tea in Las VegasIf they’re not careful, trade journalists like me can begin to operate in a bubble.  From their desks, they research and write about what’s happening on the business-to-business side of their industry, losing touch with the business-to-consumer side.  Good reporters will prevent this by getting out often and talking face-to-face with individuals from every phase of the supply-and-demand chain they cover.

So it was with pleasure that I responded to my boyfriend’s request to hand out tea samples at an art opening in his flower and gift shop in downtown Las Vegas last Friday night.  He carries a small selection of tea in his shop and wanted to raise awareness of specialty tea among his customers.

Because it’s Las Vegas in August, I chose to offer one iced tea – a white tea-strawberry blend that I brewed and chilled about four hours – and one hot – a green-citrus blend.  For obvious reasons (it was 90-plus degrees outside after the sun went down), the chilled tea was the more popular of the two.

The opening was part of a monthly art walk, and my boyfriend’s shop got lots of foot traffic.  I probably handed out 40-50 samples and talked to a dozen people at length about the tea.

It was the latter that surprised me; that is, how many people were not only willing to try the tea and give feedback, but were also genuinely eager to learn more.  A few stayed at my table 10 to 15 minutes asking all kinds of questions about where the tea came from, how it was brewed, and so on.

iced teaTheir curiosity was heartening, for several reasons.  First, I could tell that the overall ignorance of the difference between specialty tea and lower grades was matched by an overall desire to become informed. Second, I gathered that they would use the information gained in purchasing decisions.  And, finally, it helped my boyfriend create some tea customers.

Back at my World Tea News editor’s desk, I recalled the many conversations I’ve had with industry manufacturers and retailers about this process.  They’ve told me how important it is to educate consumers by handing out samples, conducting tastings, and creating other opportunities for conversation about tea. Hearing other people describe it and actually experiencing it are two different things, however.  I’m glad I was able to close that loop.

Telescoping this phenomenon out to a larger scale, you also begin to grasp the importance of events like the educational conference of our sister businesses, World Tea Expo and World Tea East, and of the Specialty Tea Institute.  While the potential for spreading information is invaluable, the risk of spreading misinformation is also present.

If the consumer is hungry for knowledge that will ultimately drive the growth of the industry, it behooves the organizations that provide industry education to make sure the retailers putting information in the hands of consumers are themselves well-informed.

In other words, the interest is definitely there.  The question is: What are we doing with it?

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This article was originally posted in August of 2009.