I stepped out of JFK airport and got into a cab. It was a longish drive to the hotel and sure enough, the driver and I got talking.
“Are you on business or vacation,” he asked. I started telling him that I run a tea company and immediately he was excited. As it turned out, he’d recently started drinking tea, adopting it as part of a new lifestyle routine. He was practicing yoga every day, had cut down on red meat, and was embracing mindful living, he told me. And tea, he felt, fit perfectly into this healthier way of life.
Now I was curious about the tea he drank, and where he bought it, and what he thought of it. Robert – by this time we were on first name terms – drank both green tea and oolongs, bought from the supermarket. He seemed quite happy with them, believing too that they were aiding his health quest. I spoke to him about why freshness was important, what to look for in selecting a tea, and what to avoid. He listened to me, asked a few questions, and took my recommendations for some of our white and green teas. He’d try them, he promised.
It was the beginning of a two-week visit to the US for me. most of which was to be spent in New York City. Every day I met people to introduce Teabox to them. I must have averaged 5-7 seven tea tastings a day in my time there. And yet, I just didn’t tire of the whole routine – setting up a tea tasting, recounting the Teabox story, answering the questions that came volleying back. Quite like a magician enjoying his voila! moment, I too have learnt to anticipate that instance when a guest takes a sip of one of our teas, watch as first, surprise and then, delight lights up their face. I can never tire of that.
Almost everyone who tasted our teas could immediately recognize the difference in quality between the teas they were now trying and what they were used to. Some seemed dismayed at having spent so many years of their lives drinking stale teas. One even expressed feeling akin to a sense of betrayal that the tea she had been drinking was not what she was led to believe it was.The average tea drinker – as I saw in the US – has mistakenly assumed the supermarket tea brands to be the gold standard. For them, the supply chain story was an eye opener. They are all horrified at finding what goes into the ubiquitous tea bags. And gobsmacked to hear that all tea types came from the same plant! Not surprisingly, they were ready and eager to know more.
Before my two weeks was up, I received an email from Robert, the NY cab driver. He had placed an order, received it, tried the teas and was writing to say, “You have a great product. Keep it up.”
Over and over, the recurring message I was hearing was that Americans were beginning to enjoy tea again. It appears that there is a revival of the tea culture. While the first introduction of the US to tea was as early as the 18th century, much of the 20th century was dominated by tea bags and iced teas – two inventions that, incidentally, the US can be credited with. The current “third wave” of tea reminds one of coffee’s similar journey from mass produced (first wave) through specialty (second wave) to artisanal, straight from source produce (third wave). Tea, it seems, is going down the same route, atleast in the United States, from mass imports to tea bags and supermarket teas and increasingly towards straight from source, fresh produce. Triggered perhaps by people desiring better health and more mindful living, it’s come to dominate people’s consciousness. It’s not uncommon to find more and more people seeking tea. What they lack is access to the best possible teas available.
We live in times where people have the ability to spend, and would rather spend that wisely on products whose origins are known, that are as natural as possible, and produced carefully. And here, at Teabox, that’s the change we are driving: to bring the finest and freshest teas straight from the source and make it available to all.
I returned from the US a happy man, finding both enormous interest and a potential market here. But what I’ll always remember this trip for will be my conversations with its cab drivers. In New York, again, I called for an Uber and once more, struck up a conversation with the Cuban-Puerto Rican driver. Like Robert, she too asked many questions. And like Robert, she too was enormously interested in health. I reached my destination and as I got off, she said she’d already logged into the Teabox website and taken a tea subscription plan for her partner. Talk about one happy ride!
Photo credit: Joe Ravi/ Shutterstock.com