A career spent staying in hotels and consulting for companies exposes a person to two things. The innovative ways hot beverages are provided in the former and the world of ill-supplied kitchens in the latter.
Ricky Kothari, co-founder is the CEO of T-Sticks Of London, a company that set out to re-engineer the way we serve fine tea .
In September he won the Business Person category at The Wharf Innovation In Business Awards 2016 where the judges praised his remarkable drive and bottomless appetite for making sales.
He began his career working in management consultancy at PricewaterhouseCoopers and the PA Consulting Group in the City.
But it was in one meeting his entrepreneurial spirit found its focus and everything began to change.
He said: “I was about to head into a meeting, making a cup of tea, when I realised the kitchen I was in had no clean teaspoons – so I had to use my finger or find a pen to remove it.
“Five minutes later I was in the boardroom pulling my jacket tight across my belly, trying to hide the tea stains on my crisp white shirt and avoiding the gaze of one of my clients, who asked me afterwards if I was OK.
“Later I saw the Nescafe packaging for coffee in my hotel room, and wondered if I could find something similar, only perforated, that could be filled with tea instead and stirred in water. That was my epiphany.”
While Coffee has been subject to a great deal of innovation over the years, tea has largely been left behind, according to Ricky who believes there’s a place for his “disruptive product” despite the decline in the UK’s home-brew market thanks to the rise of high street cafe culture.
“When you leave a tea bag in a mug, it over-brews,” he said. “The tannin from the tea leaves continues to release.
“With our product you control this release by stirring. The stronger you like the tea, the more you stir. And you don’t need a teaspoon.”
In addition to this, Ricky believes the larger loose-leaf tea that fills his T-Sticks provides a better flavour than the dust found in conventional bags. His company’s tea specialist, Justin, who used to work at London retailer Fortnum And Mason, sources blends from South Africa, Kenya and Sri Lanka.
Ricky, who co-founded the company with his old school friend Kim Li, says before teabags hit the UK, the country was addicted to the teapot and its superior taste.
So his more expensive alternative to the teabag is aimed at a more discerning crowd and he expects connoisseurs to make the leap.
Based in Whitechapel’s Commercial Road, employing staff largely from east London Ricky’s company serves clients far and wide. While it sells some of its 120,000 sticks a day to farm shops, delicatessens, nursing homes and spas, the rest go to China.
“That’s right; we sell tea to China,” said Ricky. “We’re on our fourth shipping container, in fact.
“In England we’re rather traditional as a nation, but in China they’re more open to change. The young generation is not ingrained in the teabag tradition.
“It’s a more progressive market. They’ve already got a desire for UK brands, and they’re always on the lookout for something different.”
The company’s first T-Stick was produced in 2013, and became the base product for a business-to-business enterprise that included The Grove hotel in Watford, training home to the England football team.
A subsequent launch into the consumer market began in July 2015 and today the company produces many flavours including Zen Green And Lemon, Minty Moroccan Green, Rocking Rooibos and Earl’s Favourite. It has also added a range of coffee sticks. And all this from a self-funded company that began with a budget of £100. As for Ricky, he sets great store by the advice and encouragement he received along the way.
Early on, Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson told him he saw potential for the product on business and first class flights and David Cameron (then Prime Minister) praised its disruptive qualities as an example of something he’d like to see more of.
With the China contract in the bag, so to speak, Ricky’s hands are fuller than ever, although we can safely assume his fingers remain tea stain-free.
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