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  • Writer's pictureNing

The Great Britain Businesswomen of the Year 2023!

I am delighted to be nominated for The Great Britain Businesswomen of the Year 2023

I started TeaJoy in 2021 but my journey in hospitality started long before that. My parents emigrated to England from China when I was a teenager and opened a Chinese takeaway in Ashford Kent. My family had always been in food, Dad was a prestigious duck Chef in Beijing and my Grandad used to sell dumplings back home.

As a teenager, I would help in the takeaway as Mum and Dad cooked. I would take orders over the phone or serve the customers who came in, in between doing my homework. I was always good at maths so working out change wasn’t a problem but it was long hours and hard work.

I followed a maths career, got a scholarship to LSE for underprivileged students and gained a degree in Mathematics and Economics. I then worked as an Auditor for PWC, travelling around the UK and going through mounds of paperwork in little storage rooms. It wasn't glamorous. I then moved to Coller as an investment and fund accountant, but I still missed hospitality. I like seeing people happy eating food, I missed the experience food creates so whilst at Coller I started to run supper clubs, tried different recipes and learnt what recipes of mine people loved. This then led me to open my restaurant Mamalan named after Mum serving Beijing street food.

Founder of TeaJoy in Mamalan
Ning and Mum

I’ve had Mamalan for 12 years and this is where TeaJoy was launched. In 2019 Covid hit and I sat in my restaurant, thinking how can we survive this? Mamalan was a neighbourhood restaurant and most of our trade was through dining in. I saw online my local community complaining they couldn’t travel to London to get bubble tea. Then I had a lightbulb moment. I thought if they can’t get to London then I will bring them bubble tea, and it might help make a little money for the restaurant. I tried to introduce bubble tea using other company products but found the process complicated, you needed a lot of equipment and the prep time took two hours. I also received complaints from customers that my drinks tasted different in the morning from the afternoon. Tea has a lot of tannin and the flavour changes over time.

So I decided to develop my own bubble tea. It took me 9 months to simplify the process. I came up with a syrup that contains jasmine tea and real fruit juice. I wanted to make it simple for operators so I made recipes that were easy to follow and understand. My new product was a great success and soon I was selling more than 100 cups a day from Mamalan.

The next milestone for TeaJoy came after the lockdown. I was at an operator event and I thought I could maybe sell my bubble tea as a retail product, I sat and asked if anyone knew any retail people, and I explained that I had created a bubble tea that you just add water, ice and shake. The MD of Steak and Company asked if she could try it as an alternative soft drink option. I went and met the senior management team and took one of my bubble tea and a bubble tea from a bubble tea shop, 9 out of 9 prefer mine. They were very impressed and wanted to add to their menus.  We then developed the pairing of tea with boba and I had my first customer.

Over the next couple of years has been a real journey. I had no experience in supplying and creating a brand. Although I have audited warehouses I have never managed my own, learning about importing, food safety regulation and logistics. Understanding what TeaJoy as a brand stands for and what it represents, it's been an eye-opener. In a way, creating a great-tasting and looking product is the easier part, the struggle is all the other stuff that you don’t know and have to learn quickly. 

Ning founder TeaJoy in Taiwan tea field
Ning in Taiwan tea field

I am proud of what we have achieved. You can now find TeaJoy being served in over 500 locations but it still feels like we are only at the foot of the mountain, especially when you are rolling up POS in the spare bedroom. One of our biggest challenges is changing people's perceptions. One of the misconceptions we have worked hard on to break is the stereotype around bubble tea, that it is a niche product, a fad and is only served in Asian venues. 

TeaJoy is sold now in bars, dessert bars, coffee shops, family dining, leisure, higher education, QSR and contract caterers. You can find TeaJoy drinks in national chains like Las Iguanas, Revolution, Heavenly Desserts, Creams, Rosa’s Thai and Black Sheep Coffee. 

We estimate that in 2022, 250k+ TeaJoy bubble teas were served. In 2023, we estimate that over half a million cups of TeaJoy bubble teas have been served.

Being nominated does feel good as it makes you feel your hard work is recognised and that all the ladies on the list deserve the award and praise because it is hard. But as I look forward my ambition is for bubble tea to be part of the mainstream drink options that people find enjoyment and excitement in my drinks. I can replicate moments people had to eat in my supper club or order from Mum and Dad’s takeaway. Food is a great way to bring us together and spread joy, so I raise my bubble tea and say cheers to all the ladies nominated.

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