Original article published in QX Magazine August 2020 (in Swedish)
By Ronny Larsson
Statistics say that 15 percent of Swedes primarily drink tea if they are in the choice between coffee and tea. The couple Håkan Kjellström and Ola Andersson are working to grow that figure. Together they have built up Tekompaniet, which imports quality tea to Sweden and thus ensures that the status of tea grows.
Håkan and Ola met on RFSL chat in the late 1990s. Håkan had a lot of dreams about Asia and starting an import company. Ola kicked him in the butt.
"I thought it was just a matter of getting started," Ola laughs. After a small sidetrack related to wine accessories, Håkan put all the focus on tea imports.
Tekompaniet was founded with the goal of raising the status and offering Swedes good ethical and sustainable premium tea. By travelling around hundreds of restaurants, hotel and conference facilities, from north to south of Sweden, the couple has today built a company that has ten employees.
"We were on the road five days a week, from morning to night, and everywhere it was the same attitude: "There's a little Earl Grey in a basket over here", Håkan says and continues:
"Most people went for good coffee, but when it came to tea, there was only some cheap fuss. A bit like red wine drinkers are served premium wine while white wine drinkers get a sour Bag-in-Box wine. So we gave them knowledge and a new view of tea.
Ola previously had a job in the IT business world, but left it to work with Håkan. It wasn't easy to combine cohabitation with working together in the beginning.
"We broke up both once and twice in the first few years," Ola laughs and continues:
"So after a while we realized that when we go home, we don't talk about work anymore.
Almost 90 percent of Tekompaniet's turnover relates to restaurants, hotels and conferences. Add to this the fact that their products are available from retail food giants such as Citygross, Ica, Mathem and Hemköp. Mainly Sri Lankan Dilmah Tea, but also own Indian premium teas Life by Follis, Follis Classic and Tekompaniet's Selected Loose-leaf tea. All double certified as EU organic and Fairtrade. An important ingredient in Tekompaniet's profile is to ensure the organic origin of the tea and that production has a low environmental impact. Håkan visits suppliers and plantations annually and talks to people along the production chain.
"For us, it is important to cut all intermediary suppliers and give the customer a fresh product. When we started, we realized that some teas can at worst be ten years old from the time the leaves are picked to they end up in your cup of tea. It's unsustainable," says Håkan. Fairtrade labelling means better conditions for growers and employees to improve working and living conditions. A tea picker earns about SEK 300/month (EUR 29,50/USD 35,50). "In Sri Lanka, for example, we have also focused on supporting various women's projects. We think it is extremely important that Tekompaniet supports where we can," says Håkan. Black tea is the largest tea category in Sweden. Earl Grey and English Breakfast are still the biggest, but the trend of spicy herbal teas, that is, what abroad is called "infusions" such as Roiboos, has gained ground. "A lot has happened since we started, tea drinking creeps further down the ages, but above all the quality has been raised," says Håkan.
– Look at what flavour you like, should it be neutral, fruit, spices or herbs? But above all, don't just think of tea as a hot cozy drink. We usually offer cocktails and mocktails with tea as a base. If you're an inveterate coffee drinker, maybe iced tea might be something," says Ola.
"Another tip is to change the cheese tray's red wine to different hot teas. It produces unexpected flavour combinations. Or try a strongly brewed tea to a steak with sauce and potatoes. Or a red tea/Rooibos for meatballs and lasagna. In Asia it is seen as a meal drink, just look at how green tea is most often accompanied with sushi, Håkan urges.
In the future, Tekompaniet will be seen in the QX Magazine, the commitment to businesses that mean a lot to them is also evident at home:
So, do you drink tea yourself every day?
- Absolutely! Håkan is a little unfaithful and alternates with coffee.I'm a faithful tea drinker, though," laughs Ola.