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Spilling the Tea

by Leah Strong

The United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union has been anything but Sam Holburn’s cup of tea. Holburn is the operations manager for eteaket, a local Edinburgh-based small business that seeks to promote “health and happiness” through loose leaf tea.

Sam Holburn, operations manager for eteaket, describes how Brexit continues to impact the tea business’s relations with suppliers and consumers at the shops Frederick Street location on March 10, 2022. “It used to be simple but now disputes in customs and staying ahead of sourcing inventory can take a rather large portion of my day sometimes,” said Holburn. photo by Leah Strong

The enterprise was founded in 2008 by ex-lawyer Erica Moore, who sought to deliver high quality, ethically sourced tea to a global market. Though the EU originally provided the majority of eteaket’s suppliers and consumers, trade alterations resulting from Brexit continue to impede the business’s development two years later.

“Leading up to Brexit Day we desperately tried to cushion ourselves as much as we could. We bulk ordered supplies because we knew the disruption was coming,” said Holburn.

Holburn’s proactive measures prevented an immediate bust, but eteaket’s supplies quickly dwindled. The business battled a profit loss of approximately 4,000 pounds in the first three months alone.

“There was a limit on how much we could really do. Once the stock was gone, we knew we had to face it,” said Holburn.

Eteaket, an Edinburgh based tearoom, has suffered a decrease in EU consumers due to added non-tariff costs post Brexit. ~ photo by Leah Strong

Facing non-tariff barriers and additional costs, eteaket abandoned its German EU suppliers and turned to Canada and China for imports of ingredients and teaware. This has increased transport time and has undermined key elements of the company’s mission.

“Moving away from German suppliers has made it immensely more difficult to be mindful of our carbon footprint,” said Holburn. “One of our core goals is sustainability and that’s harder when you’re getting stuff from across oceans.”

Teatime has been traded for phone time as Holburn’s daily routine now consists of managing complications with customs.

“I never used to, but I now spend a great deal of time on the phone with customs to the point that I now know quite a lot of people down in Dover that I have never met, and I am fairly friendly with UPS hold systems,” said Holburn.

Eteaket’s European sales have flatlined as former customers shy away from added import fees.

“For the first six months EU people and subscribers were still ordering from us but then when they saw that import fees were applied, they refused to pay them,” said Holburn. “We are trying to push forward with EU customs, but I don’t know how much longer we can do this. It’s a huge loss.”

Even with the business’s rush to adapt to new requirements, trading with former partner nations in the EU remains a challenge. 

“We don’t know that upfront figure [import fees] until it hits the country. Italy was really bad at the start but is now sorted out,” said Holburn. “We can no longer even ship to Ireland or likewise main port Spain…they [customs] just keep sending them back.”

Though eteaket has been able to withstand the impacts of COVID-19, Holburn is concerned that the implications created by Brexit will persist ultimately capping the business’s potential for growth.

Eteaket advances the concept of ‘tea in mind’ encouraging costumers to select teas that will improve their current emotional state. “Tea can truly act as a holistic method to better your mental health,” said Holburn. ~ photo by Leah Strong

 Holburn’s solution to coping with the increased stress? Tea. 

“One of the concepts we’ve established is called ‘tea in mind’ which in essence is drinking a tea based on your emotional state. If I feel overly distressed or overloaded, I drink a fruit or herbal tea to calm myself and clear the mind,” said Holburn.

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