tea gatheringThe last month has been an incredibly busy one. I coordinated the 2011 Tea Appreciation Day and Rishi Tea, Numi, Lochan Tea, and an anonymous Japan tea company donated teas for tasting. I had what felt like my first real speaking engagement at Kulov’s 2011 Tea Lovers Festival in the Los Angeles area and finished up my fourteen-week “Self-Employment Training” business course. Meetup.com is the world’s largest Internet social networking platform for forming local face-to-face interest groups. The business course helped me understand and refine some possibilities for my Tea Meetup work. The next year or so will be the testing ground for some of my Tea Meetup business strategies.

My PowerPoint presentation at Kulov’s 2011 Annual Tea Lovers Festival was on how joining Tea Meetups makes it easier to find the tea community and tea businesses in one’s local area. The talk was directed at tea enthusiasts and included instructions on everything from how to join Meetup.com to how to find the local Tea Meetups. I talked briefly on how to start a new Tea Meetup if there is nothing that meets one’s needs. The room was filled almost to capacity and the group listened attentively and asked plenty of questions. People were present from as far away as the San Francisco Bay Area and San Diego. There were plenty of people in the room who were featured in the Meetup activity images I was using, so that made the point clear about how tea community is indeed facilitated by Tea Meetups.

I am slated to present at World Tea East this September on the value of organizing a Tea Meetup group to tea companies. My perspective as both a tea educator and an organizer of about 700 tea enthusiasts through multiple Tea Meetups gives me a perspective that few can claim. Many tea companies recognize the value of Internet social networking and have Facebook pages or advertise on tea blogs such as T Ching, but the Meetup platform is still vastly under-utilized. I will explain the steps involved in setting up a Tea Meetup group and show examples of active Tea Meetups and advertising opportunities on Meetup.com. I will also emphasize that the setup phase of a new Meetup group is extremely important because some steps only happen once in the lifetime of a group and will largely determine how quickly the group recruits new members. It is a classic example of “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Speaking at Kulov’s Tea Lovers Festival was the perfect way to begin my journey to speaking at World Tea East.

Tea Appreciation Day, which fell on May 8, 2011, was fun, but certainly not as I expected, with my strongest Tea Meetup participation coming from the place where I least expected it – the joint Long Beach Tea / Los Angeles Tea Meetup event at the Everyday Zen Relaxation Studio. These are two of my newest Tea Meetups and we are still having combined events, so I chose to be at that location on May 8. The group had a wonderful time tea tasting inside and making tea for each other outside under a canopy. The sky was threatening rain early in the day, but the weather was marvelous when it mattered most. The slight overcast skies were welcome, as that kept the sun from being too strong.

Margaret Studer, my Long Beach Tea Meetup group co-organizer, bravely served the Rishi and Lochan tastings from professional cupping sets for the first time ever right in front of everyone, since I had given away the teapots to another site. I oversaw the outdoor tea-making social and made matcha for everyone. I decorated in my favorite blue-and-white theme and people were talking and having so much fun it was hard to end the event. It really was a sight to behold.

The San Diego event was expected to be chock-a-block full of people due to a high number of RSVPs, but a very well prepared co-organizer, Dharlene Marie Fahl, only received a small number of participants. The Mad Monk representative was present to serve gongfu-style tea and Eugene Sukhorukov volunteered to play shakuhachi flute music. Steven Gelb and Dharlene’s family set up the room for the event. I am calling what happened in San Diego a “Perfect Storm.”?? The “Perfect Storm” concept is that multiple factors combine and create something with a lot more impact than expected. Perhaps many people RSVP’ed so long ago that they forgot they had signed up and simply deleted their reminder messages. There were some “RSVP lurkers” who just wanted to know what was happening. Maybe the large number of old RSVPs made the current set of 60 or so highly active members think they weren’t needed in attendance. I started advertising the following month’s event too early and the Meetup Everywhere and the regular Meetup sites had different start times listed. The venue had ten RSVPs on its own website and those people did not show up either. The signups in San Francisco and Long Beach were consistent with attendance, considering that it was Mother’s Day. There can’t be any single explanation for what happened. Even still, The Red Lotus’ Ideal Tea Room was happy to get the publicity they got from the local press and they are now better equipped as a tea room, so all was not in vain. The June cheese-and-tea pairing event already has 45 signups. I bet they will come too.

San Francisco Tea Appreciation DayThe San Francisco Tea Meetup Appreciation Day event was small, but lovely, and demonstrated the camaraderie such a day could inspire. The enthusiastic group of members that assembled had a great time talking and tasting teas, sharing their tea experiences with each other, and enjoying the venue. I really do value quality of experience over quantity of participants. The images taken show happy, engaged people, which is perfect. Jeni Quigg of Sky Tea had agreed to serve as the organizer for the day and I hope she will want to organize more events in the Bay Area. Deb Pun Discoe, a Tea Demonstration Coordinator for Rishi, served Rishi teas and Ben Discoe shared images and stories of his experiences micro-farming tea on Hawaii’s Big Island. Stephanie Thompson of the Let’s Go to Afternoon Tea Meetup group and the Tea Lover’s Gift Baskets company volunteered to help Jeni.

Meetup.com management changed the website design and functions repeatedly over the last six months, making many group organizers angry and frustrated in the process. Most of these issues are now resolved or manageable. Meetup Everywhere has only been available for use for about a year and the 2011 Tea Appreciation Day was my first time using it. Meetup Everywhere started auto-sending messages as Tea Appreciation Day neared and sometimes I had not yet updated the information to coincide with changes made on the parallel Meetup group site. The San Diego event had two different start times advertised at one point. Frustrated, I mentioned this to someone else, who told me about how they had once accidentally had three different start times floating around on a single event outside of Meetup to give me perspective on what can happen.

Managing Meetup Everywhere and the multiple events was more complicated and needed much more active oversight than I had anticipated.  It proved very difficult to get people to sign up on Meetup Everywhere in addition to other locations. I had stopped widely promoting this first year of Tea Appreciation Day and was hoping for a “soft opening” to work out the kinks before pushing the celebration further next year. The fact that the celebration did reach beyond my own efforts to events in multiple U.S. states and Australia, Canada, Great Britain, and South America is e
ncouraging.

Tea event organizing of this sort is much harder than it appears, but it is extremely gratifying to help build multiple levels of tea community locally and internationally. I will keep at it, and, with my new business knowledge, the next year will hopefully turn out to be financially rewarding as well.