Tea: The Sideline Business of the 21st Century?

It’s the 21st century, and folks are looking for ways to generate income. As the economy got tougher and/or folks looked to turn their passion for tea into a business (now or after retiring from their career), small tea vendors running their little tea shops as a sideline began springing up like daisies in a clover patch, dotting the landscape with their brilliance and promise. Many of these efforts are good. Some, though, are done by people who are too hard-driving and defensive to win over customers. We have come across both the good and the bad. Most recently, it was the bad.

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Armed with a certificate from a group that hands them out, it seems, to anyone willing to pay their fee, a recently entry into this foray of sideline shops set up their site and their social media accounts, and contacted tea reviewers to try the teas they were being sent. I tried some and posted reviews. It quickly became apparent that this was one of those hard-driving, defensive types who pounced on every little thing I said about their teas, probably fearful that someone would not want to buy from them. Their pouncing, however, was the deterrent. My reviews were generally positive. They, like some other vendors I’ve dealt with, looked past those positive remarks and went straight to some little detail that they didn’t like. How would someone like this treat you as a customer?

In all fairness, it’s scary to start a new business, even a sideline. And jumping into tea, which seems pretty innocuous at first but then turns out to be very complicated, can have folks like this flailing around like a novice swimmer in the deep end of the swimming pool and the YMCA. It’s especially unnerving to find that, unlike their long-time career as a programmer or insurance salesman or interior decorator, they have scant knowledge of their products and have to rely heavily on the honesty of their suppliers. They can feel foolish if something bad is posted. Or they take on their typical defensive posture.

Meanwhile, and the thing that really irritates me, they do harm to the tea industry in general. I have been writing about tea for 5 years now. It was something to keep me busy after losing my job in tech writing and GUI design when that big economic bubble burst in 2008. It began as a way to expand appreciation for the kind of tea I knew then. But it has grown into a one-person-army here out to defend the good tea guys out there from those who happen to have a few good teas in stock but lack the real knowledge and experience to promote what they are selling. Add in that hard driving and defensiveness, and you have a real turn-off.

No matter which tea you drink, the enjoyment of it and the appreciation of all the hard work that goes in to bringing it to you need to be uppermost. As you learn and explore more premium teas, deal with those vendors who have that depth of knowledge you need to help you select the best.

To the other vendors – like the woman who blocked me (despite my glowing review of her tea) because of a mistaken impression I had of her site, and the guy who wanted me to pull an article giving some background on him that he didn’t want revealed even though he had it posted publicly on various Web sites – all I can say is “Learn from these two.”

© 2014 A.C. Cargill photos and text

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