In 2005, I was working for a consulting company called Accenture. I enjoyed the job, but didn’t love it, and was always looking for a way to break out of the corporate rat race. I was working and living in London for a client engagement and frequented Covent Garden for coffee on the weekends. Then on one particular visit to Covent Garden on a random Sunday afternoon, changed everything. I was seated at a café when I noticed that no one around me – folks both young and old, from all different walks of life – was sharing in my coffee-drinking experience. Instead, everyone was enjoying tea. Literally, everyone had a string hanging over their cups!
As an American, used to the frenetic fast-paced life coffee chains have inspired, this struck me as unusual, but fascinating. I grew up in a Korean-American household and drank more tea than water in my home, but never saw tea as a business opportunity. I immediately went online to research more about tea. Once I realized that tea was the second most widely consumed beverage in the world only behind water, I was convinced where I wanted to be.
So I began my travels and visits to various tea houses, tea plantations, tea salons, and tea bars throughout Europe and Asia to collect information. By the end of the two-year research period, I had visited over 300 of them. Despite the fact that tea was so popular globally, domestically it ranked after soda, juice, beer, milk, and coffee. It occurred to me that this was due to poor marketing and the perception of tea in the United States. Tea is still a very foreign concept in the U.S. Americans view tea variously as Asian, European, your grandmother’s sip, a pinky-up-in-the-air beverage, and only to be consumed when sick. I knew I could change this with creative marketing, strong branding, and education. We have the best PR company in the world behind us – called the medical industry – pumping out three to four studies per month telling us why everyone should be drinking tea!
I was ready when I came back to the States. I immediately quit my job, and began preparations to start a tea company.