Time For Tea
Edward Eisler, founder of Jing Tea interviewed in a Sunday Newspaper.
His company sells more than 80 varieties of tea direct to customers, online and to hotels, shops and restaurants, and will turn over £3m this year.
Edward Eisler travels to Asia to find teas for customers such as the private bank Coutts.
As a penniless student in Paris, Edward Eisler decided he couldn’t change his life for all the tea in China — but he could for some of its finest brews. “I had a light-bulb moment and felt I had to do something. I came back to London and started putting my heart and soul into tea,” said Eisler.
His company, Jing Tea, sells more than 80 varieties direct to customers online and to hotels, shops and restaurants, and will turn over £3m this year.
You have to deal with people and all kinds of outside pressures, and unless you are really interested in what you are doing and there is something about it that inspires you, you won’t make the effort needed to make the business work
The youngest of five children, Eisler was born and brought up in the hamlet of Yavington, near Winchester. His father was a director of Vickers, the engineering company, and spent a lot of time abroad negotiating deals to build oil refineries in Iran and China.
Eisler first showed an interest in tea at the age of eight when he mixed blends of Ceylon and Assam in his parents’ kitchen. At 15, while travelling round Europe with friends, his interest developed into a passion.
“I went to an amazing teahouse in Prague where they had lots of Chinese teas,” he said. “The atmosphere, the taste and the different way it looked really interested me.”
He was educated at Winchester College and travelled to China in his gap year, where he was surprised to discover the vast number of tea varieties. “In one region alone, there are hundreds of different varieties and tastes. The way it’s made and the way people drink it in China is amazing to see.”
Eisler also became interested in Chinese medicine after a doctor cured him of heatstroke by placing suction cups all over his body.
His roaring temperature dropped and his racing pulse slowed after five minutes. He studied Chinese at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London for a year, before embarking on a degree in Chinese medicine at the University of Westminster.
It was while attending a conference in Paris during his final year in 2003 that he suddenly got the idea to start a company selling tea.
He wrote a business plan and raised the finance by using the remains of his student loan, borrowing £5,000 on credit cards and getting a £10,000 loan from his father. Much of the next year was spent doing research and travelling to meet potential suppliers in China, Taiwan, India and Sri Lanka.
Eisler found there was a demand for quality tea in Britain because the big suppliers had narrowed the range of teas on the market. “I wanted to put tea on the table that would make people say, this is something really different.”
With his wife Louise, whom he met while travelling in Nepal, he came up with the name, Jing, which means “essence” in Mandarin Chinese. Among the varieties he sells are Dragon Well, one of China’s most famous green teas.
Another is Jasmine Pearls, a hand-rolled green tea that is picked in April, kept in storage until mid-summer, then scented with fresh jasmine flowers when they come into season.
One of Jing’s first clients was Coutts, the private bank. Then came Harrods. The Knightsbridge store agreed to sell Eisler’s Iron Buddha oolong tea which, at £1,700 a kilogram, made headlines as one of the most expensive teas outside Asia. It sold out in two weeks.
By the end of 2005, Eisler was supplying the Fat Duck, Heston Blumenthal’s award-winning restaurant, and turning over £100,000. In 2006 turnover rose to £350,000. In that year Eisler launched a website to sell teas online.
It was a disaster. The press reviews on the weekend of the launch were glowing but the server went down and customers couldn’t buy anything. “It was one of the most frustrating experiences of my life,” said Eisler.
It taught him not to cut corners. “Had we gone for a higher-specification server and spent a bit more money, we could have done better,” he said. “If customers can’t buy your product, you are not going to make any money.”
The website, which sells teapots and other accessories as well as tea, now accounts for almost 20% of total revenue and online sales are growing fast.
Last year Jing, which supplies Starwood Hotels and Resorts in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, signed a deal to supply its Asia-Pacific hotels as well.
The business has plans to expand further into Asia. It has offices in London and Hong Kong, with 15 staff, and owns five warehouses round the world.
Being an entrepreneur is a big challenge, said Eisler, 31, who has two children. He owns 65% of the company and the rest is owned by his parents.
His advice to others hoping to set up a business is to choose something that will hold your interest.
“You have to deal with people and all kinds of outside pressures, and unless you are really interested in what you are doing and there is something about it that inspires you, you won’t make the effort needed to make the business work,” he said.