Nicole Martin, tea writer and owner of the Tea For Me Please blog, has been generous enough to set some time aside to write a guest post for this blog. If you are familiar with tea related blogs, then certainly you have read some of Nicole’s articles before. Nicole has been tea blogging for much longer than I have, and has established an impressive reputation among the tea blogging community.
Within the past couple of months, Nicole has accepted a position at a traditional Chinese tea house in her area. Nicole’s post documents her experience in making her passion for tea more than just a personal hobby, as she is now on the other side of the retail fence, preparing and serving tea to other consumers.
After reading her post below, please remember to check out her tea blog at http://www.teaformeplease.com. Also, find her on Twitter and Instagram (@teaformeplease), as well as Facebook and LinkedIn. She regularly posts on a variety of tea topics, from tea and book reviews to tea shop experiences, and even interviews with some popular faces in the tea industry.
On to Nicole’s post…
Making the Jump from Tea Drinker to Tea Server
Tea has been an all consuming passion of mine for the last five years or so. Oddly enough, I’ve only recently made the jump to working at a local tea shop. Part of why it took me so long is that there weren’t any places that did tea the way that I wanted to. My conscience just would not allow me to push sales of german rock sugar and other unmentionables on unsuspecting shoppers. When a traditionally styled Chinese teahouse opened nearby, I jumped at the opportunity to pursue my obsession further. In my naivety I also thought that it might be easy. I had a strong retail background and plenty of tea swigging experience. What could be easier?
I soon discovered that it was not easy at all. My first few shifts left me exhausted with aching feet and burned fingertips. Although I’m fairly well versed in Chinese teas, I was at a loss for words when trying to describe the differences between them to my customers. Adapting to the shop’s recommended methods took some major adjusting as well. I had to retrain myself to pour gaiwans in a different way than I had been used to. Water temperatures, steep times and
the amount of leaf used are usually a matter of personal preference but in a work setting they become rules to be followed.
Given that most of our customers had never even tasted loose leaf tea before, we had to find an easy to understand language to get the point across. Wine analogies quickly became a frame of reference to help them to build a basic understanding. The knowledge that I had gleaned from
doing customer service for a wine retailer certainly came in handy. Myths about tea abound so we often answer the same questions every day. Which tea is the healthiest? White tea is made from the best leaves, right? Is it true that green tea doesn’t have caffeine? It’s hard to answer these questions because most of the time there is not an easy answer, even for a tea nerd like myself.
Brewing tea for others is very different from making it for myself at home. It is nerve wracking, humbling and fascinating all at once. Of course I wanted my new place of employment to do well but I was amazed at how well a very traditional tea shop has been received. Although a few have balked at the price, most of the people who have come through leave with a newfound appreciation for tea and Chinese culture. They all seem to really enjoy the calming effect that
tea has. While they focus on what they are sipping, the troubles that they walked in with seem to melt away.
Introducing someone to a tea that they never knew existed (like raw puerh or phoenix oolong) is an incredibly satisfying experiences. While I may not make a career out of it, every day is a challenge and there is always something new to learn. I cannot wait to see where my journey
with the leaf takes me next.
Certainly, Nicole’s experience is something that any tea hobbyist can relate to. There is probably a larger amount of incorrect or oversimplified information in the U.S. tea market than thorough and correct information. And yes, tea preparation is a very subjective activity, meaning that each person can have a totally different method of brewing and enjoying their tea, so it would be difficult to serve a tea according to the strict instruction of the business owners, as compared to years of personal experience and opinion.
Best of luck to you, Nicole, in all of your future tea and non-tea endeavors. Continue doing an excellent job of spreading the good word about tea. There is plenty of information to spread to plenty of people!