Like so many Dorset food businesses that found their niche, Dorset Herbals started out with samples prepared for friends and family, and has grown to a regular presence at farmer's markets around the county. Along the way, the depth of knowledge and passion concerning tea has never wavered. Founder Ross Tapley took the time to tell Dorset Gourmet about the journey so far.
How did Dorset Herbals come about?
It wasn't a life ambition. After my uni course was cancelled 1 week in (Commercial Horticulture), I ended up doing Ethnobotany & Plant Medicine. After working on commercial nurseries for a while, I ended up working as a chef in a Punjabi restaurant. While the course had taught me the science of the herbs & spices, the chef taught me the art behind it. Combining the two meant I could act as a sort of tea-based witch doctor for friends and family. After a few health problems, I was in a position where I needed to work to my own hours and I eventually plucked up the nerve to give it a go.
How difficult was it setting up?
It really wasn't as hard as I had thought it was going to be and the Prince’s Trust certainly helped get us going. Finding the balls to do it was by far the hardest part. Since we've been going, getting a premises has been the hardest part. Being 24 & my brother 23, landlords are a bit wary of taking the risk, so we're still operating from home and looking for the right premises.
Where did you learn about tea?
Uni sort of started it. Not tea specifically (My dissertation is on Olives & their UK production benefits & potential), but looking at how plants still support every form of life in some way or another. Tea happens to be such an easy way to both medicate & explore flavours. I read textbooks and journals somewhat obsessively, particularly new medical research into plants.
What’s the best advice you’ve received?
There has been so much! I guess “Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit, wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.” It's so important to listen to everything people discuss with you, but the key is knowing what to do with it. Not all advice is good, but it's rarely all bad.
Who inspires you?
It's not any one person. When you look at farmers markets & street food (particularly the night time food abroad. We're getting there, if only it was more of a scene in the UK) and see the miracles people work with such simple ingredients, you can't help but be inspired.
"Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad."
And what would be your advice for someone setting out on the same journey?
Festivals are great, but if you get the chance to do regular markets, do it. You obviously build up networks with the other stallholders, but discussing your products with regulars and tourists builds your confidence and depth of knowledge of your product. The number of unexpected questions keeps you on your toes and the number of doors that open are invaluable.
What do you enjoy most about what you’re doing?
I love chatting about the products at events, and working on the artwork is like therapy for me. But when you get to the office/factory (the garage), stick on an album rather than the same old radio stations & muck about with tea all day, what's not to love!?
Is this a full-time endeavour?
Yes, sometimes to full!
Where do you see this leading? What would represent success?
We'd love to have a shop(s?) and maybe a cafe down the line, but as long as we can survive doing what we love, it's a definite success
What has been the biggest challenge so far?
Social media doesn't come naturally to us & fighting bigger companies (namely couriers) is always a case of being on a hiding to nothing, but plucking up the courage to do it was by far the hardest thing.
If you would like to share the story of how you got to where you are, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a message below...