Our 12th volume in this series features none other than our long-time friend, Nigel Lai, founder of Thirstea Beverages and co-founder of Tea Cubed Patisserie. By having the opportunity to interview Nigel, we learned a lot about his journey and how his brands are on their way to becoming on top of the commercial market today. Having always had a background in beverage making, Nigel consistently produces amazing products that continue to take the commercial beverage industry by surprise. Thirstea’s products are all guaranteed to taste amazing and are produced in such a way that one knows they are in for a treat. Currently, Thirstea has only been around since 2019 and in such a short time has managed to make waves in numerous retailers such as, T&T Supermarket, PriceSmart Foods, Thirsty Express, H-marts in the lower mainland and more. Nigel’s passion and determination to create better and more nutritious commercial beverages are what has led to his success over the past few years. As a result, we have been extremely excited to share his story as another astonishing person whose craft expresses quality and community.

Nigel’s journey started in 2012 working at a local bubble tea store at just 15 years old. Inspired by his sister, who worked there at the time, he found it very fun to make different beverages as well as food items at this store. Eventually, he became the manager of operations and worked in that role for a little while before parting ways with the store in 2018. It was after he left that his sister mentioned it might be worth trying to make drinks himself and sell them online. Afterwards, he decided to buy bottles for packaging and begin his journey. He first envisioned making a Hong Kong-style milk tea and decided to go all out on developing his recipe. Being a Hong Kong native, Nigel often travels back to his homeland. As a result, he would use his time in Hong Kong to perform research on the drink, the ingredients used, and the proper methods used to create it. He would visit various suppliers, and bring back large amounts of leaves to begin tirelessly experimenting in order to make an authentic and incredibly tasty Hong Kong milk tea. After perfecting his recipe, Nigel started Thirstea in 2019 as an online-based business. At the time, he was leasing a commissary kitchen where he alone produced batches of drinks to order and did door-to-door delivery. His first batch had significantly more orders than he expected. Within the first month, he sold out of 500 bottles, which was supposed to be his entire years worth of inventory. After the first three months, Nigel found that doing this himself was unsustainable. Therefore, he began to reach out to supermarkets where he found a number of places that showed interest. After being accepted into a number of supermarkets for a trial period, his products sold out again, this time in only two days.

Afterwards, in order to meet the demands of supermarkets, he began to search for business partners that could help him meet these requirements. This is how he found his now main business partner and the new facility that his business has since moved into. Nigel’s initial goal was to make commercialized beverages better. In order to do so, no chemicals or preservatives are used and he makes sure all the nutrients that a drink has before heavy processing remain. Additionally, rather than worsening his drinks by pasteurizing them, he uses a process called high-pressure processing (HPP). This allows for his drinks to both be commercially ready and have a shelf-life of three months without adding chemicals or preservatives. After much trial and error, Nigel eventually expanded his team and shifted from being in three retailers to more than 20 within the first year.

However, after the first year ended a big obstacle presented itself. Changes in the temperature of his drinks during transport and other areas of storage made some drinks unstable at home and in stores. Due to this issue, Thirstea’s drinks had lost their place in 20 stores. Accordingly, Nigel had taken three months off and dedicated that time to developing his product and learning more about food science. Nevertheless, after a long period of testing Nigel found a natural way to stabilize his products. Even though his products were ready to be sold a number of retailers did not want his products or his brand back in their stores. However, Nigel pushed through and after a long period of sacrifice, he was back into 15 retailers and working on making more products. Today, Thirstea is in over 40 retailers nationwide and continues to innovate as well as work on new projects that provide quality, nutrient-filled, tasty drinks to the market.

For Nigel, quality is a must-have and is the core value of the business. This is seen through the ingredients Thirstea uses, the food safety practices they adhere to, and the food science behind the products. Only the finest quality tea leaves are used that deliver a better and bolder flavour. Additionally, the premium evaporated milk they use is a key ingredient in giving consumers a clean and rich taste when trying a drink like the Hong Kong milk tea. Ultimately, the attention to detail given by Nigel and his team creates a better product for consumption. Currently, Nigel is working on getting even more certifications to allow Thirstea to keep on improving its products. These are just some of the reasons why Thirstea has had so much success since the beginning of the company’s journey in 2019.

Community also plays a large part in how Nigel and his team at Thirstea operate. As we asked Nigel about this concept, he says he has been and is currently looking to help smaller brands with their growth. For instance, he is looking to help brands with aspects of the business such as packing and packaging as Nigel says this is something that may be quite hard for someone just starting out. Moreover, Nigel is aiming to have a more consistent production schedule. In turn, this creates more stability in his employees’ lives due to a consistent schedule that allows for a stable job and work schedule for those who are a part of the Thirstea team. Nigel also states that he hopes to have more resources to give back to the communities that have supported Thirstea. When the pandemic was at its peak, Nigel would often support healthcare workers and give out drinks to aid them during this stressful time. Now, he is looking toward trying to help out his community even more as Thirstea continues to grow. 

Since 2019, Nigel has made it his goal to dedicate himself and his brands to establish a sense of quality and community in everything they do. Whether it is in the way he sources his ingredients, researches to innovate with drinks, or gives back to the community in some way or another, Nigel is in this for the long haul. In addition, his drive to continuously learn more about his products and the industry he is in is why he has been so successful since his brand's inception. Taking on such a large task to achieve one of his dreams is specifically why we are so interested in his story. We hope that through this new volume of our QIL series, you were able to both discover something new and have something you look forward to trying out the next time you visit stores such as T&T, PriceSmart Foods, Thirsty Express and more.

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