Afternoon tea is a tradition that has been celebrated across the UK for hundreds of years and one which has played an important role throughout the life of entrepreneur Jane Malyon. In fact, you could say tea was in her blood.
Her great, grandfather Henry Norris ran the Docks of London during the first world war. Henry was put under strict instruction from King George V to keep teapots filled and kettles whistling during such times of austerity.
This story has since been passed down through the generations and Jane, alongside her husband Roger and sons George and Edward, are continuing to tell the tale.
As a child, Jane has fond memories of enjoying afternoon tea with her family, it was something that was a tradition they enjoyed every year without fail.
As she grew older, she continued to carry on the tradition and as she raised her own family, she always ensured they had their yearly afternoon tea; each year, at a different London hotel.
It was in 2011 however when Jane was enjoying afternoon tea and bumped into an elderly woman who told Jane it would be her last ever afternoon tea due to her illness. Her illness was preventing her from being mobile and how she would spend the rest of her days housebound.
It was this chance meeting which provided her with the lightbulb moment to launch The English Cream Tea Company, and now she is picking up where her great grandfather Henry left off, filling tea cups across Britain.
Jane told BQ: “The English Cream Tea Company started out as a business delivering afternoon tea hampers directly to people’s homes.
“I met an old lady who could no longer travel and who’s favourite pastime was afternoon tea. She said to me ‘I’ve had my last afternoon tea ever’ and I thought ‘No! That can’t be!’
“My aim was to resolve the problem and bring afternoon tea to the people. It had to be a special afternoon tea however, really bringing the luxury experience to people’s homes.
“It couldn’t just be some jam or clotted cream arriving by post, but the real London hotel-style experience, from the dainty sandwiches to the assorted cakes, scones, jam, cream… all prepared and delivered to people’s doors!”
Operating on a shoe string budget, Jane’s first task was to design a brand and start thinking of how the business will work.
Aged 55 at the time, she is the first to admit she was a late bloomer as far as entrepreneurs go, but that didn’t deter her one bit.
“I had no funding to launch the business, it wasn’t as if I went out and borrowed £50,000, I literally had nothing,” Jane added.
“To make it happen, I gave shares away to our wonderful web man, Paul Allington, and that’s how we got the site up and running.
“I also gave shares to our branding designer Carol French, who helped design the brand and all of our packaging.
“When you have a team like that in place, you can start to tackle all sorts of things. From here, the business really started to gain momentum.”
With the help of Carol and Paul, Jane had quickly developed a website which was ready to go live and a brand which was ready for business, The English Cream Tea Company.
Her next task was to iron out all of the creases in the business plan. As with any food startup, it had a series of complications attached to it, as Jane quickly discovered.
Quality was the first major issue. Let’s face it, nobody wants off, ugly or distasteful food, especially when they’re preparing for a special occasion.
Another was delivery. If it was to be a successful business, Jane knew they would have to broaden their horizons outside of Essex. But how?
“We had to sort out all of the aspects about how you get beautiful food, not looking blue and furry, but arriving fresh and looking elegant,” she added.
“We had to sort out all of the logistics and have everything passed by the health and hygiene people. Once we did that, we were up and away!”
Jane officially registered The English Cream Tea Company as a company in the historic Essex market town of Dunmow back in 2011 and before she knew it, she was rushed off her feet.
“On our first day of business we got calls from further than we could deliver and we knew we were really onto something.
“We received calls from five different countries. We had enquiries from South Africa, America, China and Australia. We couldn't believe it!
“We couldn’t deliver our fresh scones, sandwiches and smoked salmon that far as it was logistically impossible and we sadly had to decline their custom.
“It was yet another problem to overcome, but a good problem in a way, it was amazing!”
Like any entrepreneur, Jane saw an opportunity for growth and was determined to make it happen. She wasn’t going to let the logistics keep her pinned down.
Decided to power on, she decided to develop her own range of branded gifts and products to accompany the teas, sandwiches and scones which made up her hampers.
Goods like these, with a longer shelf life, would allow her to expand the business into new markets.
“As we continued to grow we decided to develop our own range of ambient treats that would last longer and be easier to deliver.
“They represent the cool aspect of the British afternoon tea custom but don’t contain the bits that could go off after one or two days.
“This included English Cream Tea giftware items, jams and teas, goods which allowed us to ship our hampers across the UK.”
Jane has now shipped thousands of afternoon tea hampers across the UK since the launch of The English Cream Tea Company, the majority of which are gifts.
Every day, Jane and her team of three or four ‘scone gnomes’ prepare their hampers fresh from their Dunmow headquarters, fill out the paperwork and arrange the logistics.
This preparation also includes the team writing out the gift tags that accompany each hamper and with every order, they hear a new story: “We do get some people ordering for themselves but almost all of our products sold are sold as gifts.
“We get to see why people are ordering our hampers when we prepare the boxes. One of todays was, ‘I love you mum have a great birthday’ but sometimes they’re sad messages too.
“We had one last week which was ordered to surprise a woman recovering from brain surgery. She apparently had afternoon tea with five of her friends every year at the Savoy and this year she couldn’t make it due to her illness.
“The message read ‘Please enjoy your tea at 4pm when we have ours and we’ll think about you with every sip!’ it’s so sweet.
“For scenarios like these you can’t send champagne, it can also be odd sending flowers, sending afternoon tea is like sending a huge hug and people have really warmed to it.”
What started as a small ecommerce business delivering afternoon tea directly to peoples homes has now expanded into a fully fledged brand offering a wide range of products and services.
The company is now looking forward to the year ahead which is set to bring with it yet more opportunities.
“We’re hoping to break into the retail sector this year," said Jane, "we have already been signed up by The Royal Horticulture Society which will see us sold at sites across the country and online.
“The British Corner Shop are also set to start stocking our products who represent Waitrose across the globe. It will open up a whole load of new avenues for the company.”
Five years on, and thousands of hampers down the line, it is fair to say Jane is well on her way to achieving her mission of making the nation fall back in love with afternoon tea.
Like any entrepreneur however, there’s always another goal to achieve and Jane has an even more ambitious task ahead of her.
“I can really see us becoming an international brand. We also hope to be stocked in department stores across the UK.
“One major department store we are currently in talks with but that’s all I can say on that at the moment!
“Our giftware I think will really help us break onto the high street and our premium, charming and quintessentially British branding will also help us cement our place overseas.
“Apparently Nelson Mandela once said afternoon tea was our greatest export. I hadn’t realised in the beginning that this was a worldwide phenomenon, not just a British tradition!”