Annie s Tea Time

Whittard of Chelsea United States

Union Court, 22 Union Road
United Kingdom

Company Perspectives:

Whittard of Chelsea has been specialising in the finest teas, coffees and gifts since 1886. We pride ourselves on our reputation for quality and innovation.

Walter Whittard, the firm's founder, had a philosophy to "buy the best." The success of the Whittard product range lies in an uncompromising attitude towards quality of product and packaging.

History of Whittard of Chelsea Plc

Whittard of Chelsea Plc appears finally to have found the right blend for its growing chain of tea and coffee shops. The London-based company, which originated as a tea trader in the 1880s, operates more than 100 specialty shops throughout the United Kingdom. The company also operates boutique shops in major department stores around the world, including in Japan and, in the United States, through Marshall Field's. The company's own stores, which average 100 square feet of selling space in order to preserve a feeling of intimacy and quality, stock more than 50 blended and single estate teas, as well as nearly 20 coffee varieties, and a range of hot chocolate and other drink types. The Whittard shops also sell teapots, cups and saucers, and other china and service related to tea and coffee, and most of the designs sold in the stores are exclusive to the company. In addition to its primary stores, the company operates some 20 outlet shops. Whittard also operates a small number of High Street-based "T-zone" tea bars in an attempt to recapture market share from the rising numbers of coffee shops. The company has long operated a thriving mail-order business for its teas and coffees; a rising proportion of its mail-order sales come from its Internet web site. Traded on the London Stock Exchange, the company is led by chairman and major shareholder William Hobhouse, and CEO Richard Rose.

Buying the Best in the 1880s

Whittard of Chelsea was originally founded in London in 1886 by Walter Whittard as a commodity and retail trading house for teas from the British colonies. The shop, on Mincing Lane near Fleet Street, soon established a reputation for its fine teas by adhering to Whittard's motto: "Buy the Best."

Whittard expanded his shop offerings at the dawn of the 20th century with the introduction of a selection of coffee blends as well. He also was joined by sons Richard (Dick) and Hugh Whittard, who later took over operation of the family business after their father's death in 1935. Despite the harsh economic climate of the time, Whittard managed to grow, notably by introducing a mail-order business. Orders quickly came in from all over the United Kingdom, and even from abroad, as visitors to the United Kingdom began requesting shipments of the company's teas. The company also opened its own warehouse nearby, on Mansell Street.

The years of World War II placed a new burden on the company. All supplies of tea, the British national drink, were requisitioned for the duration, and in 1940, the rationing program instituted a limit of two ounces per person per week. Yet bombing raids that same year destroyed both the shop and the warehouse. The company lost not only its entire stock, but also its brewing and blending equipment.

The Whittards quickly relocated, to Fulham Road in Chelsea, and by 1941, the company was back in business. Wartime restrictions, however, made it impossible for the brothers to obtain new equipment. Eventually the Whittards were able to locate a used coffee roaster. For its tea blending, the Whittards were forced to rely on old-fashioned methods.

In the decades following the war, the company, now known as Whittard of Chelsea, shifted the focus of its attention on its retail side. For this effort, Whittard began packaging its teas in tins designed for the company and introduced a variety of other tea- and coffee-related items, including china services and foods. Whittard also began promoting its own tea blends, including scented and fruit-based teas.

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