Staying put

More than 1.54 million people work from home for their main job, according to data from the Office of National Statistics. It’s a trend which has increased by nearly 75% over a decade. Another 2.66 million work in different places but use their home as a base.

In Chiswick it’s easy to see why you’d opt to stay here rather than squeeze yourself on to a crowded train and journey to work with your nose in someone else’s armpit, and many people have chosen to try and build a business working from home rather than put themselves through that every day – or even most days.

Zoe Nixon is one Chiswickian who decided to make a go of it, building her business blending and selling quality teas from the kitchen table. I met Zoe to find out how her business had developed over the four years she’s been doing it.

Photographs above: Zoe Nixon on a tea plantation in Kenya; her Tutti Frutti blend

The Kettle Shed

If you meet someone for the first time and ask them what they do, tea blending isn’t top of the list of jobs you might expect to hear, in west London anyway. How does an English woman with no family history of owning or running tea plantations, or blending or selling anything, become a tea blender?

The answer was that she went on a spiritual business course. Zoe used to be a banker, but as a single mother found it hard to do that job and have any time with her daughter. She went looking for ideas. ‘If you could do anything you wanted and money was no object, what would you choose to do?’ she was asked. Her answer was that she’d like to run a cafe – “an extension of her kitchen table, where people would read, date, fall in love, relax”. That’s a 24/7 kind of occupation, so really no better than banking. What’s along those lines? Something which is related to having a cafe? Offering warm beverages, but from your kitchen at home? By the end of the weekend she had fixed on tea blending.

She did a tea masters course and started making her own blends at the kitchen table. She took them to farmers markets and sold them direct from a stall. As the business grew she outsourced the blending, while keeping control over what goes into the teas, and she now supplies shops and cafes – Rhythm & Brews, Tamp, Angie’s Little Food shop and Lemon & Limes in Chiswick – as well as selling direct online.

Award-winning blends

She now has 19 different flavours – several of them award-winning. Her Bang On breakfast tea, Tutti Fruity and Darjeeling have all won Great Taste awards. A panel of over 500 experts – chefs, buyers, food writers and retailers – do the judging, and the industry awards are a trusted seal of approval. Perhaps the most unusual is her Carrot Cake tea – a Redbush base, with cinnamon,carrot, mallow flowers and almond slices.

She sells all over the UK, but mainly in London. “I try and keep everything ethical” she says. The tea bags are made from vegware, eco-friendly catering packaging. Some cheap tea bags have plastic in them, she says, whereas hers you can compost. The cardboard boxes are also fully recyclable.

She also works in homeless shelters and donates a cup of tea to a homeless person for every box sold in a store or cafe. Shelter from the storm in Islington, Wimbledon guild, Ealing and Hounslow winter church shelters and Look Ahead in Hackney are among those where she’s given and made tea. “They don’t really like the speciality teas. They ask for ordinary tea, so I go and buy cheap ones to the same value and make that”.

Zoe has recently been to Kenya with her daughter Darcy, aged eight, to a plantation in Limuru to see how tea is grown and picked. Her company is too small to buy direct. Most of the farms in the area are contracted to Unilever, so her purpose was not to buy on this trip. but to learn more about the farming of tea. She mainly buys through a tea broker, but she does find the Department of Trade and Industry helpful in suggesting farms to work with.

Four years in, what’s next in developing the business? She’s now looking to sell to hotel chains. So if you know of any in need of some funky, ethical, quality teas, give her a ring. 

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: Staying put – Profile of Victoria Daskal, founder of Mummy Wine Club

See also: Staying put – Profile of Shelly Nuruzzaman, founder of Bang! curry