David Lee Hoffman’s appreciation for quality tea water reminds me of those of Lu Yu, the eighth century Tang Dynasty tea sage who instructed his readers in The Classic of Tea about how and where to collect water for tea:
“On the question of water to use, I would suggest that tea made from mountain streams is best, river water is all right, but well-water is quite inferior.”1
Other tea masters rave about the water used for brewing tea in the rural mountain villages of China where they go to find teas. They believe that where good tea grows, good water is often close at hand. As well, the experience of drinking a tea in its natural habitat with local stream water meant for that tea is an inimitable lifetime experience to be treasured.
I was recently asked by a customer why I am so passionate about tea. After some thought….here is what I said:
For me tea is about connecting. Preparing and savoring good tea is leaving the past and the future behind and connecting to the center of the now. Enjoying the moment has become ever more important to me and tea enables my presence in the present.
It connects me to the sweet passing of time, to the hands that picked and steamed the leaf, and to the cadence of my breath.
All that remains after is a sweet lingering aroma and a moistness on the lips–impermanent and yet lingering, simple yet profound. This elementary experience connects me to myself and to the world at large. And this is why I love tea.
Social media offer many ways to optimize your Web site’s marketing potential.
You have a Web site with your tea business’s basic information and maybe a shopping cart. You know you’re not making the most of your online presence, but don’t know where to begin expanding.
In part one of this two-part series, Lindsey Goodwin looks at moving beyond the basics and using virtual marketing tactics like online storefronts and social networking to drive sales, brand awareness and customer loyalty.
Most people by now would agree with the opinion of Jesse Jacobs, founder of Samovar, that having a Web site is “as important as paying rent every month.”
Amy Lawrence, owner of An Afternoon to Remember and upcoming speaker and exhibitor at the World Tea Expo, said her Web site acts as a worldwide, 24-hour advertisement and customer service rep. Since increasing her site’s e-commerce usability through simple additions – like “pay now” buttons for classes and events, clear credit card and shipping policies, and a security symbol – her online sales have skyrocketed. In the first three months after Lawrence’s new site launched, she matched online sales for the previous year.
While the cost to enter online retailing is low, Jacobs warned, you shouldn’t set up an online storefront blindly. He said you must consider hidden costs, such as accounting, storage and marketing, and standardize your processes to ensure customer satisfaction.
An e-commerce site may not be for everyone, but Web technology offers many benefits beyond sales. Bliss Dake, Mighty Leaf’s vice president of e-commerce and operations, said that although e-commerce is gaining popularity every year, other online approaches have additional perks – Twitter is immediate and viral, video and photos are visual, and blogs allow for detail.
Physical to digital
Between printing and mailing, Lawrence used to spend $1,500 each time she sent a newsletter to her customers. Given the cost, she did it infrequently. Now, she emails short “e-zines” biweekly and more in-depth “e-newsletters” four to six times a year at a drastically reduced cost. She said every time she sends out an e-zine, her site traffic increases as much as five-fold and remains high for about a week.
“When I know I need revenue fast, I send out an e-zine and I see results,” she said.
Here are her tips for success:
Use Constant Contact or a similar program.
Update your Web site to reflect your newsletters.
Consider timing and upcoming events.
Include valuable content, such as recipes or coupons.
Lawrence spends about 30 minutes writing each e-zine and two to eight hours a week working with Internet technologies to promote her tea room. Other publications, such as e-books and blogs, increase search engine optimization, or SEO, she added.
Blogging and microblogging
Chris Cason, co-founder of Tavalon, agreed that blogging increases SEO. He has been posting on his tea blog regularly for more than a year. Now, he said, “the blog gets just as much traffic as the site does, and anytime someone goes on the blog, there’s more of a chance they’ll go on the site.”
His advice for successful blogging follows:
Maintain objectivity to build trust.
Focus on information first and sales second.
Write with the voice of the company.
Create stories that encourage a loyal followingCover tea news and topical events.
Dake also uses blogs to increase brand awareness by sending samples to other bloggers. He said they often review the products and increase word-of-mouth publicity.
Twitter is sometimes referred to as “micro-blogging” because it has informal, blog-like content and a 140-character maximum. For each tweet (Twitter message), Jacobs said, he averages less than 10 minutes of writing and more than $500 in revenue.
Cason launched a Twitter campaign in March to reach 10,000 followers (readers) by April 1. Although he failed in the goal, he did generate publicity and reached 1,100 followers – enough to temporarily crash his site when he tweeted a 40 percent off sale.
“The best thing about Twitter is you get to follow who you want,” Cason said, “so you know that everyone who is receiving your tweets wants to know what you have to say. All you have to worry about is telling them what they want to hear.”
Dake recommended Twitter over other social media, video and blogging, explaining that it’s efficient, easy, free and effective for immediate connections with people. At the recent SXSW festival in Austin, TX, he used Twitter for a Tweet Up (get-together) where he gave away Mighty Leaf. He said it generated word-of-mouth publicity that lasted weeks after the event.
Sources gave these tips for using Twitter:
Put content before sales.
Keep posts educational, casual, unique and personable.
Give it a face, but don’t make it overly personal.
Follow Twitterers in related areas.
Offer valuable content, such as interesting facts, quizzes, links and current happenings.
The potential for viral marketing is high with Twitter, they added, as followers often “re-tweet” posts to their followers, exposing information to hundreds of people at a time in an amplified form of word-of-mouth advertising.
Editor’s note: In Part Two of our series, WTN will address social networking, photography, video, other Internet marketing and web culture. Look for it April 27.
Jennifer Leigh Sauer brings our attention to the elemental ingredient in great tea: water. “Before tea there is water. While you invest time and money to procure great tea, you might also want to consider your investment in “gathering” and brewing water for tea.
Before tea there is water. While you invest time and money to procure great tea, you might also want to consider your investment in “gathering” and brewing water for tea.
Any cup of tea will be at its best when you use the finest water available, heated to the optimal temperature for the particular tea.
While I don’t profess to be a tea master, I’ve made it my life’s work for the past three years or so to research tea for my book and blog by interviewing great tea masters. They all have different preferences and standards when it comes to water, and I’ll share with you some of what I have learned from them.
Get your Zen on at the new Samovar Tea Lounge location in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley.
The third Bay Area location opened across from the Buddhism center, which means there could be some deep conversation and possibly a yoga mat or two.
You can choose from more than 50 kinds of tea, most of which I’ll bet you’ve never heard of, and healthy food such as a ginger quinoa waffle, jook, or a raw honeycomb, blue cheese and fruit platter. I was sent some of Samovar’s Ocean of Wisdom tea, and, while I’m still waiting for the promise of the name to kick in, it was indeed delicious.
We are happily spoiled in the San Francisco Bay Area when it comes to tea, and all the more so because we have three fabulous Samovar Tea Lounges to choose from. Having even one would be a great boon to any town, but three? Wow… Or ‘Yum,’ I’m not sure which.
Although I haven’t tried everything on the Samovar menu, I can recommend some favorites. First, the Tea Soup is a celestial creation. It’s simple, healthy, flavorful, and comes with a half pot of Houjicha green tea (the first half pot is actually poured by the server over the soup bowl which is filled with rice, veggies, wakame, and shitake mushrooms). It’s elegant, healthy, whimsical, and delicious—everything we look for in fine Bay Area cuisine.
I’ve also been sensually hijacked by the Braised Tofu Over Spring Greens, which, like the Tea Soup, stands out for its natural simplicity and vegetarian fabulousness. Covered with a tarragon-balsamic vinaigrette, this salad is a filling but light meal that satisfies even those who seem to need protein every two hours.
The last time I had this, I paired it with the Phoenix Oolong, which is as carefully handcrafted as the sumptuous salad.
Any meal is not complete in my world unless it is followed by something sweet. I have wanted to try something other than the Cherry Oat Scones with Devonshire Cream & Jam, but to no avail. These scones are so delicious, I would have to simultaneously place an order of these to wrap up and take home with me so I might feel it to be a sensible risk to try another sweet. Even still, I would feel a bit like a defector, and my loyalty is always on the side of clotted cream. But this defection has not yet happened because of the following ditty (and a rather pithy protest of sorts):
There is this one last item to mention, more as an appeal than as a recommendation, because, alas, Jesse has taken theEarl Grey Bread Pudding (italics mine, in place of sophomoric exclamation points) off the menu.
Seeing as the internet is socially viral, I’d like to take this opportunity to start a formal petition to get this item back on the printed page and onto our plates as soon as it is humanly possible to do so.
I brought a food and wine editor from Chronicle Books to Samovar a year or so ago just to share this little piece of Nirvana, and after taking just a few bites she asked if I thought Jesse might be interested in a cookbook deal (which he was not, because apparently he was putting all his resources and energy into out-doing himself with the now Chocolate Chip Brioche bread pudding).
Chocolate is fine, but this is a tea lounge, Jesse, and we want the Earl Grey Bread Pudding back, don’t we folks? Fill the S.T.L. e-mailbox with your request to bring this item back: [email protected] There. Go ahead and do it. Show them the muscle and integrity of your culinary citizenship.
In the meantime, the scones are not a mere consolation prize. You may as well enjoy them for any occasion, short of celebrating the return of the Earl Grey Bread Pudding. They go well with just about any tea….
It’s obvious with the aura of health surrounding tea that Baby Boomers and health-savvy thirty-to-forty-somethings would be drawn to it. Less obvious are the many reasons it appeals to younger generations.
Just a few days ago, I saw a post from a fellow tea blogger about twenty-somethings forming community through tea and technology. Last month, a tea retailer told me about her most loyal and tea-obsessed customers – teenage boys. These aren’t isolated incidents. Time and time again, when I interview tea business owners from across the country, I hear the same thing: young people love tea.
According to the tea business owners I’ve interviewed, a love of tea often starts very young, around age seven. I’m not talking about an interest in teddy bear teas and Victorian tearooms here. This is about the age children start to get really obsessive. They ask a lot of questions. They read up. They know more than any normal adult when it comes to the objects of their obsessions. Their interest in a variety of plants (as well as their parents’ desire to keep caffeine consumption to a minimum) makes them natural fans of herbal infusions.
A love for true tea (from the tea plant) tends to start a little later, usually late in middle school or early in high school. I’m told that sweeter drinks with moderate to high caffeine levels (such as matcha lattes, masala chai and tea smoothies) are considered to be a natural and indulgent study aid for teenagers.
Later, the reasons for a love of tea shift yet again. In college, the desire for caffeine as a study aid tends to stick around. Pure matcha, gyokuro and strong black teas fit the bill. Unfortunately, for many college students, tea consumption is outweighed by alcohol consumption. Of course, that often changes after graduation when the partying ends, tolerances drop, and hangovers increase in severity!
After college, some turn to pu-erh for its rumored ability to relieve hangovers. Others obsess over oolong, a connoisseur’s tea with an immense capability for depth, complexity and evolution of palate over multiple infusions. The geekier amongst my age range (mid- to late-twenties) often stick with the higher-caffeine options college students love, perhaps because they are weaning themselves off of energy drinks and espresso shots. Meanwhile, foodies (who span generations, but often form a strong interest in food after college) tend to experiment with tea cocktails, lapsang-souchong-smoked mushrooms or duck, matcha cookies and other culinary uses of tea.
Ultimately, I think that tea is ageless. However, that doesn’t mean that some teas don’t suit particular ages better than others. How old were you when you first got into tea? Which teas did you drink first? What did you love about them?
Lindsey for Samovar Life
Lindsey “Vee” Goodwin is a professional tea writer and consultant. She founded Vee Tea, is a contributing editor to World Tea News, writes for non-industry publications about tea and writes web copy/press releases for tea companies. She is also a consultant to several tea companies and teaches about tea through staff training and individual/small group classes and tastings. Click here to reach her by email. .
In October, I visited the small Chinese-Thai community of Mae Salong, in Northern Thailand. I went with a good friend from Chiang Rai. With his friends, we visited a family that owns and runs a small-scale tea farm and store.
The morning after we arrived, we rode in the back of their pick-up truck to the farm-land, where we helped harvest tea, picking leaves for hours.
After weighing and bagging the leaves, we returned to the store, where we air-dried the tea, then processed and rolled the leaves. Two days later, our tea was packaged and ready to enjoy.
The tea we made, Cha Kow Hom (“Fragrant Rice Tea”) is an oolong with that has notes that remind me of buttered popcorn or freshly ground peanut butter. It’s so good, and I love that I know it was home-grown and hand-picked by me and my new friends in Northern Thailand.
– Bree O’Keane is the International Program Coordinator of the Khon Kaen Education Initiative, a grassroots alternative and sustainable education project in northeastern Thailand. Living in Thailand on-and-off since 2003, Bree has developed a strong community of friends and family in the region. Resulting from her interest in tea and inspired by working with Samovar Tea Lounge, Bree returned to Thailand last May with the hopes of sharing her interests, experiences, and belief that tea unites cultures and individuals. An idea for a tea house/community space was born and rapidly grew to fruition. Bree has just returned to Khon Kaen and Wong Nam Cha (the tea house).
This time last year, I returned to northeastern Thailand for the third time.
Always a drinker of tea, and further inspired by my experiences as a tea-tender at Samovar Tea Lounge, I arrived loaded with an assortment of tea and tea ware that I hoped would last me through the Fall. After introducing friends and co-workers to the delicious tea that I had brought from San Francisco, an idea was born to create a community space and to use tea as the vehicle for encouraging conversation, art, music, and the exchange of ideas.
Motivated by the insight and conversation that sipping tea leads to, we saw the potential to create a space for “tea and the art of aesthetic dialogue.”
In October, I traveled with my good friend, Adisak, to his home in Northern Thailand. In the mountains of Mae Salongwe, we found thriving fields of tea and a family of tea masters creating really delicious teas. Together, Adisak and I harvested, processed, and returned to our developing tea house with organic tea from a small family farm.
Within one week of our return, the doors opened to Wong Nam Cha, our non-profit, donation-based, volunteer-run teahouse in the city of Khon Kaen. Wong Nam Cha, (which translates as “Circle of Tea” from Thai) is set beside a lake and underneath the 7 looming tiers of Khon Kaen’s most beautiful temple.
Wong Nam Cha is a monetary and non-monetary donation-based tea house. Our community has adorned the space with a random arrangement of donated desks, chairs, and decorations. The in-house bi-lingual library is also made-up entirely of donations. Friends sell their local handicrafts (including natural tie-dyed and hand-bound notebooks made by primary school students), handmade baked goods and other Thai snacks.
To think that, with the help of a community of friends, a teahouse can be born from a few shared sips of tea and inspiration.
In my next blog entry, I will go more into detail about harvesting the organic tea in Mae Salongwe.
I opened the first Samovar 6 years ago, at 498 Sanchez Street in the Castro-Mission, with the purpose of propagating the tea culture to modern San Francisco. I have spent much of my life pursuing the practice of Awareness, on the cushion, on the mat, in the dojo, back on the cushion, dojo, mat, and finally now, onto the balance sheet and P&L statement. Samovar is really the most recent incarnation in my personal practice: how to use business for achieving awareness. That’s it. I thought it would be a really interesting endeavor to create an organization that on the surface was a business in pursuit of success, and underneath was a vehicle for creating awareness and peace.
One of my favorite quotes is from renaissance man Moshe Feldenkrais, founder of the Feldenkrais Technique, who said, “…if you know what you’re doing, you can do what you want….” That’s awareness. And, that’s a practice, a work in progress that is never complete. My goal with Samovar is to know what we’re doing, so that we can do what we want. And we want to serve as an exemplary role model for other businesses proving that a small business can exist and thrive, doing good things for the environment, the employees, the suppliers, and the investors. My aim is to make a positive difference in the world by our existing, and thriving. After all, what is nobler than serving, making a difference for the better for the good of the public?
We practice awareness not through sitting on the cushion, but by brewing tea for our guests, prepping and cooking food, and serving guests mindfully. Every detail has been questioned and at least attempted to be answered. From the source of our Houjicha Sencha, to the creator of our metalwork, to the artist or our red walls, the power consumption of our hand dryer, the selection of music, the fuel for our fireplace, the fabrication of our chai mugs, the patina of our copper, the supplier of our Kuan Yin, the grower of our rice, the brewer of our tamari, the forest source of our floors, the carpenter of our tea bar… Virtually every single aspect of Samovar has been attended to with singular intention, with awareness.
I’ll be honest: Sometimes we get the reputation for being “expensive.” I believe cost is relative and that the real question is where we choose to put our life energy, our money. At Samovar we put it in business relationships with very small, artisan families around the world who supply us with tea and other goodies. This tea, crafted seasonally, and in very small fresh batches costs more. It tastes better. Families, generally certified organic and fair trade farm it sustainably. It is fresh. It is healthier. And, we brew it to order, according to specific brewing instructions defining the scoop size, brew time, water temperature, specific handmade teaware, and, by a server who can answer your questions about why that tea has been selected and why it’s so special. That is what you get. We price our tea fairly for what we offer. And, when it comes right down to it, the actual profit margin is around 4%!
With that in mind, and then taking into consideration that as an employer we offer our staff health insurance, subsidized acupuncture, free yoga, English classes, Chado classes at the Urasenke Society, fully paid internships with our farmers in Taiwan, 2-month sabbaticals, frequent bonuses and recognition, free employee meals…we end up barely breaking even as a company.
Why do we offer so much to our staff when it takes so much from the bottom line? Because we feel strongly that if we support our staff, they will support our customers. And at the end of the day, we exist solely for our customers. Our prices include all those costs: product, staff, family suppliers, and, the cozy elegant environment. The ultimate question that we request from our guests is: Do you get value at Samovar? If you are treated kindly, able to relax, and feel better when you leave than when you arrived, then you will go out into the world and do good things. Then we’ve done our job.
That’s enough rambling. I can go on and on – so if you want to hear more please just stop by across the street and say hi, or have some tea and I or any of the staff there will be happy to wax on about the nuances of our tea bar, or the aroma of Hika Sencha. That’s easy for us.
The drink of choice for Web 2.0 zillionaires isn’t a quad espresso anymore. It’s a soothingly steeped tea harvested from a shaded mountainside half a world away.
Captains of the internet like Digg’s Kevin Rose and business guru Tim Ferriss (pictured above) are gravitating to the ancient drink, and enterprising retailers are stepping up to fill their every need.
“We’ve had the Red Bulls, coffee and everything else,” Rose says of Digg, which spends about $1,000 a month just on specialty tea for employees. Rose himself favors a cup of Pu-erh imported from China’s Yunnan province after a tough day at the office.
“It’s one of those things where you want to turn to something really natural and from the Earth — and from something that isn’t going to give you a big crash,” Rose told Wired.com. “Once you start consuming tea it makes sense: This is the best of all worlds.”
In Silicon Valley, specialty tea is quickly becoming a phenomenon. Specialty shops, stores and tearooms devoted to the leaf are sprouting up all over the Bay Area. In San Francisco, tea businesses have gone beyond Chinatown and Japantown, spreading to Hayes Valley, the Castro and SOMA.
Tea is the new coffee — the tipple of choice for the Twitteratti. The culture that brought us pizza as a food group and $20,000 coffeemakers has now discovered tea. And its internet-savvy boosters like Rose and Ferriss are leading a movement in the United States to promote the leafy beverage as a trendy drink for new-age geeks who are as obsessed with having energetic bodies as they are with fast computers.
“It’s the new social lubricant,” said Jesse Jacobs, owner of Samovar Tea Lounge, a popular mini-chain of high-end tea rooms in San Francisco. “You’re never hung over and you can never drink too much.”
Rose, Ferriss and Jacobs are hoping to see specialty tea hit the mainstream just like coffee. And it’s certainly possible: Many credit Alfred Peet for single-handedly spearheading the specialty-coffee movement when he opened the first Peet’s Coffee & Tea store in Berkeley in 1966. Starbucks soon followed, and today their coffee shops are omnipresent.
Tea is so ancient that its exact origins are impossible to trace. In one popular Chinese legend, emperor Shen Nung, who drank only boiling water for hygienic precaution, discovered tea by accident 5,000 years ago. According to the tale, some dry leaves fell from a bush into the emperor’s boiling water, and the first cup of tea was created.
Today, fine teas are taking their place in the center of the digital universe. Specialty shops like the Samovar Tea Lounge are virtual emporiums of the beverage, carrying teas from cities, villages and gardens all over the world for guys like Rose and Ferriss, who use it to find respite from their endlessly busy, overly connected lives.
Jacobs, owner of Samovar, which opened three locations in the past year, explained that technology and the internet have changed everything for the tea industry.
“Technology, commerce, shipping methods, storing methods — all these things come together so that today we have access to the best tea ever,” Jacobs said, who has a background in technology himself as a former user interface designer.
He added that the emergence of social networks like Facebook and Twitter are bringing exquisite, obscure teas to the tech-driven world.
Digg founder Rose, for example, who is hailed as one of the most influential people on the web, is playing a large role in bringing obscure teas to the mainstream. He said he quit drinking soda as a New Year’s resolution in 2000, and he turned over a new leaf for tea.
Rose often tweets about new teas he’s trying out to his nearly 400,000 Twitter followers and even created a separate Twitter account — @goodtea — devoted to tea. He also started a Facebook page about the ancient beverage, where he posts videos and information. To top it off, Rose links to Samovar Lounge’s web site on his personal blog, and he plans to make videos with Jacobs showing geeks how to brew loose tea.
Another active member of the tea resurgence is Ferriss, the owner of a supplements company who became a Silicon Valley star with his bestselling book The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich.
In the book, Ferriss plays the role of motivator-in-chief, instructing businesses to adhere to one rule of thumb: Cut out all excess information, such as e-mail, Twitter, Flickr and so on. And when something crops up that could potentially stifle productivity, such as a work crisis, hire someone else to deal with it.
So it comes as no surprise that Ferriss, a man who preaches paying more while dealing with less, prefers tea over coffee. He doesn’t want the jitters, the increased anxiety or the bouncy high. He just wants the energy. And he admits that being a tea connoisseur requires spending a bit more than the stuff you’d get in bags. At Samovar, patrons spend anywhere from $10 to $50 each to enjoy a small cup of exquisite tea — such as Mu Za Tie Quan Yin, if they’re feeling extra fancy, which runs for $140 per ounce.
“Tea shots of gyokuro for $50 a thimble full?” Ferriss used as an example. “It ain’t cheap, and it’s certainly not for everyone, but that’s the key: It’s affordably indulgent. A way to show off your insider knowledge instead of distasteful displays of wealth, much of which has been lost.”
How long will it be until you can stroll down a block just about anywhere, sit down and enjoy a cup of Ryokucha imported straight from Japan? Rose is optimistic that the tea renaissance is just five years away.
“There’s a reason tea has been popular for thousands of years,” Rose said. “I have a feeling we’re getting closer and closer to the tipping point.”
“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
– Leo Tolstoy
February 2009 – Samovar, along with the rest of the western world, witnessed a host of momentous events at the close of 2008 and beginning of 2009. The near collapse of the capitalist system, global economic woes, fits and starts of major business reforms, an exciting sea change in American leadership, the list goes on. Rooting out the source of our current challenges enlightened us to our world’s duality: both our problems and solutions arise from the same source. Issues of integrity in business matters that previously hastened our downfall must now guide our destiny.
Aligning business practices to power social change is a principle Samovar’s been dialing in since Day One. And we’ll continue to do it as we have, that is unconventionally, mindfully, and from the inside out. Which is why we’re inspired by the observation of Tolstoy, agreeing that effective social change flows from individual choices. By satisfying needs, creating value and reconnecting people to the root of enjoying life, we discovered a warm cup of tea actually could transform the entire world.
Soundness, presence, clarity… the uncertainty of our times only increases the need for reflection, relaxation and renewal. Visit our lounges and try our teas and you’ll see that Samovar is taking the business of mankind’s happiness and contentment seriously. In doing so, we’re establishing new standards for success in the business world’s attitude toward health, wellness, and human development.
Who knew we could enjoy so much success and have this much fun showing the way for others to relax and find their transformation?
Create Peace Drink Tea. Preserving the simplicity and integrity of the Tea Tradition makes Samovar a clearing for timeless values leading to unbounded inner growth joy in the journey.
Let there be Peace on Earth and let it begin with Tea.