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An entrepreneur with a taste for tea has been handed a national business award and expert mentoring after successfully relaunching her business at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Tina Chen was inspired by the bubble tea she enjoyed growing up in Taiwan and California, as well as traditional British tea drinking culture, and combined the two to create a healthy chilled tea latte drink incorporating oat milk.

She founded HumaniTea, the UK’s first chilled, ready-to-drink tea latte brand, in 2018 and found a ready market for her Matcha and Earl Grey flavoured low sugar, low calorie, vegan drinks, which she made by hand and sold at farmers’ markets around London.

But when the pandemic struck, she needed to find a new route to market and moved to relaunch HumaniTea, switching the packaging from bottles to recyclable aluminium cans to extend their shelf life and setting up an ecommerce store.

She started crowdfunding to raise the investment needed and more than 120 supporters together chipped in more than £13,000. That meant Tina could scale up production with a manufacturing partner, without compromising on quality.

As businesses began to reopen, Tina signed up more than 70 outlets, from health food stores to restaurants, to stock HumaniTea. An initial run of 10,000 cans flew off the shelves and a second batch of 24,000 cans is now in production.

Now HumaniTea has been named a winner in the Lloyds Bank Small Business of 2021 awards, which celebrate small businesses across the UK, in recognition of how creatively and quickly it adapted to the challenges of the last year, and how it went over and above expectations.

The prize is a mentoring session with Tamara Lohan MBE, co-founder of the boutique hotel travel specialists Mr & Mrs Smith, who will help Tina find new growth opportunities.
Chief Tea Officer Tina said: “HumaniTea is a healthier dairy-free alternative to coffee latte and gives you natural energy without the crash. I’d love to see it in some larger retailers and we’re also looking at potential export markets, including the US, Australia and Germany.

“I’m also developing new flavours, including healthy functional ingredients like turmeric. But a big part of the business is also to have a positive social impact.
“All ingredients are ethically sourced and, as a social enterprise, 5% of profits are donated to initiatives that support physical and mental wellbeing.

“I’ve also recently taken on my first part-time employee, who was recruited through the government’s Kickstart Scheme.”
Paul Gordon, managing director of SME and Mid Corporates at Lloyds Bank, said: “Tina’s response to the challenges of the pandemic was inspirational. The way that her supporters stepped up to back her vision for the business is testament to the popularity of her products. HumaniTea is a brand with huge potential and Tina is truly deserving of this award.”