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Building The Future Of Tea

A short while back, I was asked to present a seminar to students at the University of New South Wales, Australia which was introduced by Dr Robert Driscoll and the Department of Engineering; but was open to all students of UNSW. I was asked to present the tea industry and what opportunities it could offer to future graduating students. I talked to them about the usual topics; what tea is, where it comes from and how it’s produced. I also introduced them to global sales figures of tea, yearly tea production levels, and introduced them to two young entrepreneurial and successful businessmen: Mr. Kaushal Dugar of, and Mr. Taylor Dow of Body TeaTox. Two very different business types, both being run in non-traditional tea business styles. The seminar attracted a large group of students and staff from the university, and after the seminar several people approached me for further discussion and networking.

This is only one of my many encounters with young, enthusiastic, educated, and ready-to- change-the-world people. In my various conversations with many tea people most agree with me when I say we should be encouraging, seeking out, engaging and offering employment opportunities to these fresh-minded people. We need to be encouraging people from engineering, finance, corporate sector, management, business consultancy, science, research and, yes, law, to name but a few.

Many facets of the tea industry are still being run the same way they have been for over one hundred, if not two hundred, years. It takes imagination and foresight to create change and improvement. For many like myself, change can be un-nerving (even a little scary at times) but if we are to see the tea industry grow and flourish in the 21st century we must embrace change. The days of the European colonial masters dictating the rules of industry and creating prosperity for their own countries has passed but the tea industry clings on to many of their established ways of doing things. This must change to make the tea industry more competitive in a modern, highly competitive business environment.

The use of the internet to create new style tea businesses is being picked up by entrepreneurs from all walks of life, attracted by the general and steady increase of trade in the tea industry, and the fact that the product travels well by courier. Like all business sectors that become popular, the good ones will flourish, but many will fall by the wayside and possibly face liquidation. Good business planning, evaluation of the market you intend to attract, and a profile of your immediate competitors are good starting places. Unfortunately many will not do their homework and will try to operate a cottage style business, with very little understanding of business principles. This can be very costly to these individuals and not a good representation of what can be done, if good business ground rules are observed.

The tea industry also needs to address the education of people, qualification and standardisation of educational practises within the industry. Tea courses and courses to become a so called ‘tea sommelier’, or ‘tea master’ seem to be popping up all over the world with very little control over what is offered on these courses as educationally reputable. Many certified tea specialist have little more than a certificate to verify this fact, but have minimal tea education. In my own country of Australia, the coffee industry went through a similar period where just about everybody and their dog became a trained barista and a coffee specialist. Today, there are accredited and certified barista and coffee courses held by private and government educational institutes. This is what the tea industry needs to achieve.

With all this said, the industry is certainly achieving great potential and the future looks very promising. The improvements to the quality of tea through production, transparency of practise, improvements in logistics to speed up delivery, and the entrepreneurial skills of tea people all over the world is to be commended. The US market has seen a quadrupling in the past two decades with rapid growth expected over the next five years. Canadian tea consumption is forecast to increase by 40% to $130 million by 2020 as reported in World Tea News. Both these markets have seen constant popularity of black tea, being consumed either hot or as iced tea. The global coffee giant Starbuck’s purchased tea retailer Teavana, so as to position themselves to take a large chunk of this ever-growing market. Unilever – possibly the world’s largest tea entity controls various well-known tea brands, and now with their high street retailer brand -T2 operating in Australia, US, UK, and New Zealand they too hope to see a significant slice of the new tea boom.

The near future of the tea industry looks positively rosy from the retail and end user points of view, but that foresight and imagination is what is needed to sustain growth and supply in to the future. I hope this piece and the many conversations we will all have over a cup of tea will encourage people from different fields and backgrounds to consider the tea industry as a viable and promising career or business possibility.

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