Regular readers, Facebook Fans, Twitter Followers and anyone within earshot will know that one of the things we regularly do in our hometown of Adelaide, South Australia is to run either a simple retail stall or a Pop Up Tea Shop at various markets.
We love it: it’s a great way of learning about our tea. We get instant feedback from tasting, and from the little tins of tea we provide for people to touch and smell. We get to see people scarf down a fizzy iced tea or relax with a scone and a cup of Lady Devotea.
We can share the wonder at the exotic leaf of Doke Silver Needle and listen to stories of a favourite tea that someone last had in 1962 in Crete.
Our US distributor has been known to pop up at markets from time to time as well.
Here in Adelaide, we do the odd one-off market but lately had settled down to two distinct markets, a weekly one on Saturday(Bellevue Heights) and a monthly one on a Sunday (Mitcham).
So, had all gone to plan, in about a week we’d be announcing something.
Interesting, though not massive news: Lady Devotea and I planned to no longer take part in these markets ourselves.
Our main staffer at markets Sarah, along with Saxon(AKA Devotea Jr.) were being positioned to take responsibility for our market activities. They have done a great job in the past where we have been absent, and the move would free us up to spend our weekends on an important new project.
So, we were maybe a day away from creating an announcement that the last market where one could come along and bask in the proximity of Lord & Lady Devotea was to be our April event at Mitcham. It is a great location where we have a dining room as well as a kitchen.
And then we got the call. The Mitcham Market has closed down.
The last few Mitcham markets have been quiet. They’ve competed with WOMADelaide, car races, the fringe and the festival, Carnivale, a plethora of new markets. They don’t call it Mad March in Adelaide for nothing, and it starts in February. During these times not only to punters have other things to do, but even regular stallholders can disappear as they chase the big money events.
As we have a bunch of regulars, plus bored stallholders tend to buy a fair few sausage rolls or cakes and drink plenty of hot drinks, we haven’t suffered the way other stallholders at Mitcham have.
The organisers could not have worked harder, and in the end, it did not work out. These things happen.
Whilst we were getting the news that the Mitcham Market had died, we also received an innocuous email concerning the weekly market. It seems the coffee van was not available, but the coffee van operator wished to still provide coffee by sharing our kitchen. This had been flagged to us as a possibility from time to time, and we were happy to accommodate this.
However, we felt uncomfortable with this guy’s other products – “chai latte” and teabag tea. Quite apart from the ethical and environmental issues I have with the latter, our product range at this market is basically hot tea, proper chai and about a dozen scones. Add to that the awkwardness of having to quiz each customer who came to the window and asking them to choose whose tea they wanted. So we contacted the organisers and ran past them the scenario where we agreed to share the kitchen but on condition that the coffee guy did not offer those products on the day. The organiser felt that was fair enough.
I sent a quick email to the coffee guy outlining this, and I was staggered when he refused. He basically wanted to offer all his range.
Bluntly, I thought it was arrogant and very one-sided. Worse still, the organiser basically backed his stand, and suggested if we didn’t like it, we simply skip this week.
You might imagine, this did not go down well. We have a first-class product we sell across the globe, we will not play second fiddle to some sort of paper or bio-plastic bag dumped in a takeaway cup of hot water*. At this point I just sent an intemperate email at some ungodly hour of the morning and so, we have severed our ties with this market.
It’s a shame for the regulars that turned up every week to buy their packets of tea. It’s a shame that we will not spend Saturdays with some of the other traders we have grown genuinely fond of.
The good news is, some other markets have since contacted us and are making efforts to accommodate us in an appropriate manner. So I guess it won’t be long before we resurface, but for now, we are disappointed that we have no market offering.
In a year that we believe will see radical growth and change in our business, we will do what we can to continue to connect with our loyal Adelaide fan base.
UPDATE AND CLARIFICATION
The following is presented without prejudice
On both Facebook and here, we have received a long commentary from a person connected to parts of this story. In it the person makes an assertion that parts of this blog post are dishonest and untrue. I have elected not to allow the posting of the reply as it seems is potentially libelous. In it, I am accused of knowingly publishing untruths. This I deny.
This person is at one remove from the events: I am not sure if have ever spoken to or met them. I am going to assume, however that they are speaking from genuine belief, and so I have examined the articles that they are presenting as “Facts” (that’s their word) to see whether I have either (a) given the wrong impression or (b) unknowingly posted something untrue.
I will continue to use fact as “fact” when I am referring specifically to the issues they raise – not to be derogatory, but for clarity, so that readers will understand when I am specifically referring to the material in the comment.
The first “fact” they publish concerns a variety of issues including the quality of their teabags. Whilst tangential to the piece, I did mention just some of my many objections to teabags.
Teabags by and large end up in landfill, but then, so do many tea leaves. The supplier to the people in question, Hampstead Tea, does say this on their site:
Our tea bags are unbleached, staple and glue free. The tag is stitched to the bag to avoid any contaminants. We use state-of-the-art tea bagging machine to achieve this rigorous standard. In keeping with our philosophy all of our packaging is fully biodegradable.
My stand on teabags has long been documented and is pretty well expected here. However, had I had any idea that this was the specific teabag used I would have no doubt phrased the portion now marked with an asterisk in the original differently, as the ethical and environmental concerns with a vast proportion of teabags may not be appropriate here.
There is also a reference to our use of UHT milk. It’s a great example of what happens when people get information secondhand. On one occasion we arrived at our milk supplier (Foodland) on the way to the market and their Fleurieu milk had not arrived. Ironically, we had been advised to buy a lot of milk by the coffee van operators as they were not planning to be present that day and and we ended up with the best Foodland had: a reasonable quality UHT milk. Virtually all of it was left over after a bushfire closed the market that day. At every other market, we used Paris Creek, Fleurieu or Paul’s Organic. We did lug our crate of UHT milk along to every market as backup, but have not needed to use it (one person specifically requested we use it on one occaision.) Yet we kept hearing about it! I don’t doubt the commentator believes that it is our standard product, and we are not suggesting that this is a deliberate untruth, just what happens when information is secondhand.
The second ‘fact’ outlined in the comment states that the coffee van has been at that market since it’s inception. I’m happy to accept that as true. The market started a few months before we found it. It also states that they were consulted before we were accepted at the market, and that they graciously consented.
I was not privy to whether they were asked about our presence or not. I have no reason to believe that this is untrue in any way. I don’t believe I stated otherwise. When we were invited to the market, I asked if coffee was needed, and was told this operator was there. Since their coffee is superb and I have always got along with the main operator, I was actually quite delighted as to who it was. (Not as delighted as if there had been an opportunity for us to do the coffee, obviously, but we just scale our staff and offering according to each market).
Under “Fact #3″, the commentator had this to say:
You talk about “our [my italics] kitchen”. It is the kitchen of Bellevue Heights Primary School, kindly lent to us for the shared use of all stallholders. I have sold coffee from there many times, long before you arrived at the market, and happily shared the space with other stallholders.
This is fair criticism. It was sloppy language on my part. Nothing more, nothing less. We rented the kitchen space at each market, but yes, many stallholders used it for cleaning up and for cold storage. I should have said “the kitchen that we operate from” or some such phrase.
“Fact #4″ seems to be a reference to the fact I have enclosed “chai latte” in quote marks. As regular readers and readers of many tea blogs would know, the nomenclature around chai is confusing and it is not unusual to put quote marks around such a phrase. The commentator has taken this as implied criticism of their powder-based chai. The funny thing is this: my opposition to powdered chai in most of its forms is well known, but in 2012 I had asked about the chai at that very van and was told they hand- made a syrup and then added that to milk and steamed it on the day . An excellent method! Had I known they used a powdered product, I may well have commented on that. But in essence, I believe this be a misunderstanding.
“Fact #5″ suggests that our initial request was “a demand, not a request” and “combative”. Well, here it is:
Hi <name removed>
We make our money selling tea, chai, cakes and scones.
I am sure we can make the sharing of the kitchen work if you are only doing coffee and hot chocolate and we do what we usually do. It would be unworkable if you were planning to also offer products we offer.
Looking back, I’m pretty comfortable with that. Yes, it did eventually spiral out of control. Yes, at one point I cheekily suggested that we should bring our coffee machine and compete with them on all products- to make the point. Yes, I did no doubt get quite combative in later emails as my frustration levels rose. But I don’t think that is a demand. And it was met with a blanket “no”.
It is also mentioned that there was fear of “setting a precedent”. Since that was never raised with us, I don’t know what this means. But if the operator had a legitimate concern, it could have been raised with us for discussion. It wasn’t.
Added to “Fact #5″ is an assertion that the operator had decided independently to simply direct all tea sales to us. This was not said in any of the seven emails that were exchanged, but has now been shared after the fact. The very last email from the organiser says the opposite. Had that been the response to our email, we would not be undertaking this exercise.
“Fact #6″ in the comment refers to the conversation I had with the organiser of the market. The email reproduced above was sent less that 5 minutes after I completed a phone call. I made that phone call to specifically ask the organiser if I was being “unreasonable” or “out of line” if I was to make this request. Nothing else was discussed, that was the sole purpose of the call, and the organiser could not have been clearer as to stating that our request was not unreasonable. But in “Fact #6″, the commentator suggests that this was not the case, which I feel suggests that either I was not telling the truth in my original article, or that I have somehow made a call, asked a question, confirmed the answer several times, apologised for being awkward and then hung up not understanding that the organiser had not confirmed my opinion that my request was not out of line.It is the implication in this section – that I am either stupid or lying – that I take offense to and would like to receive an apology for.
As regular readers will know, I often comment on controversial topics, offer candid thoughts and engender discussion on this, my personal blog. I am no stranger to getting robust messages on my blog, and yet of over 1400 comments, I have only blocked one from publication before this incident.
I’m not unused to criticism, on many occasions I have responded by updating or changing information. I commonly even criticise myself – I have many blogs where I talk about a feeling or belief that I have had which does not stand up to scrutiny once I undertake the research needed. I am an imperfect yet overly loud oracle at times.
I feel that the person who made the commentary in this case believes every point they made. I believe they are genuine. I also believe they are unhappy with the criticism implied in this piece. I also see that they have some information second hand, and some not at all.
There are other ways to deal with that than to publicly post on Facebook. I have had to block some people – something I have never done before – whilst I wrote this addendum. I have spent three hours examining every assertion, checking emails, making sure that my response is measured and as accurate as I can. I have certainly be guilty of suggesting guilt by association (as in most teabags are environmentally and ethically scandalous, and these guys have teabags, so…) in a way that I did not present entirely fairly in my original post.
As the original post may or may not make clear, pulling out from this market hurts. I believe I did it as a matter of principle, I do not believe I was unreasonable – perhaps intemperate, but not unreasonable. I have worked hard to promote this market and our presence there. I personally feel that we have let down those people who had started regularly visiting us for their tea. It was an awful situation and affected me deeply.
Whilst The Devotea is more than just me, I was the principal negotiator on this. Not being able to negotiate a workable solution, I felt, was a failure, and yet the only response we received was flat-out rejection of our request.
I still have absolutely no understanding as to why our original request was met with rejection, especially as there is material in the commentary that suggests that on the day it would have in fact been partly met. At the time of sending, I honestly believed it would be accommodated, and that we would actually have a great time with extra people crammed into a busy kitchen.
Let’s hope in ends here. We have new projects to move on to, and we wish all of our former market colleagues all the best.