By Babette Donaldson
“Find a Need and Fill It” is one of the most important rules of business. There are overwhelming needs now during this global COVID-19 pandemic, and tea has the potential to fill many of them. With our lifestyles being radically limited, our activities need to be more fulfilling. Tea speaks eloquently to this. We in the specialty tea industry can accept this as both a challenge and an opportunity.
The opportunity is to transition from being viewed as an expendable luxury to a meaningful and healthy lifestyle. The challenge is to shift from a “foodie” theme to a “family” focus, from gourmet to comfort food. We have an opportunity for our messaging to share a vision that brings all ages back together for teatime because one of the most valuable health benefits for this time may actually be the way we consume and share tea – not just the healthful chemistry of the leaf.
The way we share tea tends to reduce stress, restore emotional bonds with family and friends and generate an overall sense of well-being. This is beneficial to almost all health concerns – especially now with the current state of things. Here are a few considerations about tea and how it fills needs during this global journey:
1. Calm Focus & Mindfulness Practice – For people who are forced to spend more time alone, tea can become a practice to focus the attention away from isolation and fear to engage the senses, allowing the simple act of preparing tea to provide an additional sense of well-being and give structure to the day.
2. Conversation & Communication – The invitation “Would you like a cup of tea?” is much more inviting than “We need to talk.” Tea might be the designated time of day to turn off all electronic devices, to turn off the news and all the noise and make space for some of our most important conversations – even if it must be virtual.
3. Fun – Pretend teatime play with young children can evolve to actual teatime with the entire family. Planning and preparing a teatime together is a fun activity that can incorporate everything from crafts to games to music or storytelling. One of the tea traditions in the United States is to create themed tea parties tied to a season or a holiday, to a kind of flower or literature. Both adult and children’s literature are filled with wonderful tea themes.
4. Virtual Tea Parties – And now all the fun of planning and preparing tea parties and activities are being adapted to share virtually. Teatime might be the hour of the day that two people share a video phone call and maybe even exchange their tea and recipe choices. But video options now allow there to be dozens of “guests” in the room and gatherings can be quite lively.
5. Tea as an Anchor – Historic crises have inspired tea traditions that are part of art, literature and legend. This can give us a sense of security and a vision for the future. As we bring out family heirloom teaware, we connect to our own personal history. We make tea in a grandmother’s favorite teapot or sip from our mother’s personal teacup. But we are also using teaware and recipes and events that can be passed forward with our stories. What did that tea practice mean? How did teatime help us reconnect to each other in a time of fear and loss?
Overall, the challenge and opportunities for specialty tea retailers is to share what tea has been and can be in a genuine and heartfelt way.
Babette Donaldson, author of The Everything Healthy Tea Book and The Emma Lea Books, began her adventure with “real” tea as a graduate art student in San Francisco during the 70's with a graduate focus on ceramic art. Studying the history and elegance of ancient teaware inspired curiosity for the beverage and worldwide cultures that celebrate it ceremonially. When artisan teas became more available during the '90s, Donaldson found opportunities to study, teach, write and share her fascination with the leaf. In addition to personal appearances promoting her books, she teaches introductory tea classes both privately and at community colleges and is a frequent speaker for the educational workshops at the World Tea Expo Conference + Expo.