These are unprecedented times to be navigating with our partners in China.
The challenges have kept us busy, but also hopeful that our partners will be able to emerge stronger than before and demonstrate to the whole tea community the resiliency of small family farming.
We wanted to take a moment to share some of the challenges right now,
and share what we are doing to honor the trust that both you and our farmer-partners in China put in us.
How are we addressing the challenges our partners face?
We’ve been having long discussions every day with our partners, checking in to see how everyone’s families are doing and how spring harvests are shaping up. Weiwei, He Qingqing, and I have been working to identify the main challenges everyone is facing and figure out what we can do to help.
We are in a position to help mitigate the anxiety and financial pressure of both of these big issues. This way, our partners can focus on their passion and keep sharing the finest teas in the world.
Addressing the drop in domestic demand:
If domestic demand goes down, we believe it is our responsibility to pick up the slack.
We’ve started pre-buying teas before harvests, and doubling down to purchase more than we ever have before, earlier than ever before.
We are getting these teas packed and shipped as they are picked, and a decade of logistics experience gives us the connections we need to make sure that our partners’ teas get through, even though over 90% of flights are currently grounded. Having a physical presence in Laoshan means that we do not need to wait on exporters or third parties.
When our partners are ready, we are ready.
Even with couriers no longer delivering door to door, Weiwei is driving out (sometimes hours) to regional shipping centers to pick up fresh spring tea packed up by Li Xiaoping in Dragonwell, and the Dongsa Cooperative in Qianjiazhai and get them prepped to send to the USA.
Even with 90% of flights stopped, our shipping partners are good to us, and our partners are working daily to keep our spring teas moving. Shipping prices are up over 300%, but we are happy to absorb that cost in the short term in order to keep the tea moving and make sure our partners have the market they need to survive.
By pre-buying ahead of harvests and making sure that shipping happen no matter what, we are able to address the gap in domestic demand and fill in the income that the families we’ve called friends for over a decade can not only survive, but come out stronger.
That commitment hasn’t stopped with tea.
Over the years, hand-made teaware from incredible artists like Lai Xiaohong or Lin Xi has become a bigger part of our mission. The closure of studio galleries to visitors takes away these artists’ main source of income and makes it difficult for everyone to keep going.
This spring we’ve been laser-focused on helping our single-artist studios reach more customers than ever before. We have extended an open invitation to Lai XIaohong, Pan Yang, Zhu Huan, Wang Ting, Tan Jun, and Lin Xi to send us any new work they’d like us to photograph and exhibit online. This has allowed them to double-down on their commitment to the craft while bringing joy into many homes with the inspirational teaware they produce.
As part of our commitment to being a platform for small farmers and passionate artists, we’ve been working to extend our representation to new partners.
Look out for teapots cups and pitchers from Tibetan artist Dangzhen Pichu, who has worked tirelessly with his community to revive Ni Xi wood-fired traditional pottery. We had the opporunity to interview Dangzhen Pichu’s master back in 2008, who has passed on community leadership.
We are so excited to bring another new perspective to teaware, and to help Dangzhen Pichu tell his story and the story of Nixi.
Keep an eye out in the coming month for more…
The second major problem to tackle after helping our partners with the fall in Chinese demand and brick and mortar customers/ galleries is building a plan for the next year, not just the next month. Agriculture does not happen overnight, and partners like the He Family in Laoshan need to be able to plan the lifecycles of their tea plants for healthy fields and quality tea for years to come.
To help with this goal, we work to bring as much transparency as possible to our partners – helping them understand exactly how much tea we imported together in past years, how your demand has grown, and what we plan to do this year to help them maintain and grow.
Traditionally, market uncertainty
always goes back to the farmer and supplier.
If sales are lower, the producers are expected to somehow buckle down and make it through. If sales are higher than expected, producers are expected to magically come up with product, and with little turnaround, or face losing out as middle men pivot to new suppliers who will do whatever it takes to fill the gap.
This year, we are working to help project how much tea each partner should pick to supply your demand. We are committed to purchasing that amount, ahead of time whenever possible. This way, our partners do not need to pick more than they need, and have the time they need to operate smoothly.
At the end of the day, we know that small family farmers and individual artists already have enough to sort out as is.
Our friends trust us as their partners and advocates, and right now, that means we need to help take everything off their plate that distracts from their true passion of making the best teas and teaware.
Old-school, outdated models rob producers of their chance to connect with their customers. They add markup and complexity to the supply chain. These models will begin fail under the unprecedented challenges of these times, and this gives small family farmers the opportunity step up and show their resilience and commitment to the world.
We honor this commitment and resilience in every way that we can think to do so. We hope that as the industry rebuilds, it will take notice of farmers like the He Family who come out stronger because of the way we’ve been able to work together as a tea community.
Speaking of tea community…
This is all possible because of you.
We are honored to connect you with the best tea farmers in the world, and we are grateful for your trust and support. We are taking this time seriously, and using it to reflect on our role and how we can provide the most value to both our partner farmers and to you.
Right now, we are working to show our commitment by continuing to fulfill orders as soon as they come in. We are getting them shipped out the door, usually with 24 hours, with tracking, and – as always – a free sample that we’ve picked out just for you and a hand written note as a token of our appreciation. Our customer support is open, and we are replying right away. Whenever we can, one of us is on live chat to help with your questions as they come up; otherwise, we’ll get back to your emails asap.
We have all of your classic favorites in stock, and more new teas will be coming every week as our shipments get through. We are committed to overcoming every challenge to keep your tea pots full, and showing you and our partner farmers how grateful we are to work with you all.
By the way…
If you are interested in a little more community building – we’ve been thinking about how we can do more to connect with each other right now, and we’ve got a great thing coming in our tasting journal email group.
Join up today to be the first to hear about a new community tasting note exchange.
We’re planning on hosting a big communal tasting and posting everyone’s notes together so that we can see how many different experiences a single tea can inspire.
There will be big discounts on the teas we taste as a community, and thank you gifts for anyone that sends in notes.