Lately, I have been thinking about my devotion to tea. I completed my Specialty Tea Institute (STI) training and became a Certified Tea Specialist. I attended the last three Las Vegas World Tea Expos. I finished the World Tea Expo New Business Boot Camp in Las Vegas several years ago. In 2009, I attended the Northwest Tea Festival in Seattle. I organized three social tea groups on Meetup.com – Los Angeles Tea, San Diego Teaand San Francisco Tea. I have started promoting an annual worldwide event to honor tea, tea trade workers, and tea business called Tea Appreciation Day to start on May 8, 2011. And lastly, and most importantly, I share tea with other tea enthusiasts as often as I can.

My STI friend Brendan Waye’s July 2010 T Ching post “Zooming off to Vegas for the final STI course” motivated me to consider all that I am doing in the pursuit of tea and how I benefit from that pursuit. As I start up the Los Angeles Tea group, I am being asked anew what my intentions are with the Meetup groups. A Bay Area tea associate recently asked how I make money with my Meetup groups and I received a curious phone call from a mysterious nameless woman with a cloaked telephone number asking me if I sell tea. Pondering what to write about in this T Ching installment, I decided to shed some light on all of this.

My main mission with tea is expressed in three statements on my Meetup cards. Firstly, I want to help myself and others learn and/or teach about tea. When I say “tea,” I mean high-quality, premium and specialty teas prepared from Camellia sinensis sinensis and Camellia sinensis assamica. I want to increase general tea knowledge among the tea-drinking public since most people do not know the origins, modes of production, or hallmarks of good-quality white, green, oolong, black, and puerh teas or how to brew them to their best advantage. This mission is primarily about improving the appreciation of tea as a beverage and secondarily includes the appreciation of tea for its health-related qualities. To this end, I help tea educators and tea enthusiasts to connect with each other and I offer tea education myself.

My second mission with tea is to support tea businesses, especially, but not exclusively, local brick-and-mortar tea businesses. I want brick-and-mortar tea businesses to thrive and improve so they can be more competitive in the marketplace.  Brick-and-mortar tea businesses offer the face-to-face interactions over tea that I encourage tea enthusiasts to experience as often as they can. This experience can come in various forms, such as having the retailer show and describe their teas or offer focused tea tastings to help purchasers make their buying decisions. I encourage tea retailers to offer tea education events, such as directed tea tastings and tea-preparation classes. This personal experience is something that online retailers cannot possibly offer, but many tea retailers do not take good advantage of this. Often, tea enthusiasts do not know that a brick-and-mortar tea business exists in their area until I announce an event on the website. In this way, I help tea businesses – especially local brick-and-mortar tea businesses – and tea enthusiasts to connect with each other.

The third and most personally gratifying mission I have with tea is to create community through the sharing of tea. I have discovered that I love connecting people to people with tea. I have met – and sometimes become close friends with – an incredibly diverse group of people due to our shared predilection for drinking high-quality tea in social settings – people I am sure I would never have gotten to know otherwise. In this way, tea is a great unifier.

I chose the Meetup.com Internet-based platform to benefit from this power of tea most easily and cost-effectively since all new Meetup members indicate their interests when they join and this information is stored in a database. Meetup sends new members notices about what groups might interest them so many members join without me needing to make any effort to recruit them. I can search the database for members within a specific geographic area who indicate an interest in tea and I can actively recruit from this pool. Members also can search for local tea groups to join at any time. There is a constant in-flow and out-flow of members, with the in-flow predominating by far. Members pay no joining fee to Meetup and I chose not to charge for joining my groups. I pay Meetup.com a small monthly fee for the use of the platform.

I encourage tea businesses and enthusiasts to form their own Meetup groups, including groups in the same geographic areas as mine, and I advise others on how to proceed. I want to make it easy for people to find tea-related activities. I will gladly cross-promote the tea events of businesses and tea groups on my Meetup websites as long as the activities are in alignment with my stated missions. I ask other Meetups to do the same for me. This is called “cross-promotion.”

Since my work in tea includes promoting healthy lifestyles, I have chosen not to cross-promote activities that combine tea and alcohol consumption as their primary purpose. A class on making tea cocktails would fall into this category. This stance has opened up a large network of alcohol-free themed Meetup groups as cross-promoters of my tea events, so I have ended up with more cross-promotion potential instead of less. I also have good cross-promotion potential with foodie, healthy lifestyle, and green/sustainable interest groups.

My “only” remaining major hurdle is to design my Meetup activities in such a way that I don’t lose money in the process. I do not have my own tea brand to sell, but even if I did, I doubt that I would turn a significant profit selling tea at events, so I am sticking with “The Day Job” for now. I am open to suggestions. Perhaps a year from now, I can write about how I solved that puzzle. For now, this is a labor of love!

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