Bringing tea culture from across the pond

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Sitting in the suite space of Newby Teas, it is easy to slip into a calm and relaxed disposition. In one corner of the room, a circle of cushioned chairs surround a glass coffee table, where a pot of tea might be placed. Within that circle; guests, customers and hospitality representatives may recline and sip warm, invigorating teas or experience cool, crisp flavors. It is a professional space, but also an inviting one. Pictures of tea production and tea ware from 10th century B.C. line the walls. A map hangs at the end of a long display counter, on it are the locations of all Newby Tea’s offices, including a single mark over the United States of America: East Lansing, Michigan.

“I was fortunate enough to have family that lives in London and they knew the kind of predicament I was in,” said Raji Singh, North American business development director at Newby Teas. “They said, ‘well, why don’t you come here, and I’m sure we’ll find something for you to do in London’ – who really gives up that opportunity?”

Not, Singh. She took the chance. Fresh out of Michigan State University (MSU) with a degree in international relations, she hopped on a plane and flew over the pond to start her new journey. There, she was introduced to Newby Teas.

“I started to really understand tea, started to understand the mission and the vision, which was really this idea that it’s not about mass production and mass marketing of tea; but more about sharing what the tea culture has been and how there’s a loss of tea culture, that it’s not there anymore. It’s not just about dumping a bag of tea in water and putting in milk and sugar. It’s about the experience and actual quality of it at the end of the day,” explained Singh.

Singh’s initial roles at Newby Tea helped steep her into the culture of tea: from tea tasting to sales, marketing, working with curators and their collections of teaware. Through these endeavors, opportunities continued to arise as Singh caught the attention of Newby’s founder, Nirmal Sethia.

“I got to, kind of, play around here and there, and [the founder] saw that I was really passionate and interested in this and presented the opportunity to bring [Newby Teas] back to North America,” said Singh.

Singh saw a value in being near MSU’s campus and the capital of Michigan, citing homegrown roots and strategic placement, “ … they were first suggesting New York or Chicago, L.A., Atlanta — big cities and as much as I would have loved living there … it made more sense to start in a community where I grew up and where the most support was as well as family.”

Another benefit to starting a location in East Lansing had to do with the branch advertising itself as a tea education site, as well as the MSU’s reputable hospitality program. Singh has had the chance to meet with fellow Spartans across the United States from partnered luxury hotels and restaurants, and discuss their interest in learning about Newby Tea’s products and how a partnership can be incorporated with their own businesses and establishments.

“I strongly believe that you need to follow your gut; things will just fall into place if you don’t question against it,” Singh said. “With the series of events that led into this, I could not have planned for this role. It’s always good to have an idea about what you want to do, but making a shift when you feel that it’s right and it makes sense to you … that’s where you see your happiness. I would say to support that.”


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