Some very interesting insights and perspectives on the tea industry have been expressed in recent T Ching posts. Each person’s perspectives and areas of expertise are so unique and informative. As Guy Munsch so aptly put it, “Tea, as an industry, is a big tent.” I have found the recent discussions and speculation on the future direction of the tea industry particularly interesting.
Being originally introduced to tea in Taiwan by some distinguished Chinese tea masters, I have learned to appreciate high-quality Chinese teas and understand the beauty of the tea culture as well as embrace the wonderful atmosphere that a tea ceremony can generate. Because of this, the main thrust of my business initially was to promote high-quality Chinese and Taiwanese teas and, of course, the Chinese tea ceremony – yixing teapots, bamboo tea trays, Chinese calligraphy and art, expensive earthenware and pottery from famous artists, and so on. I love all that! But, as no doubt many passionate tea lovers who have become business people have found out, our customers don’t always share the same passions, likes, and needs that we have. I eventually realized that this is only a tiny niche market in most western countries and something that I won’t be able to change very quickly. If we wanted our business to succeed, we needed to let go of some of the ideals and find the right balance between building a successful business and solely promoting our own passions and beliefs. So now, we supply a much larger variety of teas and teaware products, catering to a variety of customers – ranging from those who simply want average-quality products that cost little and sell well to those who want high-end teas and high-quality products.
I like the analogy that Austin Hodge brought out in his recent article in relation to how years ago it was said that “people will never appreciate the value of fine wine.” Now that I am spending more time living in Sydney after many years in Asia, I am seeing more clearly the need to create a greater public awareness of the value of tea, and that there is so much more to it than just the cheap tea bags available at the supermarket. The neat thing is that there seems to be a growing interest and demand for a better understanding and appreciation. My hope is that the right “tea leaders” will be out there to influence the public in the right way to learn to appreciate fine teas. The wine industry will always have their cheap champagnes and artificial wines and other imitation products – and the tea industry will likewise. But overall the appreciation of fine wines is now well recognized. I don’t know how the wine industry evolved to become what it is now, or who the leaders in the industry were – but it was probably those who promoted fine-quality wines.
So with tea, it is most likely going to take the same thing over time to build solid public awareness and appreciation of the fine qualities and tremendous variety of teas today. Thankfully, we have leaders at the ready – leaders with the expertise of the Dan Robertsons and the Austin Hodges, the passion of the Michelle Rabins and the Dianna Harbins, the great ideas of the Brendan Wayes and the Maria Uspenskis, and the dynamism and drive of the Jesse Jacobs and the Nathan Wakefords – to name a few I have noticed.