Tea seems to bring out the George Orwell in me. In fact, Orwell was quite a fan of tea. The famous journalist and author even wrote an essay called “A Nice Cup of Tea,” which I described in a T Ching post last year.
I am not a famous author – or even a British man – but I do love tea and feel inspired to review a tea company in the vein of Orwell’s first full-length work, Down and Out in Paris and London. I read this book several years ago when I was a part of a fantastic book club, which I would still attend regularly if it weren’t so far away!
Before I begin, I would like to offer a disclaimer: Working at Bird Pick Tea and Herb was probably nothing like Orwell’s experience at the restaurants he described in his memoir. Even though it is a little physically tiring after a while, it is convivial enough not to make you feel too “down and out.” In America during the 21st Century, labor laws don’t really allow food service workers to slave away for sixteen-hour shifts, thank goodness. However, problems do occur when a six-hour shift starts to feel like a sixteen-hour shift.
Despite a century of progress, all types of unhealthy working environments still occur, and often illegally. Restaurant and food service workers experience some of the worst working conditions in America (now there are more labor unions devoted to ameliorating such problems, but a lot of work needs to be done).
As you can imagine, working at a tea café is not the worst job, but it is only worth it if you truly love Camellia sinensis, and I do. As I explained in a previous post, Bird Pick Tea and Herb allowed me to refine my knowledge of and appreciation for the world’s most widely consumed beverage, second only to the ubiquitous H20. My coworkers were mostly amiable and a few were really nice people. Even though it does not have German rock sugar, like Teavana, Bird Pick Tea and Herb has a cozier, more mom-and-pop feel. If you are sick of places with a corporate feel, it provides a better, overall experience than Starbucks.
Unfortunately, though, it seems to want to emulate the efficiency, predictability, and control of Starbucks (and, ultimately, McDonald’s). McDonald’s does not have a tea-sampling station nor does it give traditional gaiwan demonstrations to its customers, but it does embody the “irrationality of [too much] rationality.” Do supervisors really need to get angry with their employees for accidentally whisking an extra ¼ tablespoon of matcha into a bowl? Learning occurs only through practice and perfection takes time!
I don’t regret having worked at this establishment at all. In fact, it has given me material to write about. Now that I am familiar with the company on a more intimate level, I can write a more educated Yelp review than if I had remained a casual customer.
It sounds like you had quite a challenge at Bird Pick Tea but are able to take a step back and realize that it did provide you with a lot of learning about tea. It is unfortunate that some owners set unrealistic expectations for their employees and fail to understand the concept of learning. I suspect you’ll never add too much match into a bowl again. It will be interesting so see if the tea shop is able to thrive given their behavior towards their employees. I think happy, enthusiastic employees are critical to the success of a tea shop. Keep us posted on their progress.
Bird Pick’s website specifies that its parent company is Wing Hop Fong (http://www.winghopfung.com/), a Chinese company/store based in the San Gabriel Valley. I have never been to Bird Pick or Wing Hop Fong but am a bit curious about Bird Pick’s pricing strategy.