Why Verdant Tea is Different
How did you get started?
Verdant Tea is a dramatically different kind of business. The seeds of our desire to share unique and exquisite teas with the world were sown during founder David Duckler’s time in China on a research grant to record the folk stories of tea farmers concerning the origins of tea.
David met every farmer not as a business man looking to buy up their crop or play hardball, but as a curious researcher interested in learning more about their histories. This kind of relationship meant that farmers could open up and share what they truly cared about. David communicated with the farmers that his main goal was to share their culture back in the west, to make known their stories.
The prospect of a chance to share their tea and their stories outside of China was enthralling for many of David’s friends in China. They sent him home with all their best teas and asked him to make them for everyone he knew. David found that he could share the tea ceremony and provide an experience that people would never forget, but for anyone to truly internalize the culture of tea, they had to make it an everyday ritual like the farmers did. The only way to share on this level was to provide inspiring tea and enough of it to allow people all over the world to drink it every day.
David tried teas all across the country, but nothing had the same inspiring quality as a cup made with Laoshan spring water overlooking the tea fields. He quickly learned that almost all teas that make it to America are not from the small family farmers, but from factory plantations, brought over in freighters in staggering quantity. The only thing left to do was to call up his friends in China and nervously ask if any of them would be willing or even able to part with enough tea for David to share on a large scale.
The response in China was overwhelmingly positive. David took his whole savings and sent it through Western Union to his friend and tea mentor Weiwei Ren, nervously awaiting word. She traveled to all the farms and packed up the precious spring teas, and pu’ers. With the advice of a friend in the import business, David was able to arrange next day air freight for all the teas, and get a customs broker to ensure gentle treatment for the tea on arrival in America.
David did not know what he was getting himself into. He hoped that people would be interested, but also knew that if the tea didn’t sell, he would have enough pu’er for a lifetime. He held the first tasting at an art studio in downtown Minneapolis, and sent invitations to all his tea friends. The night of the tasting, over half the tea was bought up on the spot. The rest was gone in a matter of weeks as the website finally launched.
The rest is history. Verdant Tea now employs Weiwei full time, allowing her to realize her lifelong dream of travel and tea. The first website, hand built by David despite being “code-illiterate” has finally been replaced by a site that does justice to the teas, presenting them as they demand to be presented. We have been humbled and touched by the enormous positive encouragement from tea lovers all over the world, and continue to grow our business, seeking out the smallest and most innovative farmers and giving them an audience outside of China. We challenge ourselves every month to seek out better and better teas, hoping that we can achieve our goal of providing a tasting experience inspiring enough to warrant making an every day ritual. Learn more about the team at Verdant Tea.
How do you get such unique teas to the market?
We buy from farmers that would otherwise never export their teas, or even sell outside of their villages because they trust us to respect their tea and present it well.
We request hundreds and hundreds of samples when we consider adding to our line, spending weeks and months tasting each sample diligently to find the most inspiring tea.
We curate our selection, cutting anything that is not critical. We want a selection where any tea you pick out is “our best tea.” We don’t have “grades” of tea, instead seeking out crops that represent the most interesting elements of the flavor spectrum. Every tea we offer is up on the site for a specific set of reasons. If we couldn’t publicly defend a tea and stake our honor on it, we wouldn’t sell it. Sometimes we will get in a whole shipment of pu’er bricks, or other tea, and after tasting it for the 20th time decide that it just isn’t interesting enough to sell. We are willing to take that loss.
We arrange for prompt shipment of our teas, paying extra for next-day air freight on any time sensitive harvests. We book proper customs brokerage to avoid having teas quarantined, or even worse irradiated due to questions on their origins. Our teas ship from China vacuum sealed or heat sealed in small bags, so opening one bag does not decrease the shelf life of the whole batch.
We buy in very small batches, which occasionally means we run out of a tea, but it also means that we never sit on a tea for months at a time if it is a seasonal crop. We sell spring teas in the spring and autumn teas in the autumn. If there is ever tea from the last season left at the next picking, we clearance it immediately, or take the loss.
We are also lucky to work with some of the most sophisticated palates in China. Weiwei Ren is the most perfectly trained taster of most oolongs that we have ever met. Wang Yanxin has amassed the most unique and outstanding collection of pu’er we know of through dedicated work with small growers in stead of the large workshops. We are lucky to know people like this, and innovative honest farmers like the He family in Laoshan Village. We never work with brokers or exporters, handling all the logistics ourselves for the privilege to work with small businesses that would otherwise never be allowed to export goods.
What makes your sourcing process different?
OUR SOURCING PROCESS
1. Our employee Weiwei travels around China to meet with tea farmers before and during each seasonal harvest to consult on ideal pickings.
2. Pictures, samples, and notes from the farmers are sent to Verdant Headquarters
3. Teas are tasted numerous times by each Verdant Tea employee. The most exceptional candidates are then prepared for guests at our office, helping us further assess appeal among a diverse selection of tasters.
4. All teas that meet our selection standard are packed in small 250g bags and sealed at the farm for freshness.
5. Weiwei goes back to the farms with payment and gifts, farmers send her off with tea and gifts
6. Air freight is booked for each box, and they are rushed to the Qingdao airport
7. After 15 hours in flight, the tea is met by a customs broker to take care of paperwork and ensure gentle and expedient treatment in customs
8. We photograph all new teas, gather notes from our tasting sessions, and publish each new product on our website
9. Tea is shipped to you in non-reactive, foil-lined resealable bags, packed and cushioned inside sturdy boxes
Total time from harvest to sale: 2-3 weeks
Total time between batches of tea: 1 month
- higher quality
- better value
- unique, small harvest teas that are otherwise unavailable outside of China
- majority of tea cost goes straight to farmers, instead of brokers
- provide farmers with resources to innovate for better product
- higher standard of living for farmer
- tea arrives fresh, in small batches, just 2-3 weeks after picking
TYPICAL SOURCING PROCESS
1. Buyers interview several independent brokers in China, negotiating commission rates and fees.
2. After a broker is settled, broker will contact large export-oriented plantations for commodity rates
3. Samples will be sent to buyers, or buyers will do a whirlwind visit to China to taste the samples available.
4. Once products are determined, brokers will arrange ocean freight transport
5. Tea will sit at port for up to a month, until a space can be booked for cargo.
6. Tea will spend 1-2 more months in transit in a shipping container, sharing space with other goods, ranging from food, to petrochemicals.
7. Tea may be subject to extended quarantine, potentially lowering the quality of the leaf.
8. Container shipments cleared by customs at the dock are loaded onto trucks and arrive at warehouse facilities in another 3-8 days.
9. Tea is repackaged, and catalogued at the tea warehouse, or orders are fulfilled by a third party and the teas share a centralized warehouse space with other products.
Total time from harvest to sale: 4 months
- lower cost
- larger quantity available for purchase