In this edition of ‘How to Succeed‘, we speak to Taha Bouqdib, co-founder and CEO of Tea WG, about his childhood influences, inspiration, evolution of the brand, and, of course, tea.
With over 800 different single estate, fine harvests teas and exclusive tea blends, Tea WG houses one of the largest tea collections in the world. Established in Singapore in 2008, the company celebrates the year 1837, when the island became a trading post for teas and spices.
This year, Tea WG celebrates their 10th anniversary in Hong Kong with the launch of one-of-a-kind Mini Tea Tin Collection.
“Over the past 10 years in Hong Kong, Tea WG has enjoyed a strong following of local customers and international travellers in search of exceptional quality of tea. We feel privileged to be recognised in this cosmopolitan city — home to some of the world’s biggest tea drinkers with a strong yum cha [tea drinking] culture,” says Bouqdip. “In honour of Tea WG’s milestone year, I have crafted a new, limited-edition collection of 10 of the brand’s most popular teas to commemorate the 10 illustrious years. Exclusive tea blends such as Silver Moon and Weekend in Hong Kong Tea — each with a special significance — star in this collection.”
Tell us a bit about your professional background. Was there a specific moment/event that inspired you to dive into the tea industry?
During my childhood in Rabat, Morocco, I lived with my family next to the Chinese Embassy and the Embassy would often offer us calendars and Chinese tea during the Chinese holidays. This was my first discovery of tea after Moroccan Mint Tea. Later in Paris, a friend who was already working in the tea industry gave me the opportunity to rediscover those same tea harvests that I had tasted during my youth. From that day on, I realized that I would be indelibly linked to tea.
After working in the luxury tea industry for 20 years in France, the United Kingdom, Thailand and Japan, I became very passionate about introducing the world to the finest quality teas and recognised an opportunity to create a new niche luxury following in Singapore, creating Asia’s first international luxury tea brand offering the largest selection of the most exceptional tea harvests in the world.
What did you find most challenging about breaking into the luxury tea world?
Since everyone in Asia is born with a proverbial cup of tea, we knew that it would be a challenge to create a new luxury tea brand in Asia and, more importantly, to get Asians to embrace it as their own. The only way we were going to achieve that was by offering the very finest quality teas available, rare harvests, exquisite varieties of tea and exclusive blends. The rapid expansion of Tea WG in the region — at the heart of the tea-producing regions of the world — is, for us, proof that we have succeeded in doing just that.
What was the founding philosophy of Tea WG?
My vision for Tea WG was to create a global luxury tea brand in Asia for the world.
In the 10 years since our debut in Hong Kong, Tea WG has expanded rapidly from its first standalone Tea WG Salon & Boutique which opened in Hong Kong in 2012, to 67 Tea WG Salons & Boutiques in 17 countries, and is now distributed in 42 countries.
What are some surprising characteristics of the Asian tea market for you?
Our customers’ palates have become more sophisticated as they become increasingly discerning with their choices. Young Asian consumers are showing an interest in flavoured teas and they do look for a more fashionable and luxurious element with their teas. One thing that remains constant is the hunt for quality teas which incorporates real florals and fruit pieces, as well as unique flavours.
As many businesses shift their strategies in the face of Covid-19, what is your plan moving forward?
The global pandemic has led to major restrictions on personal mobility. Consumers are shifting their tea and tea accessories purchases online. In addition to expecting a seamless shopping experience, our customers are seeking comfort and convenience in their purchases.
Bridging the gap with customers caused by social distancing, Tea WG enhanced our customer experience with the launch of the Tea WG official online store to complement our brand’s unique experience at its brick-and-mortar Tea Salons & Boutiques in Hong Kong.
What is Tea WG’s future expansion plan in China, especially Greater Bay area and Hong Kong?
Digital shopfronts have become an integral part of Tea WG’s global expansion. Tea WG is focusing on expanding its digital footprint in China with the launch of Tea WG official online stores on every major third-party marketplace throughout Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Globally, Tea WG has opened a total of more than 20 third-party marketplaces across emerging and developed markets from 2018 to 2021. Among these newly opened third-party marketplaces, 20 percent are established in Mainland China, covering customers in first-tier cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen.
What does an average work day look like for you?
On most days, I reach the office around 9am and I like to make myself a cup of strong black tea like our London Breakfast Tea or a single estate tea like Nuwara Eliya or Harmutty to start the day. An average work day starts with meeting with the internal teams and external partners to discuss ongoing projects and business opportunities. I spend at least two hours a day in my tea blending room, exploring and creating new teas for global tea drinkers.
During lunch, I would visit the salons and boutiques to try the latest menu of the week. In the afternoon, I will always find time to enjoy a cup of tea that matches my mood of the day; however, one of my favourite teas for the afternoon is the Moroccan Mint Tea, as the aroma reminds me of home.
What do you like to do when you’re not working? How does it help you or how does it make you feel?
My favourite pastimes are collecting antiques and timepieces.
Much like a luxury watch, the perfect cup of tea is never created in a single moment. Creating a perfect cup of tea is in the act of creation, met with a moment’s inspiration… Tea is time, time alone, spent reflecting, as well as time with others for a joyous celebration! Regardless of who we are and what we do, we only have 24 hours every day.
With the benefit of hindsight, what’s one piece of advice you wish you’d been given at the beginning of your Tea WG journey?
If I could travel back in time, I would tell my younger self that you might never have a second chance and to persevere through the inevitable highs and lows of creating a new business with a positive attitude.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.