Tiree Tea's Story
Taste of Place Trails Stories
When Rhoda Meek returned to Tiree in 2013 to live on her family’s croft, she had ambitions of using her training as a product manager to launch a product of her own, but wasn’t sure what shape that product would take. Initially, she experimented with growing vegetables, but didn’t have much success. The idea of “Tiree Tea” had always appealed to Rhoda – she liked the sound of it – and she decided to give it a go.
A story behind every tea
Tea production turned out to be more complicated than Rhoda had anticipated, with various permissions and inspections being required, which her little island croft wasn’t really equipped to deal with. So she found a company off-island who could help her create special blends and who, crucially, used plastic-free teabags. The tea would then be shipped to her to be labelled, packaged and sent off to customers. Then it was just a case of crafting the stories behind the various tea blends, for which Rhoda took inspiration from the history of her family’s croft and the culture of the island of Tiree. There is their signature Crofter blend, whose label shows an illustration of her grandfather’s grey Fergie tractor which has been on the farm since 1947 and now belongs to Rhoda’s dad. The herbal Machair blend takes its name and inspiration from the distinctive feature of the island landscape, while the Gneiss Earl Grey blend is named after the bedrock from which the Hebridean Islands are formed. It was important to Rhoda that Tiree Tea tell the stories of the island to visitors, allowing them to taste their surroundings and take a little bit of Tiree home with them at the end of their time there. She says what was important to her was “authenticity, a bit of humour and a really nice product.”
The perfect blend of island and mainland
Tiree Tea enjoys a lot of local support on the island, with most of the shops there stocking it, the cafe serving it and the hotel providing envelopes of it in their rooms for guests. Its success has reached beyond the island, too, with their online sales going from strength to strength and stockists on the mainland including Kintyre Gin’s distillery cafe and a stop on the North Coast 500, Rhoda says it has “grown organically, which is really nice.” She has ambitions to expand further, with a new range of tea based on other Hebridean islands on track to be launched in the near future.
Rhoda credits her upbringing as being a big part of the inspiration behind her business. “I’m not a tea expert… but I grew up in a house where the kettle was never off and the teapot was always full, and my parents run on tea,” she says. “Tea is this island thing, you walk into a house and someone puts the kettle on and you have to have a biscuit. At the end of a meal you have a cup of tea and a biscuit. Tea is synonymous with everything.”
Rhoda’s island life
Tiree Tea is by no means the only project Rhoda is balancing – she works by day as a customer experience specialist for tech companies, and runs several other businesses and social enterprises on the side. She raises sheep on her croft and sells the meat in small batches, and whose wool she also turns into knitting yarn and sells as The Angry Triangle – where the same humour found in the stories of Tiree Tea is also evident. She also founded Isle Develop CIC, a social enterprise using digital media to promote the businesses and stories of the islands.
Whichever plate Rhoda happens to be spinning at any given time, her love for her island home and heritage is evident in everything she does. Her goal is, simply, telling the stories of Tiree and the Hebrides and sharing them with people across the world. You get the sense that the community spirit of the island has played a big part in shaping her as a person, and her fondness for “that teapot that’s never off the boil” has been the inspiration behind something much bigger.