Knowing your product isn’t good enough – you MUST “master” it (or find someone who already has). Prior to launching Tavalon, I put in about two years of preparation (visiting tea farms/houses/salons/bars/expos, got my certification from the Specialty Tea Institute, worked at local tea shops, and read pretty much every tea book out there). I have now been in the game for five years and I still don’t think I have mastered the product. The good thing for me is that I didn’t have to. I needed enough knowledge to effectively manage the people and operations behind the business, but I didn’t need – nor want – to reinvent any wheels. The goal was to find a true tea person who had dedicated his life to the product and one who subscribed to my vision for tea.
That person came to Tavalon by way of the World Tea Expo in Las Vegas. Chris Cason, our Tea Sommelier, was the missing piece of our dream team. Chris was young, but had already been working in the tea industry for many years and had authored a tea book by the time we met at the Expo in 2005. He wasn’t the only tea expert we met during our trip to the Expo, but he was the only one who truly understood and subscribed to our ambitions to revitalize and revamp the stagnant image of tea in the domestic market. We probably pitched the idea to over 17 professionals/businessmen and women in the tea industry and they all looked at us like we were “smoking” tea, not drinking it. It was a match made in heaven. Chris even grew up near the Charleston Tea Plantation – the only tea garden in the United States.
Chris’ role as our Tea Sommelier is not only to be the product expert, but also to use his knowledge of tea to educate our customers in an accessible/relatable way. There is still so much to learn in the realm of tea and we at Tavalon are having a great time doing it.