This is the story of an Argentinian in love with Lisbon who decides to share his passion for tea with all Lisboètas (Lisboners) through his magnificent tea shop: Companhia Portugueza do Chá.
Sebastian Filgueiras, passionate about history as much as he is by tea, has gone back through history to attach his brand to the emblematic characters of Portugal. Thus Catherine de Braganza gives her profile to the main label of the brand, others such as Wenceslau de Moraes, Frei Gaspar da Cruz and Amalia Rodrigues give their name to blends created especially in their honor.
But let Sebastian tell us this dream come true...
Sebastián can you introduce yourself?
My name is Sebastián but depending on the country where I lived, I was called Sebastien, Sebastião ... I adapt.
I am Argentinian and I lived in Paris where I met and married a Portuguese woman. It was and still is a great love story that created my bond with this country.
How long have you lived in Lisbon?
I moved here the year Amalia Rodrigues died in 1999, so for over twenty years. However, I've known Lisbon for longer than that since when I lived in Paris, I spent all my summers here so I would say more than thirty years.
How did this love for tea come about?
My love for tea goes back to my family. From a young age, I drank tea with milk and for my grandmother tea was sacred, never in a bag, always in leaves.
How did you get the idea of opening a tea shop?
The reason why I initiated this project is that I was surprised, on my arrival in the Portuguese capital, not to be able to find a shop specializing in teas whereas in time, they had places like Armazens Grandella & Cia to sell them. I was used to Paris and to wonderful boutiques like Mariage Frères, hence my disappointment. The other reason is that my wife told me how much the history of Portugal and the East was linked. So I got passionate about the subject and read everything I found.
Putting aside the polemical aspects of conquests and colonizations, I remain fascinated by the role that the Jesuits played in the East. It should be noted that they were the first to write a Portuguese-Chinese dictionary and the first to speak Japanese as well. Another character that I admire for his connection and his work with the Orient is Wenceslau de Moraes.
How long did it take between the idea of the project and the realization (ie the opening of the shop)?
It took a while because first of all I matured the idea of what I could do. I didn't want to copy and paste stores I knew all over the world. I wanted the common points which are symbols of quality such as: personalized service, antique furniture smelling wax, attention to details...
But first of all, I had to train myself because the world of tea is very vast. I didn't want to be an amateur but a professional who knew his field. So I started with a tea sommelier training abroad which I supplemented with other trainings and a lot of research and reading on the subject. When I felt ready and found a place I liked in my neighborhood, I went for it.
It took two years from the idea until the concretisation.
At the time, what was the biggest challenge of this project?
The biggest challenge for me is the administrative part. Setting up the project was the motivating and fascinating part but frankly, I never thought that setting up a store involved so much responsibility and bureaucracy.
How many types of teas do you currently have in store?
Currently we have 200 varieties of teas. This is a number that always varies a little depending on the time of year, the harvests (summer or spring ...). There are also teas that are only consumed at a certain time of the year.
Spring is the time when we receive the most teas - especially from China - but we maintain a fairly constant selection throughout the year. It is this same selection that we offer to the customer on our e-shop.
What is your favorite tea?
I love black tea but it's hard for me to choose. I consider that the most important thing is to find the ideal moment of consumption of each tea. For example, I love white teas but they are not teas to consume at any time of the day. Despite everything, I remain a big appreciator of black tea and for me one of my favorites is Earl Grey Portugal. It is the tea that best adapts to different times of the day.
Which blend do you consider to be the most successful?
Once again, I will say Earl Grey Portugal because -of all the blends that we have created- we have been able to associate to this one a harvest of bergamot from Alentejo. Creating an Earl Grey, a universally recognized British classic, from a bergamot cultivated in our country has made us very proud. It is a real joy to go there to see the plantation and observe the fruit trees. Once the harvest is received here, we wash and dehydrate the fruit, we do the whole process to prepare it for consumption.
After six years of Companhia Portugueza do Chá, what conclusions do you come to?
It's a very positive result because from the start, I didn't have high expectations. The project was born from a romantic and idealized idea but people had to buy into it too. I didn't do a business plan or market research because I was so in love with the raw material and the world of tea that I just wanted to move forward.
I started by buying 2 kg of certain varieties of teas which today are bought by 25 kg or 50kg and despite that, I sometime go out of stock! So it's a great satisfaction to have transmitted this love!
COMPANHIA PORTUGUEZA DO CHÁ
R. DO POÇO DOS NEGROS 105
TEL +351 21 395 1614
Photos : Lisbon by Light