By Shirley Hawkins
LOS ANGELES — Lawrence Charles has risen from homelessness to becoming the founder and CEO of his luxury tea business Charles and Company.
Charles and Company has expanded to offer 20 different types of teas for every taste, including Creamy Earl Grey, Coconut Chamomile, Indian Chai, Green Pineapple, Peach Oolong, Passionfruit Jasmine, Crushed Mint, Raspberry Lemonade, White Chocolate Roasted Green Tea, Cuban Mango, Rich Black, Long-stem sencha, White Blueberry Pomegranate, Matcha and Breakfast.
The tea has been getting raves from tea lovers such as actors Anthony Hopkins and Orlando Bloom, Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler, business magnate Sheila Johnson, celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, clothing manufacturer Dianne von Furstenberg, actor/author Omar Epps and the family of Bruno Mars.
Charles’s tea is now in demand at events, galas and private parties, and “We are the only American tea brand associated with British royalty,” said Charles, who is frequently tapped to serve his tea to members of the British Consulate in Los Angeles.
“My approach is a traditional British way of serving tea with a little American twist to it. I like tea to not shock you but to get you to relax,” he said.
His tea has won praise from people of all walks of life.
“People would say, “Your brand is like the Ralph Lauren of tea,’” Charles said.
The tea magnate does not skimp on quality.
“I import my organic, loose leaf tea from the Yunnan province of China, the Blue mountains of India and from South Africa,” Charles said.
No stranger to hardship, as a youth Charles moved to Pittsburgh to study industrial design and found himself homeless. He spent several years living in a homeless shelter while attending school. He worked his way through design school, and after graduation he was selected as head designer of a television series.
Tall and elegant, Charles caught the attention of a modeling agency and was chosen to walk the runway in a Tommy Hilfiger fashion show with actress and model Rebecca Romijn. She invited him to work for the line in New York City as a model and spokesperson and that’s where his love of tea really began.
“I would sit in these small bakeries and tea shops in Greenwich Village and Harlem and drink tea and it just calmed me,” he said. “It helped me to shut out the noise and rush of the city.
“Drinking tea is one of those things that allows you to be present,” Charles said. “One of the important things is to calm our racing minds because everything around us is moving so fast, especially with the presence of social media. We’re getting stretched and pulled mentally, so I feel that sipping a cup of tea allows you to go within and just be present.”
But the idea of launching his own tea company was never far from his mind.
“Friends urged me to move to Los Angeles,” he said. “When I moved to L.A., I launched Charles and Company and I would pedal my mountain bike through the Santa Monica Mountains selling tea door-to-door on my bike — just me and a backpack full of tea. As sales started to increase, I made a handmade cart to help me carry my product on the bus.
“Luckily, people began searching me out on a weekly basis. Celebrity chefs and business executives loved my drive and soon I was selling my teas at the Four Seasons, Nobu Hotels and Malibu Farm.”
Some prominent venues where Charles and Company have served tea include the Montage Laguna Beach, the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills, the British Consulate in Los Angeles and an Oscars party at the Baker Mansion in Beverly Hills.
Charles still remembers the lean days of getting his company off the ground and he said it took plenty of grit and determination to build his company.
“Charles and Company was started to share the comfort, health, serenity and togetherness that we experience while drinking tea,” he said. “We are pleased to provide the very best in hand-selected organic and Kosher teas from pre-eminent tea plantations from around the world.”
The company is planning to expand into new realms, including sports drinks, seltzers and spirits.
The company was recently accepted to Next 1B: Founders, an accelerator hosted by McKinsey and Company, a consulting firm that aims to build the “next generation of billion-dollar Black-owned brands.” And late last year, Charles and Company was recognized as the Best British Inspired Luxury Organic Tea Company by Lux Life, a luxury lifestyle magazine.
For the Christmas season, Charles and company are offering tea gift boxes from $26 to $75.
Charles has come a long way from his humble beginnings.
“I was raised by a single mother, but unfortunately both of my parents were battling substance abuse and they eventually went to prison,” he said.
Born in Canton, Ohio, he went to live with his grandmother when he was 12 or 13.
“When I was a child, my grandmother used to make me drink tea when I was sick,” he said.
Wanting to give back, Charles now works with nonprofit foundations like Teen Cancer America.
“We help teens who are battling cancer,” he said. “Whatever they ask me to do, I’m there.
He also works with the Child Development Institute in Reseda to help with children that have learning challenges such as Autism and Asbergers.
“I’m also proud to have been previously nominated for Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst and Young and we were also nominated by Lux Life magazine for the best luxury tea brand in the US,” Charles said. “We won the award.”
To reach Charles and Company, access the website at cnctea.com
Shirley Hawkins is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers. She can be reached at metropressnews.com.