Following in the tradition developed last year, my team took an epic road trip up the West Coast to connect with our tea friends in the Pacific Northwest. I wrote about my experiences from last year and have realized that this year was all about learning about the quickly evolving tea culture of the US. At Tealet, we have come to look to the tea market of the Pacific Northwest as an indicator of the future of tea in the rest of the US, because tea education is much more developed there. Last year on our journey we learned that the tea market was well developed, but this year we learned that it has become quite sophisticated.
In 2014, the purpose of our journey into the Pacific Northwest was to sponsor tea at the Beloved Festival in Tidewater, Oregon. Along the way, we stopped at every tea shop and visited with every tea person we possibly could through our social media network. It was obvious with the endless selection of tea shops in Portland and Seattle that tea was hot in 2014. When we introduced our idea and platform for direct trade tea that was sourced and distributed from small tea farms around the world, the response was positive. Although tea people understood the importance of direct trade for quality and social responsibility there was still a sentiment that the market was not ready because they are not prepared to pay the higher price that comes with high-quality tea. Many tea shop owners explained that their original passion for tea has been taken out of focus to offer more of what their customers want–such as food and flavored tea.
In 2015, our experience was much different. There was no need to introduce direct trade and many of the tea retailers we met had already started to offer more direct trade, high-quality teas to their customers. Tea drinkers have become more sophisticated and have demanded more information about their tea. Tea shops that once only offered blended and flavored teas are now increasing their selection of teas from originals around the world. One popular tea shop in Seattle explained that they made the decision to remove food from their menu earlier this year so they could focus more on their tea. There was even more tea activity at the Beloved Festival, where we once again sponsored tea. Tea people and artists had tea temples where gong fu tea service was offered to the conscious festival attendees. Many of the attendees themselves were looking to start tea businesses in their communities so they could share their knowledge and culture of tea.
Right now many are worried about the status quo of the tea industry in countries such as India. Major players in the industry know they need to cultivate and serve a market that can appreciate high-quality tea and pay the price to support the sustainability of the industry. The Pacific Northwest tea market provides encouragement as more and more tea retailers are finding ways to introduce high-quality tea to consumers through high-end iced tea drinks and authentic gong fu tea service. If tea producers are looking for a sophisticated palate that will support their industry’s advancement they need to look no further than the Pacific Northwest. They must keep in mind though that these consumers are not looking for a social cause to support but a high-quality product that will enrich their lives.