Selling tea to China

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A MODERN version of the nettle tea which has been produced in Heysham for generations is to be sold in China and other countries across the world, writes Michelle Brookes.

Cherie Bell, who owns and runs Bells Cottage Tea Room on Main Street in Heysham with her daughter, Natalie, came up with the idea to put nettle tea into bags one night earlier this year – since when things have gone from strength to strength.

"We are now mailing to Alaska, Barbados, and we have two outlets selling our teabags in Majorca," said Cherie.

"I recently had a meeting with the British High Commissioner in Hong Kong – she didn't even know what nettles were!

"As soon as she had tested the teabags she said 'I'll back you' – so soon we'll literally be selling tea to China! To get to this level is very unexpected.

"Nettles go back a long way in Heysham. They were collected from the Royal Fold (at the back of the Royal Hotel) and Nanny Hutchinson was the first to make nettle tea and beer.

"I'm not trying to take over from Nanny Hutchinson but I'm carrying on a tradition, it's just my modern version."

Cherie started to get her ingredients together after her 'vision', along with recycled boxes and labels and then she had the whole product. From there she started selling the teabags in the tearoom and they proved very popular.

"The teabag is my own unique recipe so it means that you wouldn't get this particular blend anywhere else in the world.

"Even on a cold winter's day we can sell a couple of boxes to people from Lancaster and further away.

"I did research on the internet and found a chemist who mixes the dry ingredients for my own special blend of teabag, which include nettles, root ginger and lemon peel.

"There are no additives and all the ingredients are organic. The nettles have to be grown under strict compliance with the Soil Association's organic standard. The tea is also caffeine-free.

"When we get the dry ingredients Natalie and I bag and box them up ourselves for sale in the shop or by internet.

Thrilled

"I had to meet officials from the Department of Trade and Indust-ry to get backing for my product, which meant I had to set up a nettle tea stand and do a presentation to representatives of the DTI.

"They have to like your product. I was thrilled that they said it was a top product at the top end of the market."

Although Cherie had the backing of the DTI for her nettle teabags, Heysham Tea Company has had only a relatively low budget on which to produce them.

However, if all goes well at her meeting with Joann Kok, the British High Commissioner in Hong Kong in three months' time to discuss the final details of the export of the teabags, nettle tea-bags will be sold in herbal stores in Hong Kong, which will boost company profits.

Heysham Tea Company's website at www.grannybells.com was launched on Wednesday, October 26. From anywhere in the world, visitors to the site can buy the unusual teabags, as well as the mix for the celebrated 'Hidgy Pidgy' scones sold at the tearoom, delicious savoury scones made from a special mix including cheese and, of course, nettles.

Interestingly, hidgy pidgy is an old name for nettle, according to Cherie, who has also written a couple of books about nettles, which can be purchased from the website.

Bells Cottage Tea Room has been in the Bell family since 1980. The family have been through the ups and downs of running a business but have always managed to keep things together.

Cherie's daughter, Natalie, bakes the delicious cakes, scones and pies sold in the tearoom daily and has been helping her mum 'ever since I could reach the counter'.

Jaime (Cherie's son) will soon be coming back to Heysham after living in Majorca, and the family business – called the Heysham Tea Company – will soon be a public limited company.

"I wanted to keep Heysham on the map," said Cherie. "I love the village and have an affinity with it. I've been interested in the environment from an early age – that's another reason why I like the tea, it's made from natural ingredients.

"Nettle tea has many health properties. The nettle has a big root which means it absorbs large quantities of nutrients from the soil. Nettle tea is good for treating arthritis as it can reduce joint swelling, it's an anti-histamine and a diuretic.

Vitamins

"The nettle we use for the teabags is the stinging nettle (urtica doica), which has fine hairs which discharge formic acid onto the skin when touched. Once the nettle is boiled that disappears.

"The nettle has high levels of minerals, iron, potassium, and is a good source of vitamin C and B complex vitamins.

"You can ice the tea – a nice way to serve it in the summer is to have some iced in a jug with lemon – a lovely refreshing drink. In winter you can have it hot, maybe with a drop of brandy or whisky as a kind of hot toddy.

"It's got those vitamins and minerals which help in a number of ways. It's good for people who are health conscious.

"You can even use the teabag to help plants grow after you have finished it. Simply place it on the soil of the plant and pour water over it and all the minerals will keep your plant healthy."

The official launch of the nettle teabags will be on Wednesday, December 7, at the Royal Hotel in Heysham.

"Anyone is welcome to come along, and there'll be posters up nearer the time," said Cherie.

* To buy the delicious nettle teabags, simply drop into the tearoom or order online at www.grannybells.com where 20 tea-bags cost 3.50 including postage and packing.