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.
David Lee Hoffman: Part of the beauty of tea is you can get so many different tastes and sensations with it. Almost emotion, each tea has a different emotion and personality. And you could shape that personality, you could play with it, depending on how you steep it, and the water, and the temperature, time, and the quantity of leaf you put in, it all has a contribution to the shape that you want to give that tea. Continue reading David Lee Hoffman, Tea Pioneer: Part I
Bon Teavant, Photographer, and Way To Tea Author, Jennifer Sauer writes about tea, community, and leadership in these economically challenging times. Sauer looks to Samovar founder, Jesse Jacobs for his insight into tea…beyond the leaves.
“Our communities look to us for sanctuary, community, compassion, and the opportunity for sharing ideas, dreams, and sorrows during these trying times. Tea culture is the perfect vehicle for meeting the deeper needs of our friends, family, colleagues, and customers.
Jesse Jacobs, owner of Samovar Tea Lounge, is exactly this kind of community leader. As a testament to his success in this role, he just gathered the investment capital to open his third tea room. I wondered, “How is this guy so incredibly successful in such a frightening and dismal economy?” I had to find out for myself, so I interviewed Jesse. What I found is that Jesse has a very strong grasp of what tea can provide our community beyond water and leaves. His special understanding of what tea can do for people draws crowds magnetically to his charming and serene tearooms. His depth and integrity are worth noting, and in fact, are the driving force behind his great success.
Tea culture is the antidote to solitary striving. It is a vehicle to community and sanctuary, to the kindness and compassion that help us survive and moreover, to thrive, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. As leaders of our community, it is our job to provide a safe haven for those needing solace, a good place to laugh or to cry, and to brainstorm new solutions to triumph over fear and difficulty. This is a part of our path and destiny as tea people. In this era, we can shine.”
When it’s all said and done, will you consider whether your presence on this planet made one iota of difference? We believe everyone wants to know their lives made a difference. Why?
Because nothing else really matters. So what if you made a lot of money, traveled the world, or bought a lot of stuff. Did you make a difference? Let’s live our lives every single second of every single day knowing without hesitation that our lives made a difference for the better. And let’s live with an easygoing elegance that is contagious to everyone we touch. Below are six really simple ways you can make a huge difference.
1. Use compact fluorescent light bulbs.
If every household in America used just one bulb, this would equate to taking 1.3 million automobiles off the roads.
2. Shop at a farmer’s market once a month (or more) to eat healthy, seasonal, organic food produced by local farmers. It’s good for your taste buds, your health, local business, and the environment.
3. Help everyone get health care. We live in a great country, and it would be even greater if everyone had health care. Support initiative
H.R. 676 that supports universal health care.
4. Make peace by drinking tea. No, this is not blatant self promotion for Samovar. It’s just blatant truth. Tea is about connecting to the moment, whether alone or with others. If everyone were to have tea with a friend at least once a week, a lot of our problems would just go away.
5. Shorten your shower by just 10 seconds and conserve water and energy.
6. Reduce your environmental Toothprint.
By the time you die, most will have gone through at least 1,000 toothbrushes. That’s 100 million pounds of plastic toothbrushes in landfills in this country alone. Buy a toothbrush with a disposable head and you’ll have made a big difference.
For more information, check out these movies and resources:
Feature films: An Inconvenient Truth , by Al Gore and, Sicko by Michael Moore
At Samovar, we treat the business of the tea experience, our work, as our art. And, we’re really proud of the art we are making for this world. The way we see it, the secret to being a successful artist is to really be able to listen. To listen to the customers, to our vendors, to the city, to the weather, to our farmers, our employees, and to listen to the world around us with all of our senses: sight, sound, smell, touch, and energy.
If we can listen, and really see our surroundings then we can do whatever is necessary to make our work a beautiful piece of art that improves the world around us.
And, we’ve figured out the secret to listening successfully. Ask questions. Any kind of question, big, small, smart, stupid, obvious, obscure, immediate, timeless, personal, professional, happy, sad, or indifferent. Because if we’re always asking questions, then we’re always looking, thinking, caring, and acting.
That’s one reason that as a company we don’t have thick booklets of training materials and checklists for managers and employees to follow. We want our people to ask questions, to think, and to be creative. Certainly we have “our” way that we brew tea, our way of processing payroll, or completing mail order for a customer. But, we don’t want robotic drones working here.
We want people who care, think, and are creative. And, if our people are always asking questions, then they are always thinking about what they’re doing. And if they’re thinking about what they’re doing, then, they’re thinking about creative solutions for whatever it is they are doing and how it might be done better.
It’s all about creativity. And with thoughtful, mindful, creativity, comes beautiful art, beautiful business, and beautiful life.
Jill, a regular customer of ours recently inquired how we, a “socially responsible company” could be so insensitive as to purchase the entire existing lot of Mi Xiang oolong tea–and that our doing so was an indication of Samovar turning into a big, careless corporation. I disagreed, and responded to her with the letter below. I have posted it to our blog because I feel it provides some good insight into who we really are. Enjoy!
Thank you for writing, and, for your concern about the purchasing stance of Samovar Tea Lounge. I thought I would write to let you how and when and why we buy tea, to hopefully ease your concern about Samovar.
My friend Josh is married to a Taiwanese woman, and he travels regularly to Taiwan to visit her family. Her family’s neighbors grow this tea for themselves, and, when he tasted it with them over dinner and realized how amazing it was, he asked if they were interested in selling it to an American customer base. They did not believe there was a market in America for a tea like this–so unusual, so premium an oolong, and, so rare. They had all the tea they needed, so, they sold him 20 lbs to take to America. Josh is a one-man-shop, and, just starting out in the US to make inroads to the burgeoning tea market. He knows of Samovar’s national presence with online sales, and of our strong Bay Area presence among locals coming to our store, and, he wanted to jump start his business, and introduce a really unusual, artisanal, and delicious tea, but didn’t know how–so I offered to sell it for him, to try it out with our customers.
Mi Xiang was an immediate hit, and we sold out 3 lbs (600 servings!) in less than two weeks. I told him that the risk was well taken, and, that if he didn’t have any other interested buyers, that I would happily take the rest of it because we had so many customers asking for more Mi Xiang. And so, he sold me the remaining 17.5 lbs (now down to about 10 lbs actually)–because of customer requests.
I understand your sensitivity to “corporate America,” and I couldn’t agree with you more about greed. I hope you do see the difference in this situation, especially because Samovar is the furthest thing possible from corporate America.
To give you some examples:
We’re not a corporation. Samovar is owned by me, and my two friends Paul and Robert–and it is run by an amazing staff.
Also, I don’t think corporate America provides massage, acupuncture, and free yoga to their employees! I believe strongly that if we do our best to take care of the people who make Samovar special, they will take care of Samovar, making it special–ie, the polar opposite of corporate America.
I hope I did not bore you with the length of this email, and that the information has been useful in clarifying Samovar’s stance. Feel free to email me directly if you have any other questions or concerns–or do say “hi” if you’re ever in either location!
Below is the customer’s email:
Thank you for the Newsletter. I was, however, sorry to read that you had
bought all of this tea “in existence.” How greedy of you! Reading
that fact did not sit well with me. You could have left some for others perhaps? I guess that’s corporate America–for you-all or nothing. Living like there’s no tomorrow-is that what
global warming is about? Thank you for listening. No need to reply to this letter.
We are born and we do a bunch of stuff and then we die. The stuff we do between birth and death is actually just a whole bunch of stories, and business is one outlet of those stories. How we interact with each other and our environment is the story of business.
At the end of the day at Samovar our business is not how much money we made or lost, not what teas were bought or sold, not which employees showed up for work. No, at the end of the day at Samovar, when the last scones have been sold, and the last pot of tea brewed, the floor cleaned, and the lights turned off, at the end of that day all that is left is just a bunch of stories. And the stories are absolutely fascinating. That is business.
The mother and daughter who connect over the grilled portabella sandwich and a pot of Magnolia Snowbud. The writer who finishes the last chapter of their novel fueled by a mug of chai. The single woman who meets the blind date of her dreams over Phoenix Bliss oolong. The retired real estate agent who muses the next chapter of life with a pot of Maiden’s Ecstasy pu-erh. These stories of customers, employees, and suppliers is actually what makes business, business. The tea families who ship us fresh tea monthly are directly sustained by the husband and wife who have a chance to finally catch up over a pot of Dragonwell Green tea at our Yerba Buena Gardens location. And what about those customers who literally live on our Japanese organic green teas, and visit us every single day, rain or shine, alone or with friends?
We support our suppliers giving them the means to survive and thrive. We support our customers by making them happy, healthy, and relaxed, and they support us by returning to us time and again for the experience we offer. We support our employees by giving them a good place to work, eat, drink, and make friends.
This is the story of Samovar Tea Lounge. And what makes it all happen is the interplay of all these stories. At the end of the day, week, month, quarter, and year, we get together and recount the stories that really stand out. The funny ones, the scary ones, the sad ones and the happy ones. Why? Because those stories are Samovar, and, if we understand the stories, we then understand what we’re doing. And if we know what we’re doing, then we can do what we want.
The bottom line is profit, or not. What happens when the only goal is about financial profit? Generally speaking, if that’s the primary overarching goal, then nothing else matters. People don’t matter. The environment doesn’t matter. Even the longevity of the company doesn’t matter. Only profit matters, and it is achieved at all and any cost. That’s part of the problem with Wall Street and with business as a whole in today’s economy. A public company must show a profit, or be punished by the market. Companies do whatever it takes to show that profit to their shareholders: buy cheap, sell high, destroy the competition, and yank the necessary resources from the earth. That all works in the short term because it makes it easier to show profit to shareholders. But then what?
Everything is connected as we’re quickly finding out. Fill your SUV full of gas to go to the mall, and that gas has a cost that may not be apparent. Political, environmental and other costs may take some time to arise, but are clear and definite cost nevertheless. As Al Gore spoke to those other costs in his article For People and Planet, “…Not until we more broadly ‘price in’ the external costs of investment decisions across all sectors will we have a sustainable economy and society…”
But it’s a fact that the times, they are a-changing. Companies that are driven solely by profit are very quickly becoming “old-school.” That’s because the light is dawning on the interconnectedness of things, and the reality is that there’s more than only one bottom line that defines a business’ success. And although a business must be profitable in the traditional sense to succeed, today there are two other quantifiable metrics for business success, viability, and sustainability: People and Planet.
Without profit a company loses the game of business. But without environmental stewardship and concern for humanity, the company loses its natural resources, the earth and its people lose their health, and we all go down the drain. When considering a company’s quantifiable, measurable bottom line, the environment must be strongly considered as do the employees of the company. It is the people who make a company, not the other way around.
Consider evaluating organizations not only on quarterly financial profits, but rather on whether they provide health insurance for their people, or sabbaticals, or maternity leave, or stock ownership in the company, or consistent, positive feedback and appreciation, along with free yoga and acupuncture. Or anything else that helps improve the lives of the employees. And then evaluate the company on what they do for the environment. Do they cause more good than harm? Do they recycle? How much? Do they use biodegradable cutlery, or plastic? Do they compost? Do they buy organic, local products?
The challenge and the reckoning time will come when you reach the checkout line. Are you willing to pay the price? Many Americans shop based on price. Does that price include the true environmental cost? Does the price include supporting the local artisans and farmers who grew and processed the product for you? That’s what Fair Trade is for. So, show your values with your dollars, and choose to support companies that survive by being profitable, and, attending to the environment and the people who work there.
When it’s all said and done, at the end of the day and the end of our lives, the question at hand is not “How much profit did I make?” Instead the question is “Did I make a difference? Did my life matter?” By creating, and supporting companies that make a difference to their people, to their customers, and to our environment, by doing so profitably, we know with assurance that our time spent here did make a difference, and left the world a better place. We don’t consider it grandiose. We consider it truth.
Business can really make a difference for the greater good. Look at how Samovar makes people feel: good, healthy, and happy. That’s our purpose. And, although it isn’t easy, it is fun, and rewarding to see our customers smile and express their gratitude. We’re hosting an event next Thursday, 1/18 with Flow a Bay Area organization dedicated to “liberating the entrepreneurial spririt for good.” This will be an amazing event to connect with passionate, like minded folks who are really into letting the creative sparks fly.
Read more about the event Are you interested in the role of business in changing the world for the better? Or curious about how different sectors might transcend their differences and join together in reaching for a more sustainable future?
You’re invited to a conversation on ”liberating the entrepreneurial spirit for good” in Samovar Tea Lounge at the Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco, from 5 to 7:30 PM. Local entrepreneurs, visionaries, and creatives are invited to this socially conscious entrepreneurial tea party.
What: A conversation on “liberating the entrepreneurial spirit for good” When: Thursday 18 January 2007, 5:00 – 7:30 pm Where: Samovar tea Lounge, Yerba Buena Gardens, Cost: By donation. Suggested donation $40 How: 415.497.0996