There’s not much that can’t be solved in life with a good cuppa, for tea is a universal language.
Donna Ferenth cares not for milky tea and a digestive however, after an experience in China saw her broaden her hot drink horizons.
Now the proud owner of Unravel Tea in Aberdeen, she is hoping to challenge the tea stereotype and introduce people to exotic tastes from the Far East.
Even First Minister, Nicola Strurgeon, has given her sip of approval to Donna’s quest – after purchasing a special brew at one of her outdoor stalls.
Donna’s business is all the more impressive considering the fact that she wasn’t the biggest fan of the traditional cuppa originally, and admits green tea did not go down well.
She is now a self-proclaimed tea adventuress, following a visit to China for a family wedding in 2005.
“If you’ve ever tried green tea from a teabag – it’s just not the most pleasant experience,” said Donna.
“I hadn’t really tried anything else after that to be honest. But then I went to China, and I tried the most amazing cup of tea at a family gathering.
“We were taken into deepest, darkest China, which was really interesting.
“They’d do things like Tai Chi in the park, and it opened my eyes to their different way of life.”
Embracing the ways of the Far East, Donna was soon convinced after visiting traditional tea shops.
“It was forced upon me at first, but then I was like, ‘woah, this is nothing like I’ve ever experienced before’,” said Donna.
“I asked about it and was told that it was a green tea. Then I was taken into this person’s shop which was tiny and in the middle of a shopping mall.
“Me and my cousin Ben had this Chinese tea ceremony. I ended up walking out of that shop with 2.5kg of tea.”
Returning to Aberdeen (kilos of tea in hand), Donna started to create her own home blends.
But it took a further 11 years for her to identify a gap in the market for quality loose-leaf tea in the north-east.
“In 2016, the whole economy and everything had taken a downturn and like a lot of people around Aberdeen at the time, I found myself not having a job,” said Donna.
“I’d sent a package of a few blends of tea to my friend in the US as a gift for Christmas.
“When they arrived, she told me, ‘I’ve never tried anything like this before. You should do it as a business’.
“I’d never even thought about it up to that point, but she definitely planted the seed.”
Today, Donna runs Unravel Tea from her home and currently has around 50 teas to choose from in its online shop.
“Sometimes I get inspiration and experiment from people asking me if I have certain blends or varieties,” she said.
“Other blends like my Chai for example, it took me a year to perfect that.
“A lot of supermarket options have chemicals in them to make them taste like certain blends, but all of mine are just herbs which makes them feel like more of a journey when you drink them.”
From honey to hibiscus and matcha to mint, Donna has already won an award for her flavourful concoctions.
“Winning the Three Star Great Taste Award for my Jin Jun Mei last year pretty amazing. That was definitely a massive high point,” said Donna.
“Nicola Sturgeon actually visited one of my outdoor stalls and bought some of the Jin Jun Mei, which was great. She was absolutely lovely.
“I had people coming up to me the next day asking which tea Nicola had bought so that they could try it for themselves!”
As well as the high points, Donna has had to encounter various challenges along the way, with Brexit being her most recent obstacle.
“The whole Brexit thing has been an issue,” she said.
“There were a lot of my blends that customers were looking for which I just didn’t have in January and February, because I had a two-month wait on a shipment to get herbs into the UK from Germany.
“At the moment, I can’t sell to anywhere other than the UK which is extremely frustrating.”
In spite of this, Unravel Tea has been making moves into various locations across the north-east which have proved hugely popular.
“Since everything has reopened, I have had a lot more interest from the hospitality sector in Aberdeen,” said Donna.
“I’ve had really good feedback as well. This morning actually, I dropped off a 400g bag of Chai tea and Refillosophy got in touch to say that it had all sold immediately.”
“I’m hoping that I can get my tea into some more cafes that I’m speaking to at the moment in Aberdeen, Moray and the Highlands. It would be fantastic to build relationships with them.”
With new ventures and ideas for Unravel Tea on the horizon, at the root of it all, Donna believes that drinking tea is an experience of aromas and flavours which should be savoured and explored.
“There’s so many aspects to tea; in the day-to-day, I think it allows you to take time out,” she said.
“I do basic versions of a Chinese tea ceremony when I’m making tea for myself at home, and I like the fact that it actually makes you stop and pay attention to what you’re doing – that’s really important to me.
“If you taste the tea, you’ll understand. It’s nothing like anything else you can buy.”