A unique blend of ideas
Taha Bouqdib’s first Moroccan green tea experience catapulted him onto a tea-discovering journey that led him to France, the United Kingdom and Thailand, only to finally establish TWG Tea in Singapore.
A decade ago, in 2007, Taha Bouqdib was a Moroccan living in France who moved to Singapore and who then transformed the luxury tea industry as the world knew it. He began working in the tea industry in France at 23 years old and, 20 years later, established TWG Tea in 2008 in Singapore. Now, still riding on the same passion at 47 years old, his brand exists in 23 countries around the world.
Taha travelled to France, United Kingdom, Thailand and Japan, and eventually chose to establish TWG Tea in Singapore. This was because Singapore’s strong trade made the country very competitive. ‘Its open policies made it one of the easiest places to do business,’ he confessed.
Among the many characteristics that made any business a success like creating original ideas and products, a key and indisputable trait stood out for Taha, ‘passion for your product’. It was with this passion that Taha recollected his childhood memories of tea in Morocco and how it paved the way for his unique blend of ideas for TWG Tea.
Blending ideas for TWG Tea
‘I always had a link to tea since young. Growing up, I lived next to the Chinese Embassy and they’d often offer us calendars and Chinese tea during the holiday,’ he recalled. That was his first discovery of tea after Moroccan green tea. Later in Paris, a French friend who was already working in the tea industry gave him the opportunity to rediscover those same teas. That eventually led him to Singapore.
Prior to this, he had the opportunity to travel and discover teas while working in the luxury tea industry for 20 years in France, Thailand, Japan and United Kingdom. Through this, he grew passionate about introducing the finest teas to the rest of the world. Taha recognised an opportunity to create a new niche luxury following in Singapore, where with his partners, they transformed the industry in 2007 with TWG Tea.
‘I saw Singapore as the gateway to the rest of Asia. It had been integral in allowing us to develop the business. Initially, I chose to establish TWG Tea in Singapore to celebrate the island’s history as a trading post of tea and spice routes,’ Taha said.
Also, he wanted TWG Tea to be at the epicentre of the tea producing regions so that their teas would travel shorter distances pre-blending which resulted in fresher teas with more pronounced nuances and greater complexities on the palate for consumers. It also helped that Singapore was a very young, vibrant and cosmopolitan city with influences from so many cultures around the world – made it the perfect base to launch the business.
The ingredient to TWG Tea’s success
Taha had always perceived Singapore as a luxury destination renowned for its strict requirements for food quality, quality of service, transparency and hygiene. TWG Tea drew and still draws on these same values – offering products of excellence.
Strong trade and investment also made Singapore very competitive and one of the easiest places to do business. It still is. Its many free trade agreements as well as open business policies were definitely a plus point that helped them progress to be the fastest growing luxury tea brand in the world.
‘In terms of tea, there was no dominant tea culture or plantation in Singapore and TWG Tea wasn’t affiliated with any specific tea tradition,’ he observed. ‘It was the perfect neutral base for us to grow internationally, all while celebrating and respecting the fine teas and cultures from every tea producing country in the world.’
800 and Counting
It was hard for Taha to name a favourite blend. ‘Each and every one of our 800 single estates and exclusive tea blends had its own unique quality and characteristics. For me, there was a tea for every mood and for every moment of the day,’ he admitted.
However, there were some teas that evoked certain emotions and nostalgia like TWG’s signature Silver Moon Tea – a blend of green teas with a whisper of spices enhanced by a vanilla bouquet. ‘This was the first tea created for the brand, so it’ll always have a special place in my heart,’ Taha said.
‘My pride and passion in each of our tea, I believe, set us apart from the others in the market. Akin to how a fashion designer or perfumer kept a very close eye on their production process and remained passionate about every piece they launched, our teas were always harvested fresh from source gardens, consisted of whole leaves that didn’t include fannings or dust, were artfully blended with the most fragrant flowers, fruits and spices from around the world,’ he added.
TWG Tea also honoured a lot of life’s momentous occasions with thoughtfully crafted seasonal blends. This process of constant innovation and development has kept the brand relevant to customers while constantly inciting them to come back for more.
Indulging in luxury
As an affordable luxury that appealed to people from all walks of life. We had some of the rarest, most exquisite teas from far flung locations like New Zealand, Hawaii, Malawi that can cost upward of RM300 per 50 grams of loose tea to our more affordable exclusive blends that cost as low as RM21 per 50 grams.
‘With the rise in affluence and travel, I saw a market value for TWG Tea, as customers became more discerning in their search for premium and gourmet products,’ he explained. ‘This created a demand for our luxury teas especially for consumers who travelled the globe tasting exquisite food and developed a palate keen to appreciate the most refined flavours.’
Taha had always felt that digital sales and social media were the future. ‘It was difficult for well-established brands to embrace these opportunities and to incorporate them into brand strategy since the platforms changed so quickly and usage as well as popularity differed in every country,’ he said.
From the start, Taha and his partners embraced the digital world as part of their DNA and didn’t regret it at all. ‘We were the first global tea brand to launch an m-commerce application back in 2013 and targeting to launch a third- generation e-commerce platform later this year that would give even greater accessibility to our brand and products for a younger generation of consumers,’ he said with some pride.
Giving back to society
Being the employers of over 300 employees in Singapore and around 3,000 working for the brand globally, they’ve given back to society in a lot of meaningful ways: Taha created a limited edition tea blend Golden Swan Tea that was chosen by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand herself, of which the profits were all donated to Her Royal Highness’ chosen charity; TWG Tea was the main sponsor of projects such as the Singapore Committee for UN Women SNOW Gala, the Singapore Community Chest, Make-a-Wish Foundation Singapore and Art Outreach Singapore.
‘We should endeavour corporate social responsibility in all areas of our business. From the tea leaves we sourced directly from the gardens, the type of ingredients and material used in our teas and accessories to our human resource strategy,’ he concluded.
Read more exclusive interviews on different businesses on the digital versions of In Focus magazine, issue 1 and issue 2.