us a pitch at the Spinningfields Christmas Markets in Manchester, which turned out to be the perfect environment for us because it’s not too busy and meant that a lot of people would stop and have a chat. Everyone seemed to be drawn to the name, as well as the concept and nearly all were very enthusiastic.
James: “Tea and booze together, brilliant!” is literally what people say to us. But I think even people who didn’t feel that it was for them, still very much liked the name. The reaction from the public was immediately powerful so that gave us confidence in the concept from the get-go.
Tom: The products at the time were concoctions we’d invented round at our parents’ house. We were brewing tea bags of different flavours, adding different types of alcohol and other ingredients – so maybe a ginger tea bag with whisky. Basically, we were making cocktails live on a bar but with hot water and tea bags.
“We realised that if we wanted to scale this up and not spend our time physically making drinks on markets for the rest of our lives, we needed to manufacture something that was a “just add water” product.”
So Tipsy Tea as it is now, is a liqueur, a range of liqueurs (because we’ve got a range of flavours) all of which contain tea. And to make a Tipsy Tea, you just take a double measure (i.e. 50 ml) of any Tipsy Tea Flavour, add water and a squeeze of the relevant fruit, whether that be lemon, lime or orange. For our hot serve, you add hot water and for the cold serve (which is made in a very similar way) replace the hot water with sparkling water and ice.
James: Yep. The other unique thing about Tipsy Tea is that it’s so versatile. As far as we’re aware, there’s no other alcoholic drink that can so easily be served both hot or cold. There’s Vimto or Ribena. But nothing alcoholic. What’s more, it tastes quite different hot to how it tastes cold, using the same Tipsy Tea flavour.
In terms of getting your name out there and even creating the actual products, what would you say has been your biggest obstacle so far and how did you get across that?
Tom: I don’t know if I’d describe it as obstacle, but we had to kick it around for a while to come up with the best way to make it such a flexible product. We worked closely with our manufacturer to come up with a “just add water” product.
James: It was the journey of getting from A to B, the thinking it through and then the actual development of that with the manufacturer that was a challenge. It was well worth going on that journey because one of the alternatives we thought of along the way was something that was just a “pour it out of the bottle” product that you would then heat up (for the hot serve) but that’s obviously not very easy for a bar to do because then they would need a microwave or a hob or something like that. So, we came up with a final product where all you need to do is add water.
How important is branding to you guys?
Tom: Building a positive brand association is a major part of the short-term plan. The first thing is to get events happening, so that people can see and taste Tipsy Tea and can begin to associate with it. Second stage is to be consistently “on sale” where our key demographics drink, so that they go, “Ah, there it is – that great drink we tasted last month”, and then they go and buy it. Mass market comes significantly later, by which time our early advocates have told their mum and their dad and their friends all about it such that when it arrives in supermarkets, it is a known thing. Ultimately, we want to replicate the ‘Uber’ / ‘Hoover’ stories, but in the hot alcohol space; where hot alcoholic drink and Tipsy Tea become one and the same thing.
James: So, the ethos is “sophisticated fun”.
“We want to connect Tipsy Tea with an atmosphere, a memory and an association.”
We have positioned our product effectively with that term, but the brand proposition will doubtlessly continue to evolve over the coming months and years.
How strong is it?
James: So, neat it’s 20% ABV. But obviously when you add the water as in our suggested serve, it’s about 5% – similar to a single Gin and Tonic. You could make it weaker if you wanted to. Or add more or less water. Then, sometimes, where people want it stronger, we double the measure of Tipsy Tea used, which we call a “Turbo Tipsy Tea”.
One thing I really want to know is what is your proudest moment so far? Obviously, some people say it’s the first time someone’s tried it, or it’s when they’ve finally reached a goal. What was it for you guys?
James: Well for me it is when we got the agreement through for a deal with the Swiss wine producer, Provins. You know that with these things, so often people say it’s going to happen, but it never actually does. With Provins, don’t get me wrong, it took what seemed like a very long time to get the paperwork signed, prices agreed, a decision on which of our flavours they wanted to go for, when they wanted it to be delivered and all that, but then, when the actual contract came back, together with the agreed payment, it was like, “Yes!!!”
Tom: That was an order for nearly 25,000 drinks…so yeah, I’d go with that!
How many flavours do you have currently?
Tom: So, we’ve got 8 different flavours but of those only 4 have been manufactured so far. There’s another 4 that we used to make “live” which we are now in the process of developing the manufactured recipes for. Exciting!
So where can people get it? Where can people be drinking it?
Tom: It’s all around Stockport at the minute. A few of our current stockists are the Gin Bar in Bramhall, The Fox Hole in Prestbury, The Produce Hall in Stockport and The Moortop in Heaton Moor. You can also purchase via our online store
Does it go out of date?
James: No, not for around 3 years. It’s got a very long shelf life. We have to put 3 years on it, but as long as you don’t leave it in direct sunlight, it will last a long time.
Are you focusing it more towards Harvey Nichols as opposed to like ASDA?
James: Yeah. Its difficult in our estimation to start in B&M and end up in Harrods. But you can start in Harrods and end up in B&M. Ultimately, you make a lot more money selling to the mass market, but people need to know who you are first!
And what is the next step? In the next 12 months, what’s going to be going on with you guys? What are you expecting, what is this next level?
Tom: We need to get our key demographics experiencing the brand. That’s Step 1 and this is irrespective of whether the activity is in the UK or abroad. So, we’ve already taken that step in Switzerland. We’ve done it on a very limited scale here in Stockport. We need to broaden that out. More people need to experience Tipsy Tea. Initially, that will probably be an expense rather than a profitable exercise because we’ll need to do offers of free testing and samples in order to sell stock.
Once it’s out there, Step 2 is to sell stock into the venues where ‘our fans’ frequent. Step 3 will be a classic sales effort with reps selling to bars, restaurants and wholesalers, along-side larger events and festivals.
Step 4 will be hitting the mass market – so more into supermarkets and a sustained push on the e-commerce side of our business.
And then to complicate it, we’ve got both the hot and cold offerings which are each a slightly different sell and at different times of the year. We’ve just got to manage our calendar, but I think those are the key steps. It’s awareness, into bars, growth off that, and then into the wider mass market and e-commerce.
Tipsy Tea have a bright future ahead of them, we can’t wait to see where they are in the next couple of years! Be sure to check out their website for more info here