How does one celebrate 10 years in the tea industry, peddling leaves every weekend through rain, sleet, snow, hail, hurricanes, blizzards, heat waves, humidity, wind storms, earthquakes, flying locusts, vampires and alien invasion? Well maybe not the last 3…
First: Let’s get this out of the way: I actually like selling tea at farmers markets on weekends. I love the sense of community, my fellow warriors/small business vendors, my tea obsessed customers, and the fact that I can now carry and open a 70 pound EZ UP tent all by myself and throw it in the TeaMobile with ease. Tea built muscles. Tea brought friends.
Second: The cliche is true when people say things like: “How did 10 years go by so fast?” Or “It feels just like yesterday when…” Both are true for me, especially with regard to making the decision to step into the tea industry. As Frank Sinatra says: I did it my way and chose a different path than most tea businesses. Right or wrong, July 18, 2017 marks the 10 Year Anniversary of Pearl Fine Teas!
Third: I’m often asked this question: “What made you want to start a tea business?” It’s taken me 10 years to truncate the story into a few sentences:
“It’s something that was always nagging at me and I decided that I didn’t want to get to the end of my life and think: I wish I’d tried to do something in tea. So I did it. I figured the worst thing that could happen was nothing, but at least I gave it a shot.”
The long version: It was sometime in late April early May 2007. A late night Google search for “TEA” brought me to a link for a Tea Expo happening in Atlanta. I saw there were classes offered in tea education and on that particular weekend there was Tea 101 and 102. You had to pass Day 1 in order to participate in Day 2. I booked my flight to Atlanta that night and a few weeks later there I was standing in line for Tea 101. As I stood there I actively easvesdropped on a woman I heard telling someone she had just bought an online tea company. My interest peaked, I butted in and asked her about it and then proceeded to sit next to her and grill for her 2 days about how and what she did. Those 2 days turned into over 4 years of tea training with my good friend Barb Tuscon the former own of SBS Teas. She and I took every class together from that day forward. I’m honored to call her my first official tea friend. Barb has since retired and travels the world with her husband Chuck, but I know shes still drinking really good tea!
I left that 2 day Expo, got home, fired up my computer and started Googling Online Tea Businesses for sale. There were two I had active interest in, with the first being well out of my price range with no financials to support the fee. The second one popped up out of nowhere one day. I had to do a double take, reload the page and make sure what I was seeing was correct: Pearl Fine Teas was for sale and it had the cutest logo ever. I contacted the owner and found it out it was located in Canada and the price happened to be just right. A few weeks later, I was the proud owner of Pearl Fine Teas, USA. Boxes of tea were held up at the border control and I remember getting a call from an agent who asked me if what was coming across was illegal. I told him he was welcome to open the boxes and try to smoke anything in there but that the better option was to just steep it. He laughed and the boxes were on there way. Of course they showed up on a weekend when I was out of town and my next door neighbor Bill dragged everyone of them into his own house until I got back. There were many, many, many boxes.
Time frame: From initial thought to actually owning an online tea business took exactly: 2 months. I made sure to sign papers and transfer funds on July 18, 2007 which according to all my calculations was a very good birthday for Pearl Fine Teas.
What came next: Nothing. I had no idea what the heck to do. Friends and family supported me by going to the site and making purchases at Christmas time. I was thrilled! I had made my first $600! The site just sat there, the boxes of tea were piled up in my house and I was still continuing my tea training. By Spring of 2008, my bookkeeper had said that I should consider selling tea at the farmers market where he volunteered in Del Ray, VA. I didn’t think that would be my cup of tea, but he insisted I should try. I brought a small table, a regular umbrella, about 8 teas and started going to market on Saturdays. This was the early days before the DC Metro Farmers Market boom and I believe I was one of the only people selling tea at markets aside from another girl who sold at Eastern Market. (Del Ray Market will always hold a special place in my heart since that was the official kick off of selling teas at markets.) From that point on I just kept moving forward.
Here are some highlights over the past years:
• Speaker on Tea at the Metro Cooking year for 3 years.
• Traveled to Taiwan twice, Japan, and Sri Lanka to make and purchase tea.
• First certified Tea Professional in Washington DC through STI
• Survived a fire and lost all inventory; rebuilt, and opened a pop-up tea shop in Union Market (DC) that turned into 18 months.
• Got to meet Venerable Geshe Tenzin Dhargye at the 2011 Kalachakra in DC who took my gift of tea (Hawaiian Zen) to the Dalai Lama. It was a great honor.
Tea changed my life. In ways I could have never expected. It helped me be a better Creative Director to my existing clients, it helped me understand products, product marketing, consumers, buying trends, and what people see/don’t see while shopping. It expanded my circle and brought people into my life I would have otherwise never met. It has helped me connect with humanity, increased my compassion and it’s brought me fulfillment knowing that I have helped change peoples lives. That’s a legacy I can live with.
So, here I am – 10 years in. Still. Selling. Tea. And still loving tea.
Whats next? We’re celebrating making it 10 years in the tea industry, (in Washington DC) by introducing a new line of teas called: DISTRICT BLENDS! 6 tea blends that focus on 6 diverse neighborhoods in the Nations Capital. A new blend will release each month leading up to Christmas. Here is the first:
Who doesn’t love Georgetown? Old historic buildings, small shops, waterfront, jazz clubs, cobblestone streets, the canal and always so many flowers. When I need to feel like I’m in a Europe-like setting, I find my way to Georgetown. To honor its classic charm and loveliness our first blend combines a gorgeous Indian Darjeeling black tea with Italian Oil of Bergamot and is blended together with delicate flowers of pink rose petals, blue cornflowers and yellow calendula. If this neighborhood were a cup of tea it would be Georgetown Grey. You can purchase here.
You’ll have to check back next month to find out what neighborhood blend debuts for August!
A big thank you to everyone who was supportive, helpful, kind, encouraging, and loyal these last 10 years – especially my customers. I’ve gotten to live out one of my dreams: To travel the world for tea. Without all of you, I’d just be drinking tea at home and annoying my friends and family with talk of one day owning a tea company.
I’m excited to see what unfolds over the years to come as Pearl Fine Teas continues to spread TeaLove around the world.
~ The Chief Leaf