World Tea Expo; A gathering place for tea people

After being in and around tea business people for the last eight years, from the World Tea Expo way back when it was Take Me 2 Tea to the first IPO by a tea retail chain last year, I have found that it has been a fascinating time to experience an industry that, for most, started as a passion and then became a business. 

Conversely, there are tea businesses that began because the founders saw an opportunity and later developed a passion for the product.  In whichever order, we have been fortunate enough to have a number of other tea industry professionals visit our store here in Temecula, several very recently, and they are indeed special people.  The names have been left out, but they will know who they are if they read this.  Not only do I respect their passion, but their gift of time and more to others in this business.

James Norwood Pratt and Charles Moon at World Tea Expo

James Norwood Pratt and Charles Moon at World Tea Expo

 One is on the journalistic side of the tea business, but is also a passionate lover of tea, especially classic teas prepared traditionally.  An intellectual and businessperson, she is a kind soul and displays a great gift for writing as well.  Another is a beautiful woman who came from the retail side of tea and now works on the wholesale side.  She and I sat and talked about our common background in retail store ownership a few weeks ago and found that our love of tea has led us through some mutual experiences that have made us stronger and wiser, and deepened our love and knowledge of the tea business.  She was someone I had read about in my never-ending thirst for finding out who else was on the tea journey, and our meeting came about when someone visited our store who turned out to be her cousin.  Connections happen when they are meant to.

We have also had visits by several well-known “palates” within the industry, curious to try the results of our one-minute proprietary brewing technology.  It was fun to watch these professionals cup tea, sipping, slurping, and approving of the results.  It was one of the most gratifying moments in my personal tea journey so far.

One of our vendor’s reps from out of the area dropped by to see our shop for the first time.  I had originally met him years ago when opening another tea store with a partner.  I was scrubbing the new tile floor at the time, raggedy and exhausted.  Actually, not much has changed in that regard!  He brought up yet another old acquaintance in the tea industry he had just talked to on the other side of the country, a wonderful lady who was my mentor in learning about tea.  She was with one of the best tea importers in the world then, and it was she who taught me so much about what to look for in sourcing great teas.  It was another soul mate-type bonding experience for me and the connection will always be there.

Recently, we have touched bases with another tea industry entrepreneur who I have been wanting to meet for some time.  I guess, in some ways, I’m a tea business groupie when it comes to innovative people in this niche.  It was wonderful to find him humble, professional, and warm.  I look forward to developing that relationship and learning more from someone who has been around the block many more times than I have and is still growing and taking risks.

Perhaps most exciting recently was something that happened that had nothing to do with tea, at least not directly, but was more an entrepreneurial connection, from a well-known and highly successful manufacturer who had lost a company he built to partners and had to start over from scratch.  He now wants to encourage other entrepreneurs in their journey.  We received a call this week from the president of his company who said they wanted to gift us two expensive commercial appliances they build that we very much needed.  We had never purchased from them, nor did they ask us to tweet, blog, write, yelp, or even tell our customers about it.  For them, it was simply a gesture of kindness to say “keep on keeping on.”  They are known to do this quite regularly.  I promised him we would pass on the generosity, and we got that opportunity quickly when a customer watching as the equipment arrived mentioned how her home version of the appliance had broken down.  She now has one of our used commercial ones, still in working condition and perfect for a home with three thirsty teenagers!

Last, but not least, is someone who has passion for both tea and people, someone I haven’t met in person, but virtually via Twitter.  He is a fellow Norwegian, a tea guy in Norway, who is attempting to start something called “Tea for Peace.”  He tweets about it as @project499 and hopes to interest other tea businesspeople in supporting causes that promote peace throughout the world.  That’s a big project for sure!

I’m a believer that you should live your life sowing seeds.  I believe 2012 is a year when a lot of sprouting seeds will start to bring a harvest for the planters.  The tea industry has some wonderful farmers who have planted good seeds in us and our business.