Tea Time with Nirmal Sethia

  28.07.2018 Profile

The Newby Boutique Gstaad is located at the top end of the promenade in the former Adler building, renamed Chalet Chitra. Opened in December 2017, it contains Newby’s luxury teas and reflects the philosophy of the company’s founder, Nirmal Sethia. Newby Teas aims to sell the finest tea, revive tea culture and increase knowledge of the rich history of tea.

Mr Sethia, thank you for meeting with GstaadLife. I understand that you are on a mission to re-introduce the culture of fine tea; in addition to founding Newby Teas, you have established a significant private collection of historic teaware. Can you tell us what inspired you?
My first love was tea. After a career of running the family business, my late wife Chitra encouraged me to return to this first love. I feel that I’ve lived for hundreds and hundreds of years and that I've always known and been in love with tea. It's amazing. Something tells me tea is like a beautiful woman: never to be known for her appearance but to be judged by her character. And that's what tea is.
In order to trace the history of tea and to honour the memory of my late wife I started the Chitra Collection. It is the largest selection of teaware in the world and includes almost 1,700 items, some of which date back thousands of years. The complete collection has been valued at over US$ 300m – one item alone, “The Egoist”, is a teapot worth US$ 3m.
Can the Chitra Collection be visited online?
Yes. We have a wonderful interactive website at www.chitracollection.com.

What makes Newby tea so special?
Newby has a network of suppliers and we only buy their peak-season tea. This is tea picked during the prime months of the tea season – what is known as the first flush for green tea and second flush for black tea. We only buy tea during these two months, then store and preserve it.

How do you preserve your tea?
In 2005 we built a packaging unit to preserve our tea in the best possible conditions. The biggest “enemies” of tea are heat, humidity and contamination. Tea is a forest leaf; it absorbs humidity. Moisture destroys the character of tea. To counteract this, we designed a unique packaging facility where we treat the tea with utmost dignity: we have air conditioning, air purification and a dehumidification system. Once the tea has been packaged in this facility it can be preserved for many years without losing its character.

I understand that tea can vary in price enormously?
Indeed. Fine tea can range in price from US$ 2m to 20m per kilo. The quality of the tea that we sell in the retail market is priced at approximately US$ 100 per kilo. The next quality level is the tea we use for gifting, for wedding anniversaries, marriages and other events like Christmas and New Year.

How has the tea culture evolved historically?
The Portuguese discovered tea in the 15th century in China and the finest of the fine teas were sent to Europe. Before that, in the 7th century, tea from China had already reached Japan, where it had become part of the culture of the Buddhist monks. Within their rituals, they established a ceremony where they made and drank the tea in order to keep awake during their meditation. Personally, I believe that there is a strong connection between meditation and tea.

Would you consider fine tea as a good investment?
If you ask me, it’s the greatest investment on this earth. Fine tea, properly preserved and sealed for posterity, is better than any stock, better than gold and diamonds for your children and grandchildren. The tea you buy for US$ 1,000 today, may be worth US$ 50,000 or even US$ 500,000 in the future.

With so much competition in the world of marketing, how do people discover Newby luxury teas?
We recently conducted some research to find out where and how people found out about us. The majority said that they had tried Newby tea in the hotel or restaurant and loved it so had gone online to buy it. Our online portal is a good place to showcase our products and it's given us very good penetration into the market.

Newby Teas seem to place a strong emphasis on design. What is your relationship with the design companies?
I would say that we are led by both quality and design. The philosophy of Newby is very much linked to design and the art of making tea. The Chitra Collection has many unique hand-made items that date back centuries; we have derived a great deal of inspiration from these pieces for our packaging.

Through sponsorship and collaboration we work with various partners – for example London Fashion Week, which attracts a young affluent audience, interested and keen to try new trends. Last year we partnered with Frieze London 2017, the largest contemporary art fair in the UK. This year we sponsored Collect 2018, the Craft Council’s international art fair for contemporary objects. We have also sponsored the Clerkenwell Design Week, a festival of design.

Would you say that young people are your principal demographic?
We've looked at our audience and it's not necessarily the very young; it is rather people who have reached a specific level in their careers and have a disposable income. We do, however, identify a young audience that is trendy and into eating healthy foods. Well-being is a significant part of this trend and tea plays a big part – for instance, people switch from coffee to tea, then to drinking green tea as opposed to black tea. A prime demographic of our country audience is Generation X, the 45-55 age bracket. We also have a demographic that we refer to as “country wealth”. This includes people who are retired, have big homes and good pensions. Another demographic is mothers who are keen to develop healthier lifestyles. These “Mummy bloggers” as we call them are quite active. So, the audience is relatively diverse and I believe that we are in a good position because everyone drinks tea.

What strategy have you adopted for the development of Newby Teas in Switzerland?
We started in 2014, focusing primarily on the Swiss Romande and, by 2016, had created a presence here. We have established partnerships with well-respected institutions that have exacting quality standards. Our initial focus has been on hotels and restaurants, tourism, education and health clinics. This is proving successful and we now have relationships with some of the most prestigious hotels, hotel schools and private clinics in the area.

We have also had considerable interest from high-end retail outlets such as Globus and Caviar House. Our most recent development in the last couple of years has been with the corporate sector where we are developing an extensive range of products for corporate gifting.

What is the role of your store in Gstaad?
Mr Sethia has always liked Gstaad. When he had an opportunity to purchase the Adler building, now Chalet Chitra, we decided to open our flagship boutique on the ground floor. It provides an excellent showcase for all our products, including the higher-end products for corporate gifting. We want the boutique to provide the public with an opportunity to discover fine tea.

What is your philosophy with respect to your customers?
One of Newby’s objectives is not just to sell tea but to educate people about tea: its history, its culture and the different qualities and subtleties of the range of teas we produce. We have an extensive product line of fine teas, including loose-leaf, silken pyramids and teabags. Customers can discover these products at our boutique in Gstaad or visit our online site at www.newbyteas.com . We also have a network of high-end hotels that function as ambassadors for us; by serving our products they help to raise awareness of Newby Teas.

We offer many private tastings of our tea to buyers and consumers. During the tastings we explain the origin and background of the tea, how it is preserved and the best way to prepare it. I think it is fair to say that all of us at Newby are enthusiastic about fine tea and try to share this enthusiasm with our clients. I’m happy to say that this strategy seems to be working. We find that many customers who have tasted our tea subsequently visit our boutique and connect with us online.

Guy Girardet

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