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I love the leaf. The history. The legends. The art and literature. I dream of visiting all the places where it is grown and the many ways it is brewed. The brewed tea that fills my cup becomes more magical as I venture into new taste experiences. The teaware. The tools. The people. Even the Business of Tea. I’m smitten.
The Tea Industry is its own world-wide-web; a network necessary to bring the product from field to cup. Let us assume for the moment that this network is actually the Spirit of Tea.
For countries of origin, places where tea is grown, the time and distance between the freshly picked leaf and the brew in the cup are short. The process visible. The hands involved all rather well known. And the importance of tea in daily life is undisputed. Those of us who do not live within picking distance of a plantation must depend on the industry’s network bring tea to us. Whether we buy teabags at the grocery store or loose leaves from specialty teashops, we must trust the experience and integrity of the purveyor. Or we must educate ourselves enough to discern a tea’s quality and value. Actually, it’s a bit of both.
This article was inspired by a discussion on one of the LinkedIn tea groups - Tea Enthusiasts and Entrepreneurs. Quality Matters. It was started by Kim Jage as a possible theme for the upcoming World Tea Expo.
One interesting point was that high price does not = quality. Giving the consumer what she/he wants at a fair price is the key. We have tasted the trash tea cutely packaged and priced as something it cannot live up to. Not the tea’s fault. On the other hand, there are specialty teas that most consumers cannot appreciate - yet. This is the challenge tea presents. How do we respect and value such a broad spectrum of tea experiences?
A comment from this on-going discussion came from Ruben Marley, comparing tea to wine:
Whether these wines were high or low-end was almost never a real factor in the final results of our efforts… the bottom line was always based upon the level and quality of education we gave our customers. I think tea is no different, because it offers a full range of product to suit anyone’s taste or budget.
Perhaps it is because tea is associated with many spiritual traditions and deeply rooted cultural experiences that we want to hold it to a high standard of integrity in business. Some of us may feel drawn to the world of tea with a belief that we are inherently networked through a loftier business model. We’re looking to escape the world of unconscious marketing - promise and package anything to make the sale.Quality Education & Quality Information
One of my good friends in Tea Land, Amy Lawrence of An Afternoon to Remember, was asked by a Sacramento TV station to come on their morning show and tell the audience that all tea was the same. She refused to make this statement but he still allowed her on the show and still tried to bully her into saying that all teas are equal. She defended the position.
If we allow the public to believe that all teas are equal, we are injuring the spirit and beauty of tea and the potential for the industry.
Our strength is in the diversity of product quality and a culture experience that connects the entire world. Just as we are drawn to an assumption of quality in tea and a desire to trust the packaging claims and marketing spiels, so are the new consumers exploring beyond the grocery store shelves into the larger world of tea.
The Spirit of Tea seems to attract an educated and inquisitive imbiber. We have lured them away from other beverages with the promise of health benefits and the allure of traveling the world through their teacup.We don’t have to be snobs.
My last post featured some of the tea books for children. It’s a niche I’ve chosen for myself. Or maybe it chose me. Either way - one of the remarkable things about introducing children to the whole world of tea is their delight with the legends and fascination with the differences. They’re a long way from feeling like they have to choose between one way or another. They want it all. Even young children are excited to try something new. One cautious sip might be enough. Or, if I show them the tiny rosebuds in the oolong, it could become there new favorite of the day. Tomorrow it could be a tea with chunks of apple and cranberries. The next day a child might want to watch a tied tea flower open and taste the interesting blend of green tea and osmanthus flower. One of my 5-yr-old friends just loves saying the word lychee. His older brother will drink anything if he can stir the teacup with a whole cinnamon stick. Their sister likes to unfold the reconstituted leaf. She considers that she has “won” if she finds two leaves still attached to a bit of stem.
In the Spirit of Tea, I know I can give them a quality tea at a price their parents can afford. It’s do-able. And I believe that the wealth of tea experiences can keep them interested and satisfied for the rest of their lives.It’s not easy but it is fun.
So, now I’m precariously perched on my soap box - or my tea crate. I have to add that tea isn’t easy. There’s a lot to know and here in the US, we’re still relatively young. We’re like children in many ways depending on others to help us understand “quality”. But this year TEAUSA and the Specialty Tea Institute have graduated 35 students through Level 3 - teachers who have invested in something comparable to a college curriculum in tea. We’re preparing for the 8th World Tea Expo where tea pros gather to taste, learn and celebrate this spirit we share. It bridges the gap between the retailers and the plantations be luring people from all around the world to display and sample the newest teas. There are more tea books, tea artists and tea educators every year. We’re all starting to experience a more educated consumer and appreciate the physical and virtual resources available to stay current.
A writer friend recently asked me if I don’t get bored writing about tea?
I love tea. Don’t you?