Without a doubt, this past year has been one of the most unusual and memorable of my life, in no small part thanks to tea. A year and a half ago, when I discovered that I would be leaving my working home (Citigroup) of almost 26 years at the end of December 2007, my feelings, understandably, were mixed. For many years, I had moved blissfully through my workdays, assuming that I would be there until I was ready to retire. I loved the challenges of my job almost as much as I loved my colleagues, many of whom had become good friends. But frankly, finance and banking had never been passions of mine, so faced with the unexpected opportunity to start fresh, it never even crossed my mind to continue down the same path.
When the first waves of change began to blow at Citigroup almost three years ago, I started to dream, ever so tentatively at first, of opening a teahouse. Little by little, my dream took shape and before long, it was easy to conjure up a detailed image of my eco-friendly, organic tea-only teahouse, inspired by the yalis (mansions built by the pashas during the waning century of the Ottoman Empire) along the Bosporus in Istanbul. I became a sponge, soaking up everything tea. True tea versus tisanes, types of teas, the tea-producing regions of the world, the history and legacy of tea, the health benefits of tea, and the health of the tea industry: all aspects of tea were equally fascinating. When I left Citigroup on December 28, 2007, I stepped directly from the world of finance and banking into the world of tea. There was no time to mourn—I was on a mission.
I began my year writing my business plan, a three-month odyssey that thrust me into many new and wonderful situations. Like the morning I met with the Sri Lankan Consul General in Los Angeles, who had just been appointed the new Sri Lankan Ambassador to the United States, and his Commercial Attache to discuss Ceylon tea and the various tea growing regions in Sri Lanka. It was a lovely morning that culminated in sharing a pot of Ceylon tea, much different than past visits to other consulates.
At the same time, I rediscovered the public library. I didn’t know of the wealth of information it offered to small business owners. Spending time in amongst the books brought back fond memories of the many hours I passed in libraries during my days as a student.
Not long after my business plan was complete, I jetted off to Las Vegas (not a place I usually associate with tea) to attend the inaugural New Business Boot Camp for tea entrepreneurs and the World Tea Expo. What a world of possibilities and new friends that experience afforded me! Here I was in my element and got to hobnob with tea celebrities like Jane Pettigrew and Bruce Richardson as well!
I returned home newly energized and ready to move forward with my plans, which I did. I completed a business bookkeeping course, investigated financing options, met with folks at the local Small Business Development Center, and visited potential locations. I left no stone unturned. But sadly, when it came time to do the final analysis, the numbers were simply not strong enough to support the risk. After months of hard work, it was again time to move on.
But as sad as it was to table my dream, I did so with no regrets and with a new world at my footsteps…the wonderful world of tea, with its amazing variety, its health-affirming properties, and its legacy of bringing people together.