Monday, October 17, 2011

From where I sit...

My tea journey started in 1996 in the Ritz Carlton. Harney and Sons Loose Leaf teas where flowing to any $40 a head High Tea ticket purchaser. My absolute favorite was Jasmine Oolong piping hot, with a spike of milk and one brown sugar cube - of course tasting best out of a Ritz Carlton fine bone China cup. The jasmine was light and pure, not heavy and weighted on the tongue. Many of the high tea guests at the Ritz Carlton had no idea about the tea they were drinking and often wanted to purchase everything about the experience to replicate at home; the Ritz had many retail missed opportunities. My fellow tea service gals and I had discussed opening our own tea rooms;  fast forward to 2002 and I actually made it happen. I had spent the interim years in Franchise ownership of quick service deserts and drinks. So what if I could put the two together? And blend my own tea blends with exciting embellishments of fruit pieces, chile threads, or even candy? That is what I did in creating the Lavender Lounge Tea Company. Not a tea room, but a Tea Lounge ~ a tea salon and tea bar type concept. Urban, eclectic, and uniquely like no other. I loved chatting to the guests and taking polls on the next desired flavor concoction or what they enjoyed as their family tea tradition. So many folks grew up with such uniquely special tea traditions. I loved helping to create Southern California's new tea traditions and succeeded in creating the teenage and mother and father alike "hot spot" for sipping hot tea and slurping iced tea, and selling all they needed to take the intimidation out of any loose tea experience, so they could continue the experiences at home. After 7 years, I learned what I needed to in tea, QS tea, and retail and slowly grew exhausted of managing he day to day of owning and operating my own stores, brand, blends, employees, and wholesale accounts. I tried to divide the company when I sold in 2008, but ended up by negotiating entirely all - the sale of the brand, stores, and wholesale accounts as well.  Now I work for one of the largest tea importers in the United States. From where I sit, it is ever so interesting to see all the applications of tea. From RTD, Chai's, blends, to Skin and Dog Food companies using teas and herbs. But what is most exciting is to see - what I created in my small brand that could have gone chain wide - being picked up conceptually by other chains and they are growing more every day. My concepts in my tea shops are what I see in almost every successful brand and growing store tea chain out there. When I started, the only way to find tea was tea at a "tea room" venue, and that was not really for retail, just a meal. Now there are tea retailers like my concept and they are even using more candy shop like feel in tea, more and more. Speaking of fun blends and trends, I can tell you of at least 6 tea blends of mine that were my crazy and unorthodox brainstorms that I see "borrowed" permanently, and I am flattered. (Now I know why these random marketing companies would order one pound here and five pounds there). But how do these
tea chains measure success, I wonder? Tea is an ever so laborious product, if you consider it start to finish, but that is for another blog title! It is certainly exciting to see where Starbucks will go now in the newest tea concept store, and certainly exciting to see this race finally get started. I can't wait to see who will compete on the West Coast in tea retail and tea bar concept action. I am ready to visit and critique. I am ready to see how it measures up to what I dream up of now - adding up what I did then, from where I sit now, to what the gap is on the street today. From where I sit, I am am ready to run. Tea concept stores are about to hit that tipping point, and I am ready.

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