Estate Tea Company brews up growth

Tom Webb, Founder of Estate Company with Finance For Enterprise Business Lending Manager Jeremy Meadowcroft

A specialist tea merchant, which sources some of the rarest and most unusual varieties of Britain’s favourite brew, is hoping to tap into Newcastle’s bustling night scene by pioneering a unique day-into-night venue at its Heaton-based headquarters.

The Estate Tea Company was launched in 2014 by Tom Webb, who drew inspiration from a project he worked on whilst studying at Northumbria University. Upon graduation, Tom decided to revisit the business idea he had explored as a student and set about scouring tea producing countries across the world to source rare and unusual varieties of tea and bring them to the North East.

Today, the Estate Tea Company has secured collaborations with a range of small single estate tea growers from tea producing countries including India, Japan, China, Sri Lanka and Taiwan. The company also blends its own variations of popular brews, including English Breakfast Tea and naturally infused flavoured teas, which are sold to cafes, restaurants and grocery stores across the UK, and even in Selfridges.

Having opened a café in Gateshead, Tom decided to refine his business model during the Covid-19 pandemic, and when an opportunity arose to relocate the business to larger premises, Tom didn’t hesitate to make the move, successfully transforming a former plumber’s merchant into a haven for tea lovers.

Funding provided by Finance For Enterprise helped to transform Tom’s cafe into a unique day-into-night venue.

The larger premises provided Estate Tea with the space needed to increase production of its tea varieties, and the café quickly attracted a loyal customer base. However, Tom recognised that large parts of the building were under-utilised and he began exploring ways of maximising the premises.

Drawing inspiration from Japanese bars, which combine a small tapas-style menu alongside a relaxed environment, Tom realised that his business could increase its customer base by offering an evening menu. To bring his growth plans to fruition, Estate Tea needed to secure the funds needed to upgrade its kitchen equipment and refurbish the empty space.

Having previously borrowed money from a high street lender and repaid in full, Tom felt confident he could raise the funds needed to complete the renovation work, but to his surprise, after several frustrating conversations with a call centre, Tom discovered that his application had been declined.

After researching alternative ways of raising finance, Tom decided to approach Finance For Enterprise for advice. Following an initial phone call, Tom met face-to-face with experienced business lending manager Jeremy Meadowcroft, and within a matter of weeks, he received the funds his business desperately needed.

Tom and his team worked around the clock to develop the new bar. He called on friends, family members and his staff to complete the renovations, often working into the early hours to enable the business to continue trading.

Since completing the work, the Estate Tea Bar has proved to be a popular addition to Newcastle’s night scene; at the same time, Tom has seen his business triple its workforce, rising from just four members of staff to a close-knit team of twelve.

Over the past year alone, Estate Tea has sold enough of its popular English Breakfast Tea to brew up a staggering 2.5 million cups of tea, and the relationships he has forged with small growers has seen Estate Tea secure contracts to stock some of the rarest teas found anywhere in the world.

Tom Webb, Founder, the Estate Tea Company, said:

“Britain is a nation of tea drinkers. Collectively, we drink 100 million cups of tea on a daily basis, and I felt that even if I could secure a small share of that market, it offered a golden business opportunity. When I launched the Estate Tea Company, I wanted to create a business that supported independent tea growers by paying a fair price for their produce, as well as creating different ways of generating income.

When we launched our first café, I was really surprised by how popular the venue became; this led to us looking for larger premises, providing the space to grow the business further in the future. I liked the idea of creating a café that could provide a safe, relaxing environment in the daytime, but also a venue capable of operating in the evening.

My idea was to create a Japanese-inspired bar that offered a selection of small dishes that can be enjoyed as a snack while socialising or used to create a meal by combining several dishes. It’s a different experience to a traditional bar. I knew that financial support would be needed, and having previously secured funding from my bank, I felt confident that they would support our plans.

Following various lengthy and frustrating conversations with call centres, the bank told me they couldn’t support the business. The experience left me feeling very frustrated and puzzled. I began searching the Internet, and after reading about some of the businesses Finance For Enterprise had helped, I decided to reach out and see if they could help my company to secure the funds I needed. To my surprise, rather than dealing with a call centre, I was given a point of contact in the organisation. Jeremy took time to get to know my business and understand our future plans. He visited our premises, and within a relatively short period of time, he called me to advise that my application had been successful. 

Since opening the bar, we’ve been able to increase our trading hours and create several new jobs within the business. This has also helped us to expand our blending facilities, and since working with Finance For Enterprise, the number of businesses that stock our tea range has increased from approximately 50 customers to nearly 80. As well as growing the business further, the support received from Finance For Enterprise has given us the confidence to explore new ways of expanding the business further in the future.”

Jeremy Meadowcroft, Business Lending Manager, Finance For Enterprise, said:

“Tom is an extremely driven and motivated entrepreneur who spotted a gap in the market, and today he and his team at Estate Tea are helping to bring some of the rarest and unusual types of tea to the North East, which are now being enjoyed by his customers across the UK.

The current economic climate has seen many banks tighten their lending criteria, and in Tom’s case this left him with the paradox of needing additional funding to grow his business but unable to source the financial help he needed, leaving him with empty space that couldn’t be utilised.

At Finance For Enterprise we judge every lending application on its own merits. It was clear during our discussions and visits to Estate Tea that Tom had built a strong business, which benefitted from multiple sources of generating revenue, and I could see that the funds wouldn’t just help to strengthen Tom’s business offering but would also act as a catalyst to drive future growth.

The success Tom and his team at Estate Tea has enjoyed is well deserved, and I am certain that the business has a very bright future ahead of it.”

Tom’s future plans for the Estate Tea Company are to open a number of small satellite cafés across the North East as well as continuing to build and strengthen his network of independent growers in his quest to search out some of the rarest and most unusual varieties of tea produce.

Headquartered in Doncaster and supported by a team of experienced business lending managers operating across the UK, Finance For Enterprise provides a range of tailored business loans up to £250,000, aimed at helping small and medium-sized businesses overcome barriers to growth. The not-for-profit organisation acts as a delivery partner for the Government-backed Recovery Loan Scheme and is also a fund manager for the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund.