I’ve been at this blogging lark for over seven years, and looking back, it seems to mainly be a series of posts that switch between unintentionally abusive rants and intentionally abusive rants.
Every so often, I try to be serious, and usually fail.
The thing I am really terrible at is using the blog to promote our tea business, despite the fact that a huge collection of “social media experts” , “marketing gurus”, authors of “special white papers”, “sponsored promotions”, taxi drivers and barbers all keep advising me that this is what I should do.
So today, I thought I would redress that balance by talking about how hard it is to be in the tea business.
“Oh ree-eee-eally”, I hear most of you say. “Well, what’s in this for me? I only turned up to see who you would skewer next”.
Never fear, I suspect that will also happen.
A while ago, on a secret tea board, someone made this statement that I think bears some examination.
“The only money to be made in tea is by low-quality charlatans and high-quality liars.”
So, while the identity of the sage elder who made this wise pronouncement must remain a closely guarded secret*, I think the twin thrusts of it would bear some examination, namely, who are these two mobs of mendacious sounding misanthropes?
I think I can safely surmise that the author of the quote (see * if you don’t believe me) was referring to the large, multinationals who primarily make appalling tea primarily in teab*gs from primarily bulk grown estates where they primarily exploit their workforce and primarily mistreat the environment (greenwashing aside). In other words, an incredibly inferior product, built down to a price is one way that money – and buckets of it – is made, though of course not by everyone in the chain, but rather by the few on the backs of the many. It’s not a far cry to also add most makers to ready-to-drink iced teas to this list.
I think it’s further clear that the author* in the second part was referring the people who will sell you 40 grams of tea in a fancy box with an acai berry or two, a teaspoon of tulsi and a sprinkle of chamomile, make a claim that this tea will sharpen your memory, detoxificatify your liver or remove 15 kilos of unsightly fat from your midriff if taken hourly for 28 days at $1.12 per cup.
So, that begs the question: “Can you make a livelihood from tea without supporting exploitation and/or misleading your customers?”
You could start a tea shop, and hey, some are even successful. But in Australia, such establishments last an average of 11 months. You only have to look at adverts for near-new cafe/restaurant/tea shop furniture going cheap to realise how tough that is.
You could blog, of course. Some of you might be seeing an advert at the bottom of this blog. How much does that net me, I hear you ask?
Nothing! And rightly so.
Whatever meagre revenue that brings in belongs to the wonderful folks who provide this blogging platform. And while you think that hosting both myself and Geoffrey Norman’s unparalleled Steep Stories would make them filthy rich, I don’t see them driving around in Maseratis so either (a) the money is in a burlap sack under their stairs or (b) it amounts to enough to buy an extra doughnut per month.**
For us, the last few years has been about community engagement, getting out and about, tea in hand, and connecting with people. Sadly, it’s not been a get-rich-quick scheme that I can turn into a daily video and charge people an amazing low introductory price of just $99 to ensure they can achieve their wildest dreams via a sponsored advert on Facebook, but still, it’s better than just pushing the online wagon.
Why? Because waiting for people to find your on-line store is a mug’s game; the approach of paying Google to find them only benefits Google, paying Social Media experts to make Google find them just adds one more mouth to feed. And all of this is at second or third or fourth hand.
No, we want to look people in the eye and mouth. Here’s our tea. Try it! Like it? Buy it!
A while ago, we did some figures and couldn’t believe what a high percentage of our sales actually went to people whom we have met in the flesh. At first, this made us despondent, but then we realised what a great compliment that actually was.
I was recently interviewed for a HR magazine feature. Tea is a part-time business for myself and Lady Devotea; we both also work part-time in other arenas, and for me, it’s mostly my gig as “People and Performance Manager” for an excellent local electrical wholesaler. The article is part of a recurring feature on “HR People who have interesting side jobs” and as part of it, I was talking to the journo*** about how every time we put on an event, we have to write new material because there will always be a few people who turn up to every event.
“You’re telling me” she remarked ” That your problem is you have fans”.
Light bulb moment.
People buy us. They buy Lady Devotea and myself, they buy our stories and our tastes and our own unique take on it. They buy the wonderful open approach of our US distributor Nicole. They buy the way we go about our tea business.
So from here on, its more community engagement. More grass roots**** tea.
Perhaps there is a third way. High quality real human connection.
After all, that’s what tea has facilitated for thousands of years.
Ultimately, tea is personal.
*It was me who said it
** My money is on (b) as I have looked under their stairs and also they live quite near a Krispy Kreme AND a Dunkin’ Doughnuts
*** Journalist, for those of you who aren’t Australian
**** No actual grass roots, or teas that taste like them.