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The World of Tea Consulting
By Wendy Komancheck

Looking through the UKERS’ directory, one can see a section listing tea consultants, but it’s not often that one learns what tea consultants do on a daily basis. How do they help tea businesses start and grow? What different job duties do they perform? Who are the clientele that they work with? These are some questions posed to leading tea consultants.

What exactly does a tea consultant do? Suzanne Brown, a multi-faceted marketing consultant, owns Brown Marketing Communications, LLC in Atlanta, Georgia (www.browncommunications.us), and one of her company’s services is consulting for tea and coffee businesses. Most of her clientele are business owners wanting to launch a new product. Brown says, “Tea accounts for approximately 30% of my business; sometimes more, depending on the scope of a project. Coffee represents 50% and food is 20%, which I’m trying to grow. Currently, my projects are in RTD teas. I’m working with two companies who are getting ready to launch products using a tea concentrate as its base; one is a RTD organic tea line, another is a product that will be packaged as such that it will have a new application with new distribution channels. My firm has also been working on promoting Delta Blues Iced Tea Punch, [by] providing media coverage.”

Nearly 30 years ago, Brown got her start as a tea consultant by writing two articles for Austin (Tx.) Homes and Gardens; publishing pieces in her newsletter, Coffee and Tea Connoisseur; and writing an article about tea bricks for Tea and Coffee Trade Journal. Since then, Brown Marketing Communications, LLC “helped launch Two Leaves and a Bud and Kardoz Global, LLC, both leaf tea companies,” Brown shares.

Additionally, she lectures about tea trends at Tea and Coffee World Cup, as well as other industry conferences. Brown says, “After one of the World Cup conferences, when I presented on the subject of RTD teas, I was asked by Leal, Jr. S.A., the second largest tea company in Brazil, to consult with them on launching their products in the U.S. Today, my client base continues to grow with product launches and project management to connect clients with the right relationships to develop quality tea beverages and products.”

Pearl Dexter, Scotland, Connecticut (www.teamag.com), the editor and publisher of Tea, A Magazine, says that her publishing business grew from her course called the “History and Pleasures of Tea.” Tea, A Magazine is “the longest running consumer publication devoted exclusively to tea, now in its 14th year. It is dedicated to a worldwide audience, informing, educating and entertaining its readers with articles exploring the history, culture, consumption and dramatic health benefits of tea.”

Dexter has had a multi-faceted career in the tea industry that has included owning a tea room, publishing books in addition to her magazine, starting the TEASchool and visiting tea estates in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, India, Japan and the Azores. Today, she continues to participate in tea conferences and workshops, as well as acting as a liaison between the tea supplier and the tea business owner.

Dexter says, “I don’t believe that there is a single course or a number of years that could encompass a degree of sorts to give one the bank of knowledge to impart to others on the diverse and vast subject of tea. Tea is complex. First, there’s tea itself: The manufacturing and processing; tasting; wholesaling; retailing; history; and the sociability of tea. I am constantly learning and hope to always be a student of tea. In my pursuit of tea, it is my desire to pass lessons on to others that are passionate about this venerable beverage. But, with all that said, educating others though the history of tea is a great beginning and introduction to tea.” Dexter finds that each client is as different as tea is, and she finds her work to be “exciting. Sharing your knowledge is a great reward when you realize that you are part of the seasons of a company or individual’s life with tea.”

Dexter consults with business people from individuals looking to open a small town tea parlor to urban-savvy tea bartenders. “Before consulting or teaching, I always ask a potential client to express their needs and priorities in their pursuit of tea. Each consultation is personal; yet, all result in watching an individual become more and more passionate about tea and all aspects of it. Everyone has something to offer their prospective customers. Passing on their passion is a great beginning.”

Jasmine Pearl Tea Merchants, Portland, Oregon is a small business owned by the husband and wife team, Chuck Bauman and Heather Agosta. They work with other small tea businesses. Agosta says, “Our primary business is importing, blending and wholesaling specialty loose leaf teas to retail, foodservice and holistic businesses. We also offer small batch custom blending and private labeling. We have a retail presence on our website at www.thejasminepearl.com.

“Most of our clients are start-ups, under new ownership, or simply need to upgrade or expand their tea selection. So, as their vendor, we often end up consulting these businesses by default. It is through this type of experience that we grow to better understand the needs of a wide variety of small business owners and their customers. As we gain this knowledge, we become more confident in the role of consultant.”

Agosta’s company consults with cafes, tea houses, restaurants, spas, clinics, natural markets and retail stores. They work with their clients on site, but they also host tea workshops and classes for business owners and the public at large. She says, “We teach our clients how to evaluate teas through tasting and brewing instruction. We also teach basic tea education and advise on equipment purchasing, menu planning and we conduct trainings for their staff.”

Companies who buy The Jasmine Pearl’s teas receive free consultation. And the companies, who don’t buy tea from them, but want the consultations, pay according to the type of consultations they are seeking.

Agosta and Bauman’s normal day as consultants include lots of brewing and tasting of teas; teaching tea basics and tea types; tea processing; and harvesting. Agosta says, “Being exposed to the tastes, smells and appearances of many styles of tea, a client is able to develop a palate and a personal vocabulary for tasting tea. I believe this helps in making informed choices about tea selections. “Through demonstration, we show our clients how to brew tea in a way that is most appropriate for their businesses. This time is also used to answer specific questions. Depending on the client’s needs, a consultation can take anywhere from two to five hours.”

Jane Pettigrew, (www.janepettigrew.com) speaks, teaches and writes about tea. She, too, presents at international tea conferences, as well as teaching master classes, seminars and other events. Pettigrew says, “I am involved in many different aspects of tea - teaching, advising, writing, reporting and consulting. I work with hotels, restaurateurs and existing tea rooms; new business owners and prospective owners; and companies who manufacture or design tableware/teaware and kitchen equipment. I help with selecting teas; advising on brewing equipment and methods; advising on the layout of kitchens and pantries for tea brewing; tasting teas; training staff; devising pack copy and menus, etc.”

Pettigrew helps companies buy tea from blenders, and she states that her work consists of, “choosing the best supplier for each tea; checking that the teas brew well in water in different regions and locations, etc. Each situation is different - one just gets to know who to work with for the best product in each situation.”

Since each consultation is different in manner and time, she offers a daily rate, an hourly rate, or a project rate, depending on the type of service a client desires. Pettigrew says, “If I’m running a course or master class, I organize everything and charge an all inclusive fee.” Pettigrew says that each day is different; “it’s often a case of planning very carefully to fit everything in.”

As other sources intimated for this article, Pettigrew says it’s important for the tea consultant to listen to one’s clientele to access their needs. She states, “I work with many different types of businesses, and in each case, it is important to ask a lot of questions; to listen and understand the aims and objectives of each person, business; and [to] never make assumptions. A consultant should never impose, but try to guide and advise along the right path.”

The Pros and Cons of Tea Consulting
Dexter’s positive attitude shines through her evaluation of the multi-faceted career of tea consultancy. She says, “There are no cons, only pros. This is an industry that continues to grow, and the more [I] learn, the more [I] realize how little [I] knew. As I said earlier, I will always be a student of tea and have great respect for our colleagues who have been steeped in tea. The tea growers, manufacturers, packers, brokers, exporters, importers, small and large tea companies and entrepreneurs, who have extolled the virtues of tea, along with making this product become more than a beverage. It is a way of life.”

In advising future tea consultants, Dexter says, “Taste tea; read about tea; study tea; attend classes (private or public), attend conferences. Arm yourself with the most powerful tool - knowledge. I hope that I shall never stop learning.”

Agosta finds tea consulting to be mostly rewarding, but she does find some challenges in the industry. She says, “Being a tea consultant can be very rewarding because we get to expose people to a whole new world of flavors and aromas. Also, learning about the ritual and history of teas can be a fascinating cultural experience. From a business perspective, it is very rewarding to know that we are helping so many good businesses get off on the right foot by helping them become more informed and, ultimately, more confident about the teas they are serving.

“The only difficulty in being a tea consultant is staying on top of the constantly changing information about tea, particularly in regard to tea, health and caffeine levels in tea. More and more research is being done on these topics, and we are continually finding contradictory information to commonly accepted facts about tea.”

Pettigrew speaks of the entrepreneurial aspects of tea consultancy when she says, “Pros are being your own boss and being able to help others. Cons are that you can never let up - as with any freelance work, you have to keep thinking ahead.”

And for those who want to move into consulting on tea, Pettigrew advises, “Know as much as you possibly can about every aspect of tea: The business, the industry, the people, current trends, new developments, etc. This is crucial.”

People who seek tea knowledge, a can-do attitude, connections and a love for tea make successful tea consultants. They work on a multitude of levels to help the small town tea shop to the urban tea bar thrive for the long-term. Successful consultants know tea and can be trusted to get you off to a successful start in the tea industry.

Wendy Komancheck is a freelancer based in Pennsylvania. You can reach her at wendykomancheck@yahoo.com

Tea & Coffee - February, 2009

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