Branding

How to Start an Online Tea Business

how-to-start-an-online-tea-business

Tea—what’s not to love about it? Tea, as a drink, has enjoyed great cultural importance throughout history. It’s a feature in social rituals both big and small. It accompanies us through conversations, through relaxing evenings, in sickness, and in health.

There’s plenty of reasons to be passionate about tea and its many flavors and effects. So, if you’re looking to turn that passion into a business, it might have crossed your mind to start selling tea online.

If that sounds like you, you’re in luck!

Tea is a great market to set off into. In recent years, both the aesthetics and health benefits of tea have risen in popularity in western markets. Cafes are working with independent brands to give their tea menus a new flair, tea brands are finding new ways to harness the health benefits of tea, and exotic new tea flavors are being created all the time!

So, in this article, we’ll outline everything you need to consider when starting an online tea business.

Are you ready to start your own tea brand? Just keep reading!

Selling Tea: Here’s Why a Tea Brand is a Great Idea

Why Starting a Tea Brand is a Good Idea

Simply put: Next to water, tea is the most popular beverage in the world. Surprisingly, it even surpasses coffee! In fact, three cups of tea are consumed to every one cup of coffee—who knew?

The UK’s Tea and Infusions Association even keeps a running count of how many cups of tea are consumed each day. This amounts to approximately 100 million cups daily, and as many as 36 billion cups per year! The tradition of tea breaks has been with us for almost two hundred years. We use this ritual to converse with our friends and colleagues, to find out the news of the day, to connect. All around the world, over two billion people drink tea every morning.

And this market is likely to grow.

Tea stands out as a wholesome, potentially sugar-free option when water just doesn’t hit the spot. With fewer additives and acids, it’s still preferred to sodas by many health-affirming consumers. The statistics point towards the steady growth of this market, presenting opportunities in a range of products. From teabags to pre-made ice-tea mixes, this industry is booming and ready for new merchants to start selling tea products online.

Curious yet? Let’s look at the steps you need to take to start selling tea online.

How Tea is Grown & Produced

How Tea is Made

First things first, it’s wise to get an idea of how tea is produced before you get involved in the market. Maybe this will inform your supplier decisions later on down the line, and might even form the foundations of your brand’s story. Besides, tea has an impressive history, which may inspire the copywriting for your website, your unique selling point, your product descriptions, your ads, etc.

As a beverage, tea has been around for over 5000 years—it’s a tradition that started in China. The tea plant is evergreen, tropical, and belongs to the Camellia family. Camellia Sinensis (the tea plant) has green, shiny, pointy leaves and was initially indigenous to India and China. For these plants to thrive, they enjoy a humid, warm climate with frequent rainfall.

Nowadays, tea is grown on estates or smallholdings which is privately owned land that can be as small as 0.5 hectares or as massive as 17,500 hectares, such as the 87 tea gardens in the Darjeeling Hills.

From the farmers, tea is then sold to processing factories. About 30-35 kg of plucked leaves can produce about 7.5-9kg of tea. The most popular kind of tea is black tea—in fact, as much as 84% of tea consumed is black tea! So needless to say, it boasts a significant market share in terms of production and sales.

Starting a Tea Brand: Find Your Niche

As with any potential product idea, your first step is to assess demand and opportunity. There are plenty of niches within the tea industry, so it’s no wonder that so many entrepreneurs have successfully managed to carve themselves a place in the market.

Take Tease Tea, Noveltea, Clipper, or Blue Tea Box as examples. All these brands specialize in something slightly different, and they’re killing it!

We talked to Jon Butt, Founder of Blue Tea Box, to see what makes his online tea business stand out from the crowd. This is what he had to say:

In a world full of drinks with sugar and syrups and dairy products, health-aware people around the world are looking for natural hot drinks such as green tea, herbal, fruit, and rooibos along with quality black tea. We only use loose leaf teas from ethical sources, and any added fruits and herbs are all-natural.

So, spend some time thinking about your desired tea product. Do you want to sell flavored teas? Organic teas? Iced teas? Weight loss and detox teas? At this point, it’s worth noting that teas used as sleeping aids are also becoming very popular. So are teas offering an extra caffeine boost to improve the energy needed to study or work.

Take a look at Google Trends to see how the popularity of these products has risen:

Tea Market Trend Report

Then, even within these niches, you need to consider whether you’ll specialize in loose-leaf tea, bagged tea, or ready-to-drink products. Or, if you’ll sell a combination of the above. You may also want to branch out into tea accessories like pots, presses, mugs, or kettles.

Tease Tea, just one of the above mentioned emerging tea brands, focuses on giving this beverage a contemporary, feminine edge. They sell tea blends for every desire, which gives each of their products an emotional appeal. Their brand also supports the empowerment of women.

We recommend studying brands like Tease Tea. They’ve taken an ancient product and given it a modern-day twist. Not only that, but they’ve also found a cause they’re passionate about that’s related to their brand which fuels the ethos of their mission statement. See what they’ve done there? They’ve cleverly established a brand that stands out from the competition—and you can, too!

Starting a Tea Brand: Dropshipping Tea Products

Dropshipping Tea Products

To start your own tea brand, it might not be easy to create your own tea but there are plenty of dropshippers you can source tea products from to get started. Dropshipping enables you to start selling online without purchasing any inventory upfront. Instead, when customers buy something on your site, the order is sent to the supplier, and they ship it directly to your customers from their warehouse.

Some dropshipping suppliers even offer private label or white-label products which can give you even more autonomy over your brand while still keeping the investment upfront low.

If you haven’t heard of “private label before,” it just means that a supplier allows you to place your brand’s label on the packaging of a product they’ve formulated and created. So, even if you didn’t manufacture the product, you can establish your own brand.

You can usually also request a private label supplier to create a unique UPC code for the product packaging if you’re selling with Amazon or other outlets. If this feature is important to you, double-check with suppliers before doing business with them to ensure they can offer this.

You can also use dropshipping apps like Oberlo or AliExpress or check out our Dropshipping Suppliers Directory to find vendors selling tea-related accessories. This is a lower-risk way to get started, and as your business grows, you could then consider creating your own tea-line.

Why sell tea accessories?

It’s a more sustainable business model. Tea-related accessories generally have a higher profit margin. Alternatively, you can also offer tea accessories as an upsell to your drinkable tea products to increase the average order value of each sale.

Either way, when looking for a tea dropshipper, make sure they sell the type of teas and/or accessories you’re interested in selling to your niche market.

The Pros of Dropshipping Tea Products

  • You avoid the work associated with sourcing, stocking, and shipping inventory
  • It takes very little prior investment to get started
  • You have more time to focus on your branding, marketing, and customer service

The Cons of Dropshipping Tea Products

  • Tea products are lightweight, cheap, and ordered regularly. As such, there’s a tiny profit margin to be had when you dropship these items
  • You lose control over sourcing, stocking, and shipping which can impact what you’re able to add to your branded experience
  • Branding can be more of a challenge, depending on the options the dropshipping suppliers provide
  • There will likely be limited access to custom tea blends so you may have to stick with more generic teas

Dropshipping Tips

If you’re considering dropshipping to start your online tea business, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Finding Top Products: Your product will play a major role in your brand, so make sure you find exactly what you’re looking for. If you’re using AliExpress, utilize the “Most Ordered” filter to get a feel for popular products in the tea niche. Then, from the individual product listings, you can check the “Transactions” tab to see how many people have purchased the item. You can also inspect customer reviews to see if ecommerce merchants like yourself are satisfied with the product quality and service provided. Thorough due diligence is essential for finding and working with reliable dropshipping suppliers.
  • Set the Right Price: Don’t forget to account for shipping and marketing costs when calculating the retail price of your products. Most dropshippers aim to sell their products for three to four times what they paid for it. If that sounds reasonable for your brand, use it as a benchmark.
  • Expand Your Offers: Bundle products together and offer complementary products so you can boost average order values!

Buying Directly from Tea Suppliers

How to Find Tea Product Suppliers

Instead of enlisting the help of dropshipping suppliers, you can contact tea leaf suppliers directly. They’ll ship tea products to your home or office and from there, you can then place the tea inside your own branded packaging. If you’re buying loose-leaf tea to pack into tea bags, this might be a time-consuming process so think about which products best suit this approach before placing an order.

If you’re selling tea products from the comfort of your home, you’ll need to consider how much storage space you have for your inventory. Moreover, if you’re handling open tea yourself, check with local authorities to see if there are any food handling regulations you need to abide by.

How to Find Tea Suppliers for Your Tea Brand

To find tea leaf suppliers, do a Google search for ones in your area or ones that are in the area where you want to source tea from. This is the easiest way to get a general idea of both local and globally-based suppliers.

Another useful starting point, and one that could be far less time-consuming than searching on Google, are online databases such as supplier directories. Supplier directories curate all types of different suppliers so merchants who are looking to source products can find what they’re looking for much more easily.

For example, we’ve curated our own supplier directories so our audience can find the kinds of products they’re looking for:

  • Dropshipping Supplier Directory
  • Manufacturers Directory
  • Wholesale Suppliers Directory
  • Private Label Manufacturers Directory

You’ll have to still do your own due diligence and vet any suppliers that you want to work with, but often you’ll find suppliers in a directory that you otherwise wouldn’t have if you were to just search on Google.

Also, another way to source tea suppliers is to attend trade shows where tea suppliers are present. These are fantastic places to create relationships with reliable vendors while simultaneously gaining industry experience—win-win!

Factor the Following Into Your Tea Brand’s Budget

Things to Consider for Your Tea Brand

Selling tea online usually doesn’t require a significant financial investment. You could get started for as little as $100. However, you should budget for the following expenses.

Purchasing Inventory for Your Tea Brand

If you’re not dropshipping your tea products, you’ll need to purchase inventory upfront. You can buy in bulk from wholesalers like the Metropolitan Tea Company for prices as low as $9 for a 250g bag. We suggest ordering samples to taste test the products before selling them.

Tea brand Tease started its journey working with just one large supplier. To begin with, they used the biggest tea importers in Canada and relied on their quality control, consistency, certification, and fair pricing. They purchased all their initial inventory with as little as $500!

Now the brand makes six figures per year and works with a variety of tea gardens to create and sell their own unique blends. They even opened a pop-up store in New York City following a Kickstarter campaign in 2015. Who’s to say you can’t follow in their footsteps?

Branded Packaging for Your Tea Products

Make sure that your supplier can provide plain packaging so you can brand your tea products yourself. You can then use a service like Sticker Mule to print branded labels or work with a packaging supplier like the ones listed in our Shipping and Packaging Directory to create custom packages for your products.

Customizing your product packaging is a straightforward way of stamping your personal touch on your products which helps build your brand.

Building an Online Store for Your Tea Brand

Once you have a product and you know how to brand it, you then need to start selling it online! To do this, you’ll need an online storefront.

Tea Brand Shopify Store

Ecommerce platforms like Shopify (Shopify Review) provide all the tools you need to launch an online store in just a few hours. They also have features that help you handle your inventory, calculate tax, offer various shipping methods, and track all your orders and payments. Shopify’s basic plan costs $29 per month which is the plan most merchants just starting out will need.

Marketing & Growth for Your Tea Brand

As with any business, your marketing and selling strategies are integral to your success. So, budget for any tools or freelancers you’ll need to help you with SEO, email marketing, social media ads, etc.

Tip: Not sure what steps to take once you’ve launched your online store? Confused with all the marketing options and operational aspects of running a new business? Check out our 52 Week Marketing Plan to get started off on the right foot. It walks you through 52 ways to get your new store up and running properly and getting traffic to your site.

Shipping Your Tea Products

If you’re not dropshipping, shipping your products is another cost you’ll need to budget for. This may include finding a courier, warehousing, packaging costs, gas (if you’re delivering to local customers), etc.. These are all things you’ll need to consider both in terms of logistics and how you’ll finance them.

Register Your Tea Business

Before you start selling, research your country or state’s regulations, to determine whether you need to register your business. In Northern America, you can do this through the government’s “Small Business Administration” department.

Laws & Regulations for Tea Brands

It’s worth noting that since tea is a consumable product, there may be specific laws and regulations you need to abide by either locally or even globally if you’re selling around the world. You may need to list the ingredients on your tea’s packaging so that customers can avoid allergens and make an informed purchasing decision or you may need to prove any claims that you might be making with your product (such as if it’s a weight loss or detox product).

So, look into what regulations you need to abide by either in your local area or globally when selling tea, and follow the rules. You may need to consult a lawyer or the Food and Drug regulation body in your area for qualified advice.

It’s also important to note that there may be laws and regulations that limit or prohibit shipping tea either into or out of your country, or into or out of other countries. Do research ahead of time to figure out if there are any tea products or ingredients you can’t import or export, or even tea products that can’t be shipped by air freight so you’re not caught out later.

You’ll also need to detail your refund and return policies on your Terms and Conditions page, as per the laws of your country/state.

Become an Expert About Tea Products

To set yourself apart from competitors, you’ll need to develop and convey a sense of authenticity. This means communicating a genuine love and expertise for your product. One way to do this is to acquire one of a few tea certifications. These are worth their weight in gold when it comes to building credibility and authority in the tea industry.

If you don’t know where to begin with this, the Tea and Herbal Association of Canada provides various certifications in different areas of the tea industry.

Tea Sommelier Certifications

There’s plenty to learn about tea. The whole business relies on the Camellia Sinensis plant, which produces over 1,000 varieties of tea. If you’re aspiring to make a living out of this niche, you should learn about the various types of tea (yellow, green, black, puer, oolong, white, etc.) and how they’re processed.

If you can, visiting a tea estate and speaking to farmers isn’t just a valuable personal experience, but it will also further your industry knowledge, which should translate into a more authentic and credible brand for your tea business.

Creating Content to Get Your Tea Brand’s First Sale

Creating Content for Your Tea Brand

As the creator of Tease stated in an interview with Built With Shopify, reaching new customers can be the hardest part. It took the brand three months to make their first sale to someone who wasn’t family or friends!

Create Tea-Related Content

There are many ways to extend your reach, and creating content is just one such method. Don’t push your products in your content, just offer valuable and exciting content that engages your target audience. As your audience grows, your sales should too! It may take time to establish yourself as an authority and to build a steady stream of customers, so don’t get discouraged in the early days. If you create good products and have good marketing content, you’ll be on the right track to building a successful business.

Once you’ve established a growing audience, try to leverage local media outlets to support your small business. Many communities actively work to help small business owners in their area, so don’t be shy about reaching out.

Don’t Forget About Local Tea Enthusiasts

Marketing and engaging with local tea enthusiasts is an excellent way to gain traction and build your brand identity. You could sell your tea products at markets, in local boutiques and souvenir stores, craft fairs, etc.

Since tea is such a popular beverage around the world, there’s likely to be an active community of tea-lovers in your area!

Partner with Local Cafes

You could also get in touch with local cafes and restaurants to see whether they’d be interested in stocking and serving your tea to their customers. Many smaller cafes like to support local businesses—so collaborating with fellow entrepreneurs in related industries is an excellent way of networking and building valuable relationships.

Are You Ready to Start an Online Tea Brand?

The market for tea has been around for centuries and it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, so if you’re interested in selling tea online, now is a great time to get started!

Remember, the most important consideration when starting any business is to carefully evaluate your chosen niche and find a unique brand approach to stand out from your competition. There are plenty of different tea products, so be prepared to get creative and awaken your inner entrepreneur.

We hope this article has made it a little easier to kickstart your online tea business. Let us know how you get on with your new venture!

This article originally appeared in the A Better Lemonade Stand blog and has been published here with permission.

About the author

Steve Hutt

Steve has entrepreneurship in his DNA. In the early days of online commerce, he achieved Power Seller status at eBay, which then propelled him to become a founding partner of VisionPros.com, a contact lens, and eyewear retailer. After a successful exit from his startup, he embarked on his next journey into agency work in e-commerce and digital strategy.

Currently, Steve is part of the Merchant Success Team at Shopify Plus, where he is a Strategic Advisor helping brands continue to grow and scale with the Shopify Commerce Platform.

To maintain his competitive edge and life of learning mantra, Steve also hosts and produces a top-rated weekly podcast show, eCommerce Fastlane, where he interviews Shopify partners and subject matter experts who share the latest marketing strategy, platforms, and must-have apps, to help Shopify brands build and scale lifetime customer loyalty.