The History of Whittard
When Walter Whittard first set up shop selling tea, coffee and hot chocolate, he had no idea what the next century or so would bring. It's a story of breaking with tradition, success, innovation and creativity…
Working as a tea trader from the age of 17, Walter Whittard saw potential. Eight years later, aged just 25, he opened his own shop in London's bustling Fleet Street, selling the finest tea, coffee and hot chocolate.
In those early days, the walls were lined with huge tea caddies, and the air was filled with the scent of roasting coffee. Walter insisted on blending his luxurious tea and roasting his premium coffee on site; he also had a keen eye for a marketing opportunity and targeted the nearby law courts by describing his tea as “The Barrister's Refresher”.
It wasn't long before the Whittard business started to make a name for itself. In 1892, a “Lady L” from Cheltenham wrote to the store that “We like the tea very much, and have recommended it to our friends.” Another customer was similarly impressed: “I received the tea safely, and am much pleased with its quality, it is very good indeed, and I shall recommend it to my friends. The tea, however, recommends itself.”
In 1935 the business passed to Walter's sons, Dick and Hugh. The Whittard brothers took the helm, their father's determination and passion for quality firmly entrenched in their minds.
During some of the most intense raids of the Blitz, in late December 1940, the Whittard warehouses were destroyed entirely. “I shall not be sorry when this is all over,” Hugh wrote to his brother, sketching out a detailed diagram of where the bombs had fallen. Even with the warehouse destroyed, the brother's passion for Whittard shone through, driving them to overcome a time of intense hardship.
Dick and Hugh quickly set about finding a new warehouse. It wasn't long before they decided to up sticks and move their entire business – the shop, headquarters, warehouse and coffee roastery – to Chelsea, settling on a rather grand-looking building at 111 Fulham Road.
The new premises presented new opportunities. The brothers had inherited their father's eye for quality – and rationing presented new prospects, with plenty of customers eager to nominate Whittard as their dedicated tea supplier.
In 1967, Hugh Whittard died. His passing was a serious blow to his brother, Dick, who ran the business alone for another five years before handing over the reins – though he was still called in for consultation.
After decades of successfully trading from its iconic, post-war Chelsea home, W.H. Whittard & Co. became Whittard of Chelsea, associating itself with the well-established heart of its business. A nod to the future while staying true to its heritage, it marked a new era for Whittard. Ever since, Chelsea has been an integral part of the Whittard brand identity.
As the new millennium brought promise of new beginnings, Whittard was celebrating a new beginning of its own: the dazzling new flagship store in Covent Garden. Filled with luxury loose leaf tea, premium coffee and indulgent hot chocolate, it was an instant hit with Londoners and day-trippers alike.
Whittard of Chelsea was bought by EPIC Private Equity.
With a deep respect for all the history and heritage of the brand, the branding elements were tastefully updated including the new Whittard logo.
The Whittard brand launched in China, onto the biggest online marketplace platform in the world. Chinese customers could now finally buy in their home market.
The Whittard website launches onto a world class Salesforce platform providing the brand with a global shop window for the modern age.
Whittard opened its first two stores in Taiwan. Today we have ten stores in the country along with local e-commerce presence.
During lockdowns, all Whittard retail stores (temporarily) shut for the first time in over 130 years, making the company a solely online business. The passion from the Whittard team shone through and the business once again proved resilient, in the toughest of times.
In early 2022 the first Korean store opened, and this was quickly followed by the largest Whittard store in the world with the opening of the flagship in Chungdam. With a retail area downstairs and a sleek tea bar upstairs, this store is a beacon in the region and indicative of Whittard's Asian ambitions.
It's been a varied and exciting history for Whittard of Chelsea. We've been through World Wars, pandemics, incredible discoveries, tragedies and successes. But if there's one thing that's kept us going, it's the passion and determination of the people who work at Whittard. Whether in stores across the world or in head office, everyone is deeply passionate about our products and strives to achieve the best they can to move Whittard forward and be a part of its next impressive milestone.
Today, we push boundaries with our unique, innovative blends and scour the world for the best single origin varieties, from the finest luxury tea to our premium coffees and indulgent hot chocolates. Whittard goes the extra mile to ensure your moment of luxury, relaxation, or discovery is truly special.