I was fortunate to start my education as a tea retailer with some of the most authentic people in the industry: the founders of the International Tea Farms Alliance. I started selling tea on behalf of these artisan tea growers/producers, but as I expanded my network, I learned that one of the most valuable assets to find in tea partners is honesty. Tea buyers (retailers and consumers) must trust that what their partners say is true. Tea lovers are on their own journey to find this integrity in their merchants and producers.
In his article the Romanization of Tea Terms, Tony Gebely explained that one of the reasons why there is much confusion in tea terminology is because “they were haphazardly transliterated by traders before Romanization systems were in place, often from local dialects.” In some cases the confusion is unintentional, but there are many instances where tea merchants assume “creative license” when marketing their products, deliberately confusing the consumer.
A fine example of this is Hawaii-style teas vs Hawaiian-grown teas. Numerous tea retail brands utilize Hawaiian names and branding for teas which are blended with tropical fruits and/or flavors that are not actually sourced from Hawaii. As someone who represents Hawaii tea farmers, I have noticed that this both confuses consumers, and is unfair for the Hawaii growers who produce and market genuine Hawaiian-grown tea. “Hawaii-style” blended teabags sell for about $5 per ounce. Genuine Hawaiian grown tea is retailing for about $25 per ounce. I have heard many instances of confused consumers choosing to purchase the $5 box of teabags because they thought it was truly Hawaiian grown. I have even seen these teas labeled as “Local” at Whole Foods!
The conscious and ambitious tea lover will probably see through this and perhaps even call out merchants for using confusing terminology for their teas. These conscious consumers will go out of their way to research to discover honest sources of tea online, and might even travel around the world to find teas. Unfortunately, even with this growing level of awareness, there are still many opportunities for dishonesty. Tea retailers who source direct from the farm, or from brokers, tell of times when tea partners – even those with whom they have developed strong relationships – have sent samples of a high grade prior to purchase, but shipped entire orders of lower grade than was originally agreed upon. It’s amazing that a tea broker would put her/his business in that position because these dishonest transactions can ruin the chance of future business. Unfortunately, It is a common situation that many tea retailers and enthusiasts have experienced.
As I have built Tealet, I have experienced this too, at the cost of a significant amount of my time, resources, and money. For this reason my brother and I have decided to travel throughout this April and May to visit every one of our tea grower partners, so we can fully document their claims. We will then be able to provide honest tea to tea buyers. Honesty may be difficult to find, but it’s not impossible. There are many thousands of honest people around the world ready to share their tea and tea stories with you. It’s a matter of connection.
Main Image provided by contributor. IMAGE 1: