Climate focus underpins UK success of Suki Tea Makers

The Belfast artisan company is behind a novel project to grow tea at a small garden in Portaferry and operates a unique Tea Academy

By Sam Butler
Saturday, 9th April 2022, 3:00 pm

Business partners Anne Irwin and Oscar Woolley of Suki Tea Makers in Belfast saw their enterprise was listed as one of the three best tea companies at what was described as the ‘Biggest Coffee Party on Earth’.

The multi-award winning Belfast specialist in a range of premium teas and fruit infusions was acclaimed at the influential annual London Coffee Festival. While the event, launched 11 years ago, celebrates the achievements of the UK coffee industry, products from the country’s tea blenders also featured along with a wide range of the latest equipment and other supplies for cafes, restaurants and hotels across the UK and Ireland.

More than 30,000 coffee and tea lovers joined industry professionals, including the Suki Tea team, at the event. Many of those taking part in the showcase, which was held at Truman’s Brewery in Brick Lane, inevitably came from the greater London area.

Tea being grown in Kenya

The festival features a programme of events and tastings covering most types of coffee and tea as well as the latest techniques, demonstrations from world-class baristas and interactive workshops. Oscar was a keynote speaker on the market potential of tea during the sessions.

Oscar, who founded Suki Tea Makers in 2005 with Anne, was “thrilled by the recognition at such an influential event for our industry”.

“It’s another important endorsement of our focus on quality and the production of the best tasting loose teas,” he adds. “The festival was such a fantastic celebration of the industry I work in. It was as educational, insightful and as much fun as ever.”

His talk was about how to get the best out of speciality tea.

Enterprising tea blenders Anne Irwin and Oscar Woolley are focused on preserving the environment

The small artisan company was listed among three of the best tea producers with Denmark’s The Brew Tea Company and Teapigs of Brentford.

Based at Twin Spires in Belfast, Suki Tea Makers has also been recognised for its longstanding commitment to sustainability through initiatives such as the elimination of plastics from its packaging. Suki is a long-time member of Food NI which is collaborating with Tourism NI to encourage sustainability within the food and drink and hospitality industries across NI. It’s a perfect role model for the initiative.

Suki Tea Makers is now among must successful and awarded companies in NI. It has won a host of UK Great Taste, winning a regional gold fork, and Blas na hEireann awards for its premium quality teas and fruit infusions which are widely available throughout Britain, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

The company, based in west Belfast, has even exported teas and infusions to Japan, Rwanda, Kenya, Poland, the Netherlands and Belgium. It sources its tea from a range of ethical and quality focused suppliers especially on plantations in Kenya.

Tea plants being grown by Suki in Portaferry

Suki, in addition, is behind a novel project to grow tea at a small garden in Portaferry, Co. Down which will, in time, offer opportunities for local visitors and tourists to learn more about tea. It operates a unique Tea Academy at its base in west Belfast for chefs, café owners and others wishing to learn more about how tea is grown, blended, packaged and, perhaps above all, enjoyed.

Oscar continues: “At Suki Tea Makers, we’ve always believed quality is defined by what we source and what we deliver. We haven’t ever settled - and won’t ever settle - for anything that is second best. This has been the driving force behind our vision since the very beginning of the business and our launch at the iconic St George’s Market in Belfast.”

The enterprising business continues to feature prominently at what is now NI’s biggest and most acclaimed artisan food hub in the Victorian market.

It’s widely seen as a business that cares about people and the planet, from open and responsible sourcing to how the teas are packaged and transported to customers in all the diverse markets it now serves. Operating in a socially, economically and environmentally sustainable manner is now the cornerstone of everything the company does.

Suki’s successful tea pyramids, for example, are now made from paper, yarn and a special material called Soilon, meaning unlike some traditional teabags, the bags are completely natural and plastic-free. Made from corn starch, Soilon is a naturally derived product that is fully compostable and so can be disposed of in a food waste bin.

“This means that the packaging is now as environmentally friendly as the tea that goes inside it. Boxes for retailers are also made from sustainably sourced cardboard and are either pre-printed using vegetable-based inks or use a paper-based label,” adds Oscar.

Suki was among the first to sign the Climate Action Pledge from Business in the Community here and is a founding member of the Responsible Small Business Network in NI.