One of the things that I love about the specialty tea niche is the people I have met since beginning research and development for the tea business I co-founded back in 2004. You have to cup an ocean of tea to find vendors who are as passionate about quality and taste as you are. During that endless journey, you run across some really special people in those businesses who are willing to spend time, take you under their wing, and teach you some of what they have learned – not just the basics or even the more advanced tea knowledge, but details about the teas they sell. Each tea has its own personality and each vendor’s teas – although they may be from the same plant and the same region – have their own taste profile. I have found such a shared love for the Camellia sinensis and such respect for it in the vendors we buy our collection from. It also seems to me that, the more love and respect they have, the better tasting their teas are. Logical, right?
In particular, there was a woman who worked for one of my favorite sources who would just bubble over whenever I called, and asked her a ton of questions. She was a tea soul-mate. When she left the company for another opportunity in tea, she wrote to thank me for that very thing … for letting her share her love for the product and teach me about it. We bonded through tea.
To me, blending is an absolute art and not everyone should attempt it, or at least not attempt to sell it! But, when you find a genius blender, you have found a gem. These true tea artisans will take time to discuss each tea when you are looking for a particular flavor profile. I’m thinking of one, in particular, who was surprised when I noticed they had changed vanillas, like an artist who is pleased when you notice that tiny ray of sunlight in a landscape that makes it pop.
Then there are the tea retailers who have mentored me, virtual mentors because I have not met any of them in person. Instead, I have just read about them, read interviews they’ve given, and learned from their experiences. I’m one of the crazy ones who works about 12 hours a day and then gets on the computer and reads articles to see what’s going on in the world of tea retailing and who the frontrunners are. What is their concept, how are they executing it, and what have they tried and decided against? It’s smart to know your competition, but respect their trade secrets and their space. I have no respect for industrial espionage and theft of someone’s intellectual property or trade secrets. Sports teams study the other teams’ styles / moves without sneaking into their team meetings!! That’s the lowest of the low and should not be tolerated, in sports or in business.
Perhaps, the best tea mentoring, or most practical, is from our customers. I’ve learned so much from them. I’ve learned that they appreciate the quality of the product and are always seeking the same level of taste we are in any tea we bring in. They have taught me which teas sell best in our store. They have taught me that it’s not just the tea they come for, but the shared interest and passion. They have shown me the demographics, the trends, and what means most to them, be it health, taste, the environment, or delivery. They have not only taught me about tea, but also about how adventuresome and risk-taking most tea-loving people are.
Who are your tea mentors? Whose tea mentor are you?