Yorkshire is pretty famous already for its tea, but James and Jade Dawson want to put the county on the tea map for another reason.
The couple gave up lucrative jobs in Dubai to return to Harrogate to create t plus drinks, their vitamin enriched tea company.
Being tea lovers and health conscious, they wanted to create a ‘super’ tea, a tea that not only tasted good, but was good for you.
“We knew green tea was super good for you, natural and bursting with heart healthy antioxidants,” says James. “However, it’s a bit of an acquired taste and can sometimes be too bitter or just a bit boring.
“Herbal tea had the same problem, super functional botanicals, but the taste equivalent to drinking nettle flavoured water didn’t really work for us.
“Fruit tea (sometimes) hit the flavour button, but there was nothing else really going on in the cup, despite the name there’s usually no trace of tea, just a few fruit pieces and artificial fruit flavour enhancers.”
So, seeing a gap in the market this business savvy couple set about further research and product development.
“We were both working in Dubai at the time and neither of us in the food and beverage sector,” explains James who worked in IT for IBM in London when he graduated from university eight years ago.
“I had a pretty good job that took me to South Africa and the Middle East. But even while I was at university I had this idea for a vitamin enriched tea but as I started work I put it to the back of my mind.”
But the idea never really went away and after he met and married Jade the pair talked increasingly about the idea.
“I have been watching the culture of tea drinking changing over the years. Tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world and in this country the preference had mainly been for lack tea,” explains James.
“But the landscape has been changing. Over the last five years black tea is being increasingly replaced by green and herbal teas. I watched the market starting to change and I realised that if I was going to launch t plus it was now or never.”
After around 18 months of research and development which involved collaboration with a nutritionist, finding the right tea from Sri Lanka and finding backers, the pair were ready to launch t plus.
“We wanted t plus to be based in Harrogate, although this did mean a lot of travelling to London for me in the early days. I was born in Scotland but moved to Harrogate when I was five, we didn’t want the business to be anywhere else.”
They were well aware that tea was one of the most saturated of markets and so they had to make their product unique.
“We wanted to create something that tangibly made a difference. We wanted to make the most nutrient dense and best tasting tea on the market.”
Each cup of t plus amounts to 50 per cent RDA (recommended daily allowance) in essential vitamins, including vitamins B12 and C.
Equally as important to the couple as their nutritious super tea, was the need to make a wider difference.
“We wanted to use our good fortune to help others,” says James.
“I had come across Vitamin Angels while I was working in South Africa. They work with malnourished adults and children across the world, giving them access to essential vitamins. We knew we wanted to work with them but we wanted to do something tangible which is why we give 10p from every box of t plus sold to the charity.
“It might not sound like much but for a start up like ours it is a great deal, but when you think that two boxes of t plus is enough to give vitamin A for a year it is worth it.”
Once they had their products - four teas with different health benefits and flavours - the leg work really began.
“We had a stall at Leeds Briggate Market, it was important for us to speak to our customers to learn what was working. We also visited health food shops and I was travelling by coach to London twice a week.”
Things were made a little more complicated when not long after the launch of t plus in 2015, little Spencer Dawson came along.
“He keeps us busy that’s for sure,” laughs James. With an 11 month old and a new business to run there isn’t much time for much else.
And while there was a lot of interest in their products their big break came when they won a start up business awards, which not only raised the profile of t plus but gave them invaluable mentoring.
They are now in 100 independent stores, Ocado, Wholefood and just last week Holland and Barrett agreed to put them in more than 700 of their stores nationwide.
“We’re so happy to have a listing with Holland and Barrett. We set out to create something truly unique and innovative in the world of hot drinks and have tried to make something that will resonate with the new generation of health conscious consumers,” says James.
They are also looking to expand their export business, already having a loyal following in Belgium, Sweden, Estonia, Greece and the USA.
There also plans to expand the brand into other areas, including an iced tea planned for 2018.
But the main thing for James and Jade is that they keep their ethos of creating a product with tangible health benefits.