Every culture has their own expression of tea, says T2 Tea CEO, Nicole Sparshott. “People understand the gesture of tea,” she tells The CEO Magazine, “whether you offer somebody a chai in India, a builder’s brew in the UK, a Moroccan mint in Morocco or an apple tea in Turkey. They understand the hospitality, the warmth, the generosity and the invitation to have a conversation that comes with it. It’s a real human truth.”
Born from humble beginnings in Melbourne, Australia, T2 was built in 1996 with a vision to reimagine ancient tea rituals for modern tea drinkers. “We’re not traditional tea,” Nicole asserts. “In many ways, we’re quite anti-establishment in the way we present ourselves in the tea category. We do that deliberately because we want to almost infuse the mastery of tea with real artistry and design to create a world of tea like no other. We like to pride ourselves on tea done differently; respecting its beautiful ritual, honouring the tradition and history, and at the same time, turning it on its head and presenting a very modern take on a very ancient beverage.”
Leading the company
Nicole has always had an entrepreneurial and creative spirit and this, coupled with her passion for brands that could reinvent themselves for diverse markets, led her to work at some of the world’s most recognised companies, including The Coca-Cola Company, Procter & Gamble and now, consumer goods giant, Unilever. “I found my niche in being part of a business that could create brands in a very multi-market fashion,” Nicole says. “And in a company that also had a positive impact on people and the environment. That’s what gets me up in the morning; being able to create an impact beyond just the products we sell.”
One of Nicole’s biggest milestones with Unilever was working on its acquisition of T2, which it completed in 2013. “We had been looking around the world for beautiful brands that had something incredibly distinctive to offer, particularly in the categories that we’re already famous for – of which tea was one,” Nicole says. “We fell in love with T2 for a whole host of reasons, particularly because we saw the potential to take this beautiful business beyond Australia and share it with the world. We wanted to create a T2 generation on every continent.”
“We wanted to create a T2 generation on every continent.”
Three years later, Nicole was sworn into the top job at T2. “We’re a business that has its heart and soul in bricks-and-mortar retail,” Nicole says. “We invite customers into our playground of tea, creating evocative blends inspired by all walks of life, innovative brew tools to make the best cup at home or out and about, and gorgeous teawares to make any moment special. Above all, we want to stimulate curiosity, experimentation and an appreciation that in celebrating diversity, there is beauty to be discovered.”
From the streets of Melbourne, T2 has since sailed into the hearts of tea lovers in the UK, the US and more recently, Asia. Its first store in the region opened in Singapore in 2017, which Nicole describes as the company’s ‘gateway into Asia’. “Singapore as a market has got a wonderfully rich tea culture, because you have the influence of China with all of the beautiful Chinese green teas and oolongs, and such a strong appreciation for the mastery and the history of tea,” Nicole says. “Then you have Indian and Malay influence – like the teh tariks and chai teas, which are more milky, sweet-based teas. And then you have the English colonial influence. It makes Singapore a beautiful melting pot for tea.”
What Nicole enjoys the most about Singapore is the way its people are very open to innovation and experimentation. “Where we found our real niche in the Singapore market is people’s desire to try something different and, particularly for millennials, to find their own unique expression of tea,” she says.
Innovation is taken very seriously at T2 and it is used to help keep up with different tea trends. “We’ve got a lot of really nice macro trends in our favour with people around the world,” Nicole says. “We’re particularly seeing that the Australian, UK, US and Asian markets are more wellness-conscious than ever before and are wanting to make really good choices. And tea is fantastic for all the goodies that it offers.
“We have over 200 blends of tea at any point in time and we’re constantly innovating – every eight weeks – because there’s so much you can do with a single Camellia sinensis leaf. It can be reinterpreted and reimagined in so many different ways. There’s a lot more of a desire to have tea for different occasions; to kick start the morning or to calm you at night. There is a real ground-swell of momentum from customers around tea.”
“Where we found a real niche in the singapore market is people’s desire to … find their own unique expression of tea.”
The company’s success wouldn’t be complete without the support of its suppliers and partners. “The interdependency of the different partners, suppliers, agencies and our own team is what really makes this company great,” Nicole says. “You need a strong vision, a fantastic strategy, tremendous people that are passionate in your organisation, and a great network of partners that bring it to life.”
“Our job is to provide pure quality teas to the Unilever premium tea brand T2 Tea. We are lucky to be working with a fantastic team at T2 Tea, motivated by a professional approach to work together for the success of the brand.” – Marcus Wulf, Managing Director/Main Shareholder, HTH Hamburger Teehandel GmbH Im- & Export
There are so many plans for T2 in the future including a stronger investment in technology, ensuring greater diversity and inclusivity in the business, and sustainability. “We have a focus on optimising our supply chain to deliver to our ambition of being sustainable in all we do. We have made great progress to date and we have more work to do. We want to ensure that as we grow, we do it in a responsible way for both the planet and the communities we serve. We will always have our T2 signature on this: the diversity of our teas – and our teams ensure that we always keep a view on doing things differently – and embracing the new, unusual and unfamiliar to create a surprising and enduring experience for our customers,” she says.