What does it take to be a real tea hunter and source your own tea? Every day a new crop of people are showing up in the business, thinking that tea sourcing is a simple three step process:
Sorry to say, but this is how
people get hurt tea businesses fail. Why? Because tea sourcing is anything but as simple as “1,2,3” above.
This is why I call it “tea hunting” and not “purchasing” – it’s an active process, during which you must remain alert.
For there are innumerable ways tea farmers and distributors attempt to con nascent and seasoned tea purchasers alike, consequently costing them tremendous time and money in the process.
This is serious business. I have even seen several tea businesses “go under” because they ultimately were unable recoup any profit on a large order of useless tea. Also, you don’t want to inadvertently sell your customers teas that can harm them and the environment!
Therefore, in order to be prevent others from befalling such fate, and in order to help them more quickly become efficient tea hunters, I have outlined below The Top 7 Dangers of Sourcing Tea.
One of the more common cons is to send a sample of supremely high quality, only to send a much lower grade tea in bulk after the order is placed.
Take, for example, Lapsong Souchong. Because true, pure Lapsong Souchong is a very profitable tea sold at premium prices, factories want to take advantage of the high price point. So in order to increase the quantity they can sell, factory owners will mix lower grade tea into their Lapsong Souchong teas.
For: More “Rare” Tea = More Customer Purchases = More Profit.
While this strategy makes them more money in the short term, it also costs them customers who can taste the difference.
Almost every tea company today is willing to tell you that their leaves are organic. Many, even, will send you pictures of their farmers (almost always fake), and also samples that truly pass pesticide testing.
In other words, they talk the talk (through marketing) and walk the walk (their teas initially test negative for pesticides).
That is, until you place your order. For when you source from these companies and test random samples from your order, you come to find out that some of the tea is pesticide free, while most of it…is not!
Now, all of a sudden, your reputation to your customers is on the line.
Do you now become unethical and still sell these “organic” teas to recoup your money?
Or do you “eat” the loss because the tea company will no longer respond to your calls or emails? Can you afford to?
Translators hold enormous power during negotiations, and in my experience often used this power to cheat tea hunters. They can take advantage of your language deficit and work in cahoots with the farmers and factories owners to double your prices, create confusion, and damage your business, all so they can make money from all sides.
Sometimes, too, they’ll “go rogue” and work only for themselves! For example, the farmer/distributor may have actually offered you a fair price, but the translator inflates that price and says you can only pay through them. Then, they pocket the excess, and pay them farmer.
So look out for the danger of unethical translators!
“Please, Tea Gods, may I not be cheated on this purchase.”
Have you ever asked yourself the question: aside from packaging and taste, how do I actually know if what I’m sourcing is truly artisanal, hand crafted tea, and not simply some mass-produced, factory machined tea?
What do you look for? What smells? What tastes?
This is especially important if you are not there to oversee any of the processing.
Like “organic,” teas that are “artisanal” are becoming increasing popular with consumers. As a result, factories and farmers are also throwing the term “artisanal” on many of their marketing and sales materials, but the teas are plain old factory made.
Therefore, it is your ability to distinguish between the two types of teas that will help you overcome this danger.
Some teas are organic but not artisanal.
Some teas are artisanal but not ancient.
And some teas – like all of ours – are artisanal and Wild & Ancient.
Like “organic” and “artisan,” Wild and Ancient are two industry terms that garner a premium price. And, more often than not, they are used to falsely charge higher prices.
So ask yourself: do I truly know the characteristics of a wild tea? Of an ancient tea? Only then can you avoid this danger.
Tea companies LOVE the blended tea business. Why? Because they can blend low quality tea with fruits or herbs to mask the bad flavor of their “premium” teas. Don’t be duped into this purchase, ever. If you want to sell quality blended teas, almost always you should purchase the teas and do the blending yourself.
As you can see, there a number of ways to cheat an honest tea hunter. And, I don’t really offer solutions to every danger listed above, because there are honestly no “silver-bullet answers” to these issues.
Instead, I just wanted to showcase how you can be cheated. But hear me know: the best protection is experience. And how to get that experience? You have to drink and study the teas from companies you already trust. Then, compare the teas you source to these trusted teas. The other skills – connections, business acumen, pesticide testing – grow with time. This, however, is the fastest way to grow your sourcing skills.
This is why we write this blog, and ultimately why I wrote my book Wild Tea Hunter and Shana wrote her book The Wild Truth of Tea. It’s also why we teach our ITA Certified Tea Sommelier Training in Puer China. We want to save other people time, money, and frustration by giving them all our experiences, through writing (the books!) and through direct experience (the courses).
And, ultimately, we want to ensure that end customers are only drinking safe teas that do not harm them or the environment.
That’s it for now.
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