This week an espresso vendor we had carefully selected and just begun buying from “looked us over” and decided we could not place a second order until we updated our grinding equipment.  Stunned at his attitude, I explained to him how passionate we were about the product and what a tremendous response we had from customers after serving their espresso from the first shipment.  But he still insisted the shots weren’t reaching the taste point his company wanted them to reach with our grinder and we would have to update.  What the…grrrrr.

Some friends and even other retailers suggested I tell him to take a walk – in not so nice a way – but I can relate to that kind of passion because I find myself verging on bossy at times about the quality of tea we sell and the preparation of it.  His attitude made me pause and consider tempering my own passion for our product with care for the feelings of others, where they are in their own loose-leaf tea journey, and their individual tastes and needs.  For example, I have had to temper my reaction when a new customer wants me to suggest a loose-leaf tea that is as close as possible to a chain-store-brand bagged tea they’ve been buying, or when they ask if we sell teabags period.  How can I make them feel comfortable about asking any question at all about tea if I come across as condescending or as a “tea snob”?

Most of us probably came to the loose-leaf tea experience via the tea-bag route, even though we may shun tea bags now.  It was part of the journey.  I remember enjoying a particular brand of bagged teas, reading about the company’s beginnings and how it got its name, and loving the brightly colored boxes.  It was a step in the journey of discovering the incredible taste and experience of loose-leaf tea farther down the road.  In much the same way, Starbucks opened up the world of specialty coffee and espresso to the masses, even though many have now moved on to smaller retailers and roasters who are more specialized as they have continued to seek more information and knowledge.

If the espresso company representative had been a little more diplomatic, I imagine I would have come away from the discussion really excited about doing espresso to his specs.   As it was, I am going to get the equipment when I can find it at a good price, but only because the product is so good I just “have to have it” as part of our offerings.  But it wasn’t a great experience and could have turned me off to being a customer and/or to taking espresso to the next level…even though we already get great reviews on all of our products.  Still, I know we can do even better if we are humble enough to continue to listen and learn from others who specialize in roasting beans and strive to be cutting edge and best in their own specialty.  After all, that’s why we chose their product over their competitors’.

When sharing the incredible experience of selecting, purchasing, and brewing loose-leaf teas, the customer should feel absolutely excited about the process, and this is a beautiful thing.  We have seen everyone from teenagers to the elderly come into the family of fine tea drinkers over this last year.  We have seen the excitement as they taste, for the first time, how delicious great tea can be.  I hope we have helped them move along on their journey with a “good taste in their mouth” and the desire to find more and more ways to enhance their loose-leaf tea experience.

Hopefully, this was a lesson in never letting extreme passion for a product override basic politeness.  And always remembering who the customer is.