Our history of tea trading in Hamburg
Vertrauen in Genuss

One Company, One Family

The History of Gebrüder Wollenhaupt

What the two Wollenhaupt brothers started in Hamburg, Germany back in 1881 has today evolved into a globally operating, successful and thriving company with over 220 employees. After more than 130 years of our company’'s history, we are still steeped in the Hanseatic tradition, open-minded and unpretentious, independent and realistic. And now we would like to share that history with you here.


Origins of the Company

1881 Together with his brother Hermann Ludwig, the accomplished tea merchant Carl August Wollenhaupt founds a tea trading company in Hamburg. With little more in their pockets than just courage and entrepreneurial spirit, the brothers establish a flourishing business within just a few short years.

1895 Carl August dies after contracting a fatal disease on a business trip; his brother Hermann Ludwig continues the business, assisted by his other brother, Valentin, who was the company'’s general manager at the time.

By then, the new enterprise had established itself as a tea importer with excellent business relations with China, the main supplier country. In order to ensure a balanced, steady workload for its staff during the non-harvest seasons as well, the company adds vanilla trading to its business. At that time, nobody could imagine how important this business decision would be for the company’'s future.

1906 Wollenhaupt’'s 25th anniversary! The company looks back on a challenging, but successful business development.


Tea Trading in Times of War

During the following years, tea and vanilla imports were severely restricted during World War I. The company largely falls back on the business of selling tea substitutes and other products.

In 1920, Hermann’'s son, Paul Otto Wollenhaupt, joins the company as a junior partner. Just two years later, Hermann passes away from a severe heart disease. Paul steers the company through hard times marked by inflation and the global economic crisis. Traded commodities are loose tea, packaged tea, nutmeg and vanilla.

1931 Wollenhaupt’'s 50th anniversary! An anniversary commemorated with both concern and cautious optimism.

The business is progressing, but around 1937, Germany is facing severe foreign exchange problems. Tea and vanilla are only traded to a limited extent. The start of World War II further aggravates the situation: Various business connections as well as imports of the key products – including tea are largely cut off.


From Hamburg to Reinbek

1950 The third generation of the family takes over the company management and plans its future development: In October 1950, Ulrich Wollenhaupt is appointed General Manager of the company.

Important decisions lay the groundwork for further growth. During the years that follow, the company pushes ahead with the development and management of a modern product range in the tea and vanilla segments. For the first time, skilled customer advisors and sales representatives become the contact partners for the German retail sector. Both product segments vanilla and tea are on the upswing. A wide range of tea accessories complements the assortment.

1956 Wollenhaupt’'s 75th anniversary!
Paul Wollenhaupt dies just a few months later, and his son Ulrich becomes the company’s sole managing director.

1966 –A difficult decision: Due to a redevelopment of the area near Hamburg'’s main post office, the company moves its long-time headquarters. Reinbek, near Hamburg, is chosen as the new location. More space and a better infrastructure are compensation for leaving the city centre, the hub of the tea trade. Once again, this demonstrates the company’s courage and willingness to take risks. The relocation will prove to be the right move for the future business development.


Discovering the Art of Flavouring

The 1970s bring innovation to the tea market as well: Flavours are added to classic black tea, giving rise to an outright boom. Is this the beginning of a whole new culture of enjoyment and sociability? Are young people now discovering tea for themselves? Wollenhaupt identifies the trends, proactively forges new paths, and plays a distinctive role in shaping the business with new customer groups.

The number of foreign contacts and partnerships increase. Export business relations are established with the USA, Netherlands, Scandinavia as well as Eastern and Central Europe.

The 1980s are a time of expansion and growth. Intensive market research and marketing activities pave the way for enlarging the portfolio of herbal blends and fruit melanges.

1981 Wollenhaupt'’s 100th anniversary! Ulrich Wollenhaupt now has a staff of 40 employees. The milestone achievements are celebrated with joy and pride.

1984 The company relocates to its new premises in Reinbek in order to accommodate larger warehouse space and machine capacities. In the years to follow, the technology in the warehouse, blending and packaging departments continues to be expanded and advanced.

1986 Jörg and Dirk, the 4th generation of the Wollenhaupt family, join the company. The sons of Marianne and Ulrich Wollenhaupt are still active in the company management today. Ulrich Wollenhaupt passes away in April 1989.


Roots in Reinbek, At Home in the World

1990s The activities of the following years focus on boosting the fruit melange and herbal blend business, consolidating and expanding the contact with individual tea retailers and wholesalers, and further developing the company’'s export business relations.

The family-owned business has its roots in Northern Germany, but is more internationally active and renowned than ever before; its global connections and innovative corporate philosophy form the basis for efficient partnerships with customers and suppliers on the markets of today and tomorrow.

At the end of the 1990s, the company obtained its first eco certification” for all product groups, earned the Fairtrade certificate, and was certified under ISO 9001:2008. All of the product groups have been certified kosher on a regular basis since 2000.

2000 and Beyond

Growth and Increasing Internationalisation

2004 Wollenhaupt obtains its first International Food Standard certification (today called “International Featured Standards Food”).

2006 Wollenhaupt'’s 125th anniversary! The anniversary is celebrated in a spirit of optimism and continued drive and passion. The success of the past years is reflected in the number of staff –the team now comprises 140 employees.

2011 Wollenhaupt becomes a member of the Rainforest Alliance international environmental protection organisation. In the same year, the company also joins the UTZ Certified programme, which is committed to the sustainable farming of agricultural products.

2012 This chapter in the company history is dedicated to one of Wollenhaupt'’s roots: The business with bulk tea lots has grown so much that Wollenhaupt establishes the Tea Trading Department, whose sole core business is traditional tea trading in bulk tea lots.

2014 The Tea Trading Department becomes a member of the Ethical Tea Partnership.