An enterprising West Kirby couple have turned their shared love of a nice cup of tea into an exciting new business.
Gary and Hannah Shannon have launched Lucky Cup Tea to help satisfy the UK’s growing enthusiasm for innovative new blends of the nation’s favourite drink.
Liverpool-born Gary, and his wife Hannah, from Sheffield, moved to West Kirby in search of a major lifestyle change after being part of the metropolitan whirl of London, where they both held senior executive roles.
“We met in London and had our children in London and had a great time,” says Gary. “I’m a fan of London and didn’t flee here hating the capital.
“But we both felt it was time to make a decision about life. Our boys were five and three, and we had to decide whether to do what we were doing with minor adjustments for the rest of our lives, or take this opportunity for a change with our kids the age they were.
“What sort of life did we want for us and for them, both personally and as a family and professionally? We both felt we’d loved London but it wasn’t everything we ever wanted to do and it was time to look at a different way of life.”
Despite his Liverpool roots, Gary had not ventured much further into Wirral than New Brighton as a child. He only discovered West Kirby when he visited an old school friend who had moved to Frankby and recommend that he take his two sons to the beach.
“It was quite a revelation,” says Gary. “I thought it was a lovely place and not just because it was a nice physical environment but there is something quite cool about it as well. It felt like somewhere we could enjoy living and raise a family and meet people.”
Hannah is now head of communications at Claire House Children’s Hospice, while Gary, who had worked at major advertising and digital agencies in London, does consultancy work with a marketing agency in Manchester.
But the idea of launching a business of their own, which they had created and could be proud of, was a key factor in their move.
One of Gary’s major clients in the London advertising world was Unilever’s Lipton Tea, a massive international brand.
“Working with Lipton I personally started to discover tea in a much more interesting way, and the change in the way people were viewing tea, certainly outside the UK. Hannah is a massive tea person and always has been so it is a shared interest.
“Internationally, people have fewer preconceptions of what tea can be and how you drink it and when you can drink it. We’ve lagged a bit in the UK but that is changing rapidly.
“Tea is a wonderful world and a fascinating combination of so many things, and the combination is greater than the parts. It is a very visually beautiful world and smells are amazing, too. The look and the smell and the taste all combine.”
Gary’s enthusiasm for tea shines through as he talks about their own blends, appropriately enough over a cuppa at Hardy’s Kitchen in Banks Road, West Kirby, one of the first cafes to stock Lucky Cup Tea.
Louise Hardy, owner of Hardy’s Kitchen, stops by our table as we talk, and confirms: “We love it and we are delighted with it. Everyone who has tried it has really enjoyed it.
“We recommend it to our customers and people’s instant reaction is to go for it. We get lovely comments when they do. The fact that it is created by a local company is a real winner.”
Launched just two months ago, Lucky Cup Tea already offers 15 different blends. They range from real energy boost, caffeine rush blends to teas that are great to relax and unwind with, and from black teas to green teas and fruit and herbal infusions.
Choices include Headstart, an Argentinian-inspired espresso of the tea world, Into the Mangroove, which is a black tea with tropical fruits, and the caffeine free Pancake Flip, inspired by a New York brunch and with a flavour of blueberry pancake.
I opt for Indian Summers, a chai made with black tea. It has the traditional chai ingredients of cardamon and ginger, together with aniseed and chilli to give it a delicious kick.
While tea is a very traditional product, you get the sense that Lucky Cup Tea is the kind of contemporary craft business that is only possible with the communications networks of the 21st century – bringing together skills and ingredients from all over the world.
Gary and Hannah come up with the imaginative concept for each tea, and then use the services of a master blender based in Kent to put together the perfect combination to fulfil their brief. Their latest challenge to him has been to come up with a fiery Oriental tea that looks like Bruce Lee’s track suit in Game of Death.
Then the packaging is created by a designer and brand expert who trained at St Martin’s College in London but is based in Bucharest, conferencing with Gary and Hannah via Skype. All the packages have a linked stylistic theme, but each has a unique design to reflect the ingredients in the individual tea.
“Hannah has a very strong visual sense,” says Gary. “We started with retro travel posters in mind. We loved the energy and optimism of that.”
The teas get mixed by hand in a facility in Kent, and then packaged for distribution.
“We are working in the craft world, where everything is made with care and love rather than being part of a big conglomerate world of mass production,” says Gary.
As well as Hardy’s, Lucky Cup Tea is available at Ness Gardens, at Deli 1386 in West Kirby, and will soon to be on the menu at Billy and Victoria Preston’s new West 34 bistro. They also sell online to customers all over the UK.
They are looking next to make Lucky Cup Tea available in Hoylake, Heswall, Parkgate, and then Liverpool, Chester, and Manchester.
“I want it to be available in places that reflect the brand and product that it is,” says Gary. “I want it to grow in the right way where it feels like it is a special product.
“It is high quality tea very carefully blended. But tea can be a fun, enjoyable experience without being too complicated, and our tea is for normal people. It is not elitist or snobbish.”