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Mi Xiang Oolong and Our Purchasing Philosophy


The Awe-Inspiring Mi Xiang Oolong
The Awe-Inspiring Mi Xiang Oolong

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!

Hi Jill–
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!

Thanks again,



Below is the customer’s email:

Dear Samovar,
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.

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(Part I) Business is Nothing … But Stories of People

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.

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The Bottom Line is Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Tea at Samovar= Profit + So Much More
Tea at Samovar= Profit + So Much More

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.