Tobago is known for its pristine beaches, beautiful waterfalls, culinary delights and friendly people. But what about its teas? Biana Edwards, owner of TeaBago, believes her traditional teas as well as some new flavours will be appreciated and enjoyed by tea drinkers around the world.
Speaking with Newsday Tobago on Monday, Edwards said TeaBago, which began operations in 2013, creates tea blends using local herbs, plants and, very soon, more local fruits.
She said becoming an entrepreneur was always her goal and credited her mother for steering her onto her current path.
“I started my first business at age 16 with my mother, the late Irma Edwards (of Mount St George) in Los Angeles, California – Irma’s Balloon Creations, we did gifts in a balloon. I remember going to the conference and workshops with her, learning about the machine and actually implementing it into a business," Edwards told Newsday Tobago.
"I also remember the late nights, filling orders and having to go to school the next morning. Many of the orders were for my fellow classmates. The reward came very quickly when we realised returns within a few months of establishing the business."
Edwards said she was at a crossroad when her mother died while she was attending college.
"I had to figure out how I was going to make life work. So, I started another business renting bouncy castles to pay rent and college tuition."
Edwards said her mother's independence inspired her to open the business.
“I admired her freedom of being and I guess I have much of my father’s (Colbourne Edwards of Parlatuvier, deceased) analytical behaviour," she said.
Although her parents played vital roles in developing her business acumen, Edwards said it was her grandmother that made her fond of teas.
“I enjoy creating new blends or products. TeaBago was established with my grandmother in mind. As a child, I recall being sent in the yard to pick bush for ailments, from belly ache to cold to ‘cooling.' We’ve become modernised but our growth has caused us to forget our roots. Bush tea worked – and worked well – with little to no side effects. It really is capturing a taste of tradition and history in a modern way."
TeaBago distributes to local retailers and restaurants. It is available on the shelves at Almandoz Do it Best, Morshed Gourmet Grocer, Bake My Day Café, the gift shop at Mt Irvine Bay Hotel and Happy Gourmet in ValPark, Trinidad.
Though she has built her business with personal funds, Edwards is grateful for the technical support received as well as the various marketing she received through the Tobago House of Assembly.
“I always tell people I have two full time employments: the Tobago House of Assembly and TeaBago. Though tiring, this has allowed me to build the business using personal funds. It does have its downside as I don’t always have the time I need to grow TeaBago. I have been able to establish brand TeaBago and test the market. I’ve received technical assistance from ExporTT. The THA selected TeaBago to attend ExpoCaribe in June and TIC (Trade and Investment Convention) in July."
Edwards said self-belief is important in entrepreneurship.
"We should invest in ourselves, if we truly believe in what we’re doing. There will be a point in TeaBago’s growth, where financing will be required."
The greatest challenge for Edwards, today, is time itself.
“Time to invest in the growth of TeaBago while ensuring I meet my obligations at the THA. I’ve learned patience, allowing time for organic growth,” she said adding that the benefits of being an entrepreneur include the freedom to create, operate and function at her own pace.
“Ideas don’t only reveal themselves Monday to Friday, 8am to 4pm. Little rest, lots of work with a sprinkling of fun and relaxation, because that’s when creativity comes in to play; I consider TeaBago fun, not work.”
According to her, fear is not allowed in the arena of growth.
However, she admitted doubts do arise “especially when things don’t go as planned, but business is part of life and lessons are to be learned either way. Sometimes you may have to go in the other direction but never compromise who you are and what your company stands for.”
Her most gratifying moment in business to date is the involvement of her 19-year-old daughter.
“She may not know it now but she’s gotten some invaluable lessons that the books can’t teach you. I’ve tried to include her as much as I can so that she sees all aspects of what it takes to grow a business.”
Edwards' next move is to develop and expand the brand. And she's done a lot to prepare for the wider market.
“I was Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HAACP) certified in 2017 through the US Grocery Manufacturers Association, along with a few other certification courses held by ExporTT, IICA (Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture) and the THA. As a company, we were involved in export readiness programme with Export TT in 2018. We’re currently partnering with agencies in Trinidad to ensure the product and production is fit for trade.”