Desperate to exit the commercial film industry, Jessica Bonin decided to carve a career out of her passion for tea and share the art of tea-drinking with the world. Lacking the funding to open her dream tea bar, Lady Bonin’s Tea began operating in 2010 from a charming 1975 Jurgens caravan that travelled between markets and festivals.
As Cape Town’s first food truck and the world’s first mobile tea caravan, it served as a platform to introduce the uninitiated to the rejuvenating properties of loose-leaf tea and provided Bonin with valuable direct engagement with her consumers.
The business grew and Bonin started processing, packaging, distributing and selling from premises that incorporated a storefront and factory in what’s now known as the Woodstock Exchange. In 2016, she realised her dream and opened The Tea Bar in Long Street, Cape Town.
On her biggest challenge starting out
“The biggest challenge when I started was being taken seriously. When people saw that I’m a woman with this decorated caravan it was very much like ‘Oh bless, she has a little craft project.’ But this forced me to be serious with myself. I’m a competitive person so when somebody shows doubt towards me, I adopt the attitude of ‘I’ll show you.’”
On her biggest failure
“My biggest failure was misunderstanding failure. In the beginning, I thought hitting my head was a problem, but I had to learn to accept it as a good thing. It’s the only way that you learn and it’s absolutely necessary, because you don’t want to keep stepping on the same stones again and again. Every time I think I know something, I realise I know nothing.”
Lady Bonin’s Tea now employs seven people, stocks over 45 uniquely blended teas and exports to a number of countries around the world. She says that tea blending is not only her business, it’s her practice, one which she continues to hone through experimenting, spending time with tea masters in Asia and partaking in traditional tea ceremonies.
Bonin was a finalist in the Fairlady Women of the Future Awards 2016 and was named winner of the Western Cape Female Entrepreneur of the Year 2015. The celebrated businesswoman and self-taught tea blender was the featured guest at May’s Startup Grind Cape Town event, where she shared the highs, lows and learnings of her journey.