I’ve long since talked to lots of people online about tea. That relates most to writing a blog about tea, and being an admin for an international themed FB tea group, and now for a second, and participation in forums or a sub-Reddit and such.
That has extended into real life more lately, with three people just visiting here in Bangkok. I’ll use that example to lead into how value-oriented purchasing could enable tea swaps. Linking the ideas is a stretch, but it should work. To keep it simple I’ll place the initial themes by visitor, and tie together the threads at the end.
Narendra Kumar Gurung, the Nepal tea vendor setting up a co-op style processing initiative, sent some teas. A contact of his, Sunil Sainju, was visiting Bangkok for a conference so he brought them. Right away this doesn’t seem to relate to how someone who isn’t blogging or talking to producers might use a similar approach, but I’ll get to that. I just reviewed a golden needle style black from those: Very nice tea.
There are just a few online contacts who feel a lot like real-life friends, even though I’ve never actually met them. Cindy of Wuyi Origin stands out; we’ve never actually met but I’d trust her with my kids. Anna of Kinnari Tea, who I just met, is another favorite. It’s a little awkward adding that extra level of input about someone after only talking by message, but it’s rare that they’re not at all what you expect. Anna is great.
I didn’t try any of the half-dozen Kinnari Teas (Laos versions) that she dropped off but I already know that they’re fantastic, unique, and high quality. I gave her some samples of this and that, including some from Narendra (nice how it goes in a circle, especially shared with people who would appreciate them most).
I’ve been reviewing very unique teas from Laos and Vietnam recently, mostly local versions of sheng (pu’er-style teas). In this case, passing on teas in return completed a tea swap. Due to space limitation, I’ll only mention one unique personal detail about Somnuc: He speaks Chinese, Vietnamese, French, English, and Laos, and is probably fluent in Thai (which overlaps with Lao). Very cool.
These mostly aren’t tea trades for me; more often people give me samples for blog review. But I give away tea to anyone I think will appreciate it; not much quantity, but enough to try part of what I’m trying. I think a related “swap” theme could apply to more people.
These three related tea sources aren’t exactly what I had in mind (and Somnuc doesn’t even sell tea), but still, let’s use the other two as an example. Someone could reach out to Anna or Narendra to try to buy tea, and even though they’re both not really set up as end-point retail suppliers as agreeable people they’d probably help out with that. Buying samples off a wholesale vendor seems a bit unrealistic but one might decide to buy a ¼ kilogram of a few different teas instead (for example).
That idea comes from a vendor selling their own produced teas in a large-block retail form, from the Halmari Assam producer’s offering a nice orthodox Assam black for $25 per 250 grams (with their “oolong” my own favorite). That’s the smallest quantity they sell. Or Assam Teehaus is another co-op style producer selling similar teas, but that drifts off this theme.
Meeting Maddhurjya Gogoi and Bulu Deka (of Assam Teehaus), at the Jip Eu shop (with Sasha and Kittichai)
A similar approach might relate to a shared group-buy theme. It doesn’t make sense to buy low quantities of teas from the other side of the world; shipping would cost as much as the tea. The higher the volume the more that proportion balances back out. Or someone with a kilogram (or pound) of tea, who doesn’t plan to just drink through it, could use it for trades for other teas, or for gifts.
There’s lots more that I could say about making tea contacts online, trying out other novel forms of teas, or limitations and potential problems with swaps; but that covers the initial broad themes. This post on more direct producer sourcing might spark some other ideas, but only on the supply side.
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