The latest tea expo – the mother of all tea expos (The World Tea Expo being held this year in Long Beach, California, USA) – is about to begin (May 29-31). Tea professionals are already gathered, some teas have already been tried and awards announced, and booths have been set up and stocked. As this expo gets under full steam, I humbly present my 4 hopes for the world of tea for the year ahead (and beyond).
1 Set Politics Aside – That is, politics in the world in general, not the normal competitiveness between tea professionals that helps make us all better. Too many tea people get online, talk a little about tea, and spend most of the rest of their online time going on about their particular causes, sharing news articles about some issue or other, etc. I’ve done it, too, but try my best not to and am vowing as of the posting of this article on this blog to redouble those efforts. I want my focus to be on tea, and hope other tea pros will follow suit.
2 Focus on Marketing of Higher Quality Teas – Raise the bar on teas promoted in stores. Easy said. Tough to do. We live in a time where more and more emphasis is on the low end of the tea market and when the poor tea farmer is being bombarded by all kinds of restrictions on how to grow and how to get his teas to market. Some are already working to change this and are having a bit of success. Meanwhile, companies promoting dust-in-a-bag teas continue to grow, not to mention the merger of a certain tea company with a certain coffee chain with the promise of making tea awareness higher as they are credited with having done for coffee (the facts and figures don’t support this, though). Make things easier for the smaller growers to get their teas to market and get noticed (they can’t always afford certifications required by many countries, travel to expos, or enter their teas in competitions, yet their tea quality is often excellent).
3 Better Training for Tea Pros – We have organizations like the American Tea Masters Association (ATMA) in the Northeast US and the folks who put on the World Tea Expo, plus others too numerous to list. Yet, walking into a teashop or going online to the latest tea vendor site is an iffy experience. You may or may not end up dealing with someone who knows anything about what he/she is selling. I know it’s hard to find good help (as that old adage goes) and this is especially true for tea. Before I really started paying attention to what I was steeping, I knew about some teas and that black tea and green tea came from the same plant. Some teashop staff don’t even know that much. Honest! In all fairness, we all have to start someone, and ATMA, etc., can only handle so many students at a time. But you cripple your business if you have a staff member in contact with your customers who doesn’t understand the basics (we can’t all be like Thomas Shu of ABCtea.com or Ji Hai of Hai Lang Hao) at the very least.
4 More Emphasis on Tea, Not Gimmicks – Tea suffers from the same malaise as many other products do. Wine is a good example. Do you go for quantity over quality – mass productions versus smaller batches? While companies continue to pop up that emphasize smothering tea’s natural flavors with a bunch of additives, more tea lovers are seeking out the finer teas where those flavors are allowed to come through in all their glory. Celebrity endorsements seem also to be a key gimmick being employed to get people interested in tea. The problem with any gimmick is that its effects are short-term. If you’re the CEO and have a contract that says you need to raise profits by a certain amount in the coming year or else, you resort to gimmicks or hire someone who will. (I have personally witnessed this at more than one software company where I used to work so I understand.) But it doesn’t raise long-term tea sales. And people who get sucked into drinking tea by those overly floral-fruity-spicy concoctions rarely progress on to the teas who have those flavors naturally.
Well, there they are. What’s your list?
A note for the World Tea Expo site designer: Have a way right up front for us to mute the music you have playing when people go to your site. I was streaming a radio program and wanted to refer to something on your site but couldn’t find the mute button.
© 2014 A.C. Cargill photos and text