April 10, 2017

The perfect cuppa with the taste of the north

Nina Rantala (left) and Mirka Olin, the power duo behind Nord-T teas.
Nina Rantala (left) and Mirka Olin, the power duo behind Nord-T teas.
Nord-T / John Lawson

If tea is your, well, cup of tea, you must know the struggle is real. Not all restaurants or even coffee shops know how to brew a good cuppa: green tea is often too bitter, black tea too strong and white tea simply unheard of. And poor quality bagged tea? You must be joking.

Nina Rantala and Mirka Olin had had enough. Pretty much exactly three years ago, they met up at a mutual friend’s place for a weekday brunch and started ranting: How can it be that although humankind has enjoyed tea for centuries, you can still be served a mug full of borderline undrinkable fluid at a café or a restaurant?

“It was a long, long lecture,” Rantala reminiscences laughingly.

That summer, Rantala and Olin were brainstorming ideas for a startup. Initially, they wanted to start a consulting business to train coffee shops and restaurants about proper tea preparation – and how to forget about tea bags and go for loose leaf instead.

Then another idea was thrown at the duo. Why consulting, when you’ve got what it takes to set up your very own tea brand?

“At first, it felt like a huge chore, as our idea had been to import ready-made tea blends from abroad,” Rantala explains. “However, delving deeper into the matter, we noticed that no one really does what we were looking for, with the values and principles we had.”

For example, many companies use aromas in their tea blends. The Nord-T ladies wanted zero additives, only natural and pure ingredients from Nordic nature.

“Why bring goji berries to Finland and call them a superfood, when our very own blueberries are just as good, if not better?”

A cup of Helsinki, anyone?

Nord-T was born out of wanting to give Nordic nature a new form. The first year was spent on product development, branding, design and trips abroad with Finpro’s Food from Finland export programme. Internationalisation was involved from the word go, and the entrepreneurs didn’t want to set sail with lukewarm ideas.

Polar Night Cap tea blend was created to resemble cinnamon rolls, a very Nordic treat.

Polar Night Cap tea blend was created to resemble cinnamon rolls, a very Nordic treat.

Nord-T / Aleksi Hornborg

Then, it was time for tea.

“When we touched our first Nord-T packages in June last year, we both burst into tears,” Rantala tells. “It was a result of so much hard work and effort. Finally we felt like the world was wide open in front of us!”

Yet still, the duo didn’t start slacking. Instead, with a selection of black, green and white Nord-T teas in hand, they started searching for more distributors and resellers abroad. Now, Nord-T is available in Finland, Sweden, Denmark and the UK, and soon in Australia and Japan.

The teas, all containing natural ingredients with an organic tea base, are handblended and named according to their character. All Nordic capitals have their own namesake pre tea, and blends have imaginative names, such as ‘Moose on the Loose’ or ‘Afloat with Folkboat’.

The selection is bound to grow; come spring and summer, the tea team will explore the possibilities Nordic nature provides.

“We want to break barriers when it comes to perceptions of traditional tea flavours,” Rantala notes. “For example, in the future we’ll be using beetroot in our teas.”

Partnership like a love affair

Nordicness is a quintessential part of Nord-T teas – and one of its selling points, too. For a tourist, a cup of Nord-T is much easier to take home than a design sofa. Despite the organic teas and rooibos coming from Asia and South Africa, other ingredients are harvested from Finnish forests and hence the flavours bring to mind the nightless nights and unpolluted air of the northern wilderness.

At the moment, the sales are split evenly between Finland and the rest of the world. New collaborators and distributors are continuously discovering Nord-T, so Rantala believes the international share will grow.

The tea business has not only brought work to its founders. Nord-T collaborates with a whole bunch of subcontractors, especially in Finnish Lapland, and at some point there’ll be vacancies in the core team, too.

Rantala explains that Nord-T would really like to be able to offer opportunities for young people. Young minds are open for new ideas, and Nord-T has been fortunate to have excellent trainees.

To be fair, Rantala and Olin aren’t stuck in the old ways, either. Rantala notes that having a great co-founder has been essential for Nord-T’s story.

“There are days when the whole world seems to collapse, and on those days it’s crucial to have a great partner,” Rantala says. “Mirka’s boyfriend once asked me what it’s like to go out with her – we spend so much time together it’s almost like we’re both dating the same woman!”

 

Nord-T blends have imaginative names, such as ‘Moose on the Loose’ or ‘Afloat with Folkboat’.

Nord-T blends have imaginative names, such as ‘Moose on the Loose’ or ‘Afloat with Folkboat’.

Nord-T / Aleksi Hornborg

 

Text: Anne Salomäki

 

Good News from Finland is published by Finnfacts, which is part of Finpro.

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