Starting Your Own Mobile Tea Business, Part 1: Why Not?

Selling tea. It sounds like a wonderful idea: would could be better than making a living doing what you love? But opening a tea room is a risky business venture, with a lot of upfront costs. OK, fine … so what about just selling tea online, right from your own kitchen? It could work, but … well, face it: working from home has its perks, but it’s a pretty lonely existence. For most of us, much of the appeal of opening a tea room is being able to share with other tea lovers.

If you were thinking of opening a tea or coffee shop but are scared by the commitment and the set up costs, here’s an alternative idea: why not open a mobile tea room? A mobile coffee/tea business sells the same types of products sold by storefront shops; the big difference is, you’re working from a vehicle fitted with equipment for brewing and steeping. You’ll be able to mingle with your customers, like you would in a static tea room, but you’ll have a fraction of the investment.

In the first post of this multiple-part series, we’ll be looking at the advantages–and disadvantages–of operating your own mobile tea room business.

Advantages

As we’ve already mentioned, one of the main advantages of going mobile is the low start-up costs. You can go into the mobile coffee/tea business with very little upfront. There are plug-and-play packages that can be had for as little as $10,000, or franchises that include monthly support payments. Other advantage include:

  1. High Profits – The tea and coffee business is growing. Specialty stores like Starbucks have conditioned customers to demand higher quality products, and teas can offer gross profit margins over 75%. Having a mobile shop means you control the location, and that location can change based on conditions.
  2. Non-seasonal Products – Some products–Halloween supplies, or plant nurseries, for example–are very seasonal; the demand for coffee and tea goes year-round. If you operate in an area with dramatic season changes, you may need to change your offerings from time to time, but the market will still be there.
  3. Flexibility – Many people choose to run a mobile business, because it can fit around their lifestyle. You can have a daily route or a specific location on days of the week, or only open at flea markets, concerts, or other events. The minimal investment makes it easier to operate part time, if that’s what you need.

Disadvantages

The big disadvantage here is that this is not a new idea. While more people are willing to spend more money on tea or coffee, there’s also a good deal of competition for that business. Your product will either have to be competitively priced, of a higher quality, or operate in an under-served location. Even at exclusive events, you could see issues: you may have the sole coffee concession at a show, but that doesn’t stop the burger van next to you from selling instant coffee or generic teabags at half your price. A few other disadvantages:

  1. Skill Level – It takes skill to make a consistently good cup of coffee or brew an excellent tea. And if you’re running the concession, YOU are the barista. You’ll need to do a lot of research and get in a lot of practice before you open. Your level of skill and understanding of your products are key to ensuring that your business is successful.
  2. Limited Sales Times – Even in our coffee-crazy world, the vast majority of coffee and tea sales take place in the mornings. Sure, there’s a growing acceptance of “afternoon tea,” but there is still an element of formality to those occasions–something not easily supplied by a mobile unit. This means to be profitable, you’ll need to start early and keep regular morning house so your customers can get their morning fix on their way into work or shortly thereafter.
  3. Many Hats to Wear – Not only will you need to be a top-notch barista, you’ll also be the driver AND the sales rep AND the buyer AND the bookkeeper … you get the idea. That means you’re in charge of acquiring licenses, purchasing supplies, and doing all the financial work, from applying for loans to dealing with customer chargebacks. It’s a lot to consider.

Owning and running a mobile tea shop business can be great, but it can also be very difficult. Our job here is to make sure you don’t go into it blind. In our next post, we’ll take a look at the various components you’ll need to get started.

They Drank Tea for 6 Weeks–Here’s What Happened

A recent post from thewiredshopper.com compiled a list of the hottest and most relevant trends in the Internet of Things by talking to 60 different industry thought leaders. While most of the responses demonstrated an understandable excitement for the future, many also seemed uncomfortable about how easily we allowed outside forces to take over our lives. One response in particular summed up this caution:

“As IoT becomes increasingly commonplace, there will be vast networks of hackers, fraudsters and cyber-shoplifters who will try to profit from it. We must be diligent. Your security network is only as strong as its weakest link, and the IoT adds multitudes of new links to your networks.”

Because, yeah, we really didn’t have ENOUGH to worry about …

The more technology seems to take over our lives, the more we here at Jasmine Tea appreciate the delicious, soothing, and decidedly low-tech power of a regular cup of tea. And we’re not alone: increasing amounts of research are demonstrating how tea can reduce the harmful effects of stress.

One study, published in the journal Psychopharmacology, found that people who drank tea were able to de-stress more quickly than those drinking a placebo. Participants were given a black tea mixture four times daily for roughly 6 weeks, during which time they also gave up regular tea, coffee and decaffeinated drinks. One group had a fruit-flavored, caffeinated, tea-colored beverage containing all the same elements of black tea. The others drank a placebo, identical in taste but with no tea properties.

Compared to the control group who drank the placebo, those drinking tea were found to have lower levels of cortisol (stress hormone) in their blood after a stressful event (one created and controlled by the researchers). In fact, stress hormone levels fell by nearly twice as much in tea drinkers compared with those given a tea-like drink.

After being confronted with the stress-inducing situation, all participants were required to prepare a verbal response and argue their case in front of a camera. While both groups exhibited significant levels of stress (measured by increased levels of cortisol, increased heart rate, and raised blood pressure), within fifty minutes of their presentation, cortisol levels in the tea group had fallen by 47 per cent compared with 27 per cent in the control group.

Researchers also noted that thee tea group showed less platelet activity and reported a “greater degree of relaxation” after their presentation. Platelets are related to blood clotting and can contribute to heart attacks.

None of the researchers or participants knew who was drinking real or fake tea. The variances between participants could only be explained by effects of biological ingredients of tea. In other words, it was the tea itself, not the relaxing situations in which people might drink tea, whether they liked the taste, and so forth.

While it may not be able to reduce the actual levels of stress we experience, one researcher noted, tea does seem to have a greater effect in bringing stress hormone levels back to normal.

We could have told them that.

Science Says Green Tea Rocks!

A lot has been written lately about the benefits of coffee, with research indicating that caffeinated drinks in the morning can help protect one from everything from type 2 diabetes to cancer. That’s almost a 180-degree turnaround from what doctors were saying in the 1980. If you’re a coffee drinker, that’s great. But don’t get cocky.

Green tea has been one of the most popular beverages in China, Japan, and other Asian cultures for over 4,000 years. Ancient Asian medical practices taught that consuming green tea could heal wounds and cure diseases, and more recent scientific research is beginning to corroborate that by homing in on the potential health benefits of drinking green tea in areas such as weight loss and cancer prevention.

Take that, coffee.

Now, researchers from the American Academy of Periodontology have uncovered yet another benefit of regularly drinking green: A study published in the Journal of Periodontology reported that routine green tea consumption may also help drinkers maintain healthy teeth and gums.

And if that’s not enough, another study from the British Journal of Nutrition suggests green tea might even help lower blood pressure. Frustrated by the inconclusive link in similar previous studies, researchers analyzed 25 randomized controlled trials and made some concrete discoveries: After 12 weeks of regular tea consumption, blood pressure was consistently lower.

The report also noted that while these tests failed to identify the most beneficial daily tea intake, other studies have shown protective results with 3-4 cups per day. And while green tea had a higher rate than black tea, the authors noticed no difference between caffeinated and decaf teas.

Go Green

Green tea’s health benefits may stem in part from the presence of the antioxidant catechin, since prior research has established antioxidants’ ability to reduce inflammation in the body. Other plant chemicals known as flavonoids help explain why tea drinkers seem less likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease. Short-term studies have demonstrated a link between drinking tea and an improvement in how well blood vessel respond to stress (a measurement known as vascular reactivity). There’s also research that suggests that drinking green tea may lower LDL cholesterol levels.

While most teas offer a certain amount of benefit, green tea is the mother lode. Both black and green teas come from the same plant; the difference occurs after the leaves have been harvested. To make black tea, the leaves are crushed and allowed to oxidize before they are dried; the leaves that go into green tea are not. This oxidation process decreases those flavonoids we just mentioned, although not to a huge degree.

Drink up

Doctors recommend drinking tea … if you enjoy it. While there are no currently-known downsides to drinking one or two cups of tea a day, it isn’t really medicinal, per se. That means those green-tea-extract supplements promising a concentrated dose of flavonoids have little to no value. And since drinking too much of certain teas can cause kidney damage (like kidney stones), downing seven or eight cups a day strictly for health reasons is long shot, at best.

Of course, all scientific studies are not created equal: one recent report suggests that listeners may literally “hear” you smile over the phone, and that seems kinda iffy. But it’s still good to know that science is finding more and more reasons to indulge your love of tea.

Not that we needed any.

The Beauty of Pu-erh

A recent blog post on Lifehack.org detailed a variety of hobbies that allegedly help make one a better boss. “Drinking tea” wasn’t on the list — I’m not sure it qualifies as a hobby, per se. On the other hand, exercise, yoga, and meditation — all ways to better care for your mind and body — were all suggested … and from that perspective, drinking tea certainly fits the bill.

Tea has long been recognized for its health benefits, and none more so than Pu-erh tea. Grown exclusively in specified areas of China, Pu-erh tea leaves go through a drying and fermentation process. The result is both a dark, rich flavorful tea … and the creation of micro-organisms known to be beneficial to the human body.

Of the five main types of tea (including white, green, oolong and black), Pu-erh’s fermentation process makes it unique in its contributions to overall health. There are multiple varieties of Pu’er tea, but they mostly all fit into a couple of common categories: Ripe and Raw. Instead of natural aging, ripe, or “cooked,” Pu’er has been fermented through a man-made process. Raw (unaged) Pu’er generally tastes more like green tea.

Here are five specific health benefits of drinking Pu-erh. Please note, however, that I’m not a medical professional, and in no way am I suggesting you attempt to use Pu-erh instead of following your doctor’s advice and guidelines.

Pu-erh Can Help Lower Cholesterol

Long-term studies have shown that over time, drinking appropriate amounts of Pu-erh tea has the potential to lower LDL cholesterol (that’s the bad one) and increase levels of HDL (the good one). The microbial aging of Pu-erh tea produces lovastatin; the longer the tea is aged, the more it benefits. Lovastatin is a natural statin, but a synthesized version is commonly prescribed for the treatment of high cholesterol. Extensive use of Pu-erh has seen cholesterol levels drop as much as 90 points or more in some cases.

Pu-erh Can Aid in Digestion and Cleansing

In traditional Chinese herbalism, Pu-erh tea is considered an aid to blood cleansing and digestion. How so? Well, many of the things we consume — even healthy foods — contain acids and other free radicals. Over time, these things can build up in the body, but drinking Pu-erh tea can help cleanse these toxins from the blood. Pu-erh can also increase the levels of healthy bacteria in the stomach and intestines, making it easier to digest foods (especially after a heavy meal.)

Pu-erh Can Contribute to Weight Loss

While not a fad diet or miracle cure, Pu-erh tea has been shown to significantly suppresses fatty acid synthesis (FAS), which is the body’s fat production. In other words, it can actually retard your liver’s fat-creating process, effectively blocking your body from producing more fat. At the same time, it’s been clinically proven to boost enzymes your body uses to “unlock” the content of fat cell. The body burns more fat because Pu-erh helps it access and mobilize the fatty acids in fat cells.

Pu-erh Can Help Reduce Stress and Promotes Sleep

Most people wouldn’t even consider a hot cup of Pu-erh as a sleep aid due to the caffeine common to all teas. Nevertheless, Pu-erh can help with sleep due to specific elements in the tea that reduce stress levels and increase production of melatonin. The result is less restlessness, stabilized mood, and deeper, more consistent sleep cycles.

Pu-erh Can Help Prevent Illness

Like most teas, Pu-erh contains antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. Antioxidants help the body fight off free radical molecules and prevent disease. Pu-erh teas often have a higher concentration of these antioxidants than other teas, largely because of the fermentation process that the tea undergoes.

Pu-erh tea has been harvested for over 1,700 years; the medicinal and health benefits have been touted for centuries, but modern science is just now starting to prove those benefits through clinical studies. I’m a big fan of Pu-erh, and think it’s worth your while to explore the many varieties of this healthy and rewarding tea.

5 Different Teas and How to Pair Them with Food

Most people understand that wine enhances taste of food, and that different wines go better with different cuisine. There are some people who treat wine pairing like an unbreakable fiat, but that isn’t the point: you can drink whatever you want with whatever you eat, but get the right food with the right wine and you’ll have the flavors of food simply exploding in your mouth.

There are those who believe in beer pairing, as well, but since this is my tea blog … well, you can see where this is going right?

Just like wine, the flavor of a tea is dependent on where it is grown and how it is processed. All types of tea come from the same basic plant (Camellia Sinensis) but the most common tea served in the U.S., black tea, is allowed to ferment before being it is dried. This process results in a strong, oxidized product with a tannic taste. Certain other types of tea are only lightly oxidized, and some have no oxidation at all. This in part accounts for the variety of flavors, and can alter how teas interact with foods.

Artfully pairing tea with food can bring a completely new aspect to both the food being served and the tea itself. So what goes with what? At one time, you could simply ask your barista, but since more traditional shops ” … are being quickly replaced by a fast-growing internet marketplace,” you might find that difficult. Luckily, I’m here to help.

There are too many different combinations to pack into one post, but I thought I’d go over some basics.

Green Teas: Overall, most green teas tend to be subtle, with flavor and aroma that are more vegetative than anything else. That makes them well-suited to mild dishes like seafood, rice, salads, or chicken. Keep in mind that highly spicy foods can easily overwhelm the understated flavor of green teas.

Black Tea: As we’ve already mentioned, black teas typically offer heartier flavors and aromas, as well as the most pronounced tannins. That stronger presence is why black teas pair best with robust foods such as beef and other meats, as well as spicy dishes.

White Tea: Unblended white tea has such a mild presence that it can be overwhelmed by anything save the lightest flavors. A white tea could accentuate basic undressed salad, for example, but the natural

Oolong Tea: Typically, the flavor of oolong (wulong) teas is less robust than blacks and more subtle than greens. At the same time, it can offer fragrant tones that are at once recognizable yet exotic. Lighter oolongs work well as a snack accompaniment, adding a sweet accent to salted crackers or baked chips. Darker oolongs go nicely with smoked meats, lightly cooked meats and meat-based appetizers; it also pairs well with seafood and even some desserts.

Pu-erh Tea: Strong with a smooth yet deep and rich flavor, Pu-erh teas are known for their digestive benefits. That makes them perfect to pair with red meats, stir-fry and oily foods … but with the holidays coming up, it’s also good to know they’ll help settle your stomach after large, multi-course meals.

Obviously, this is a very basic guide, offering broad guidelines based on the typical flavor and strength of the tea versus that of foods. Which tea matches which meal becomes more and more of a personal choice as you experiment and become more familiar with specific teas. The only real rule is that one element should accentuate the other: as with wine, the perfect pairing makes both the food and the tea taste better.

Starting an Online Tea Business? Start with YOU

So you love tea. And you know tea. Your friends are always coming to you when they have a question about tea. In fact, more than one of them has said to you, “Man,  you ought to go into the tea business yourself!”

Don’t tell me you haven’t considered it …

I bet you’d love to make a living around tea, but how? A tea shop? Unless you’re in London, a long-shot gamble at best. Bottling your own unique tea blends? Not without a considerable amount of startup costs. A grower? Yeah, right.

What about selling online?

Think about it: all the benefits of owning your own tea store, at a fraction of the price and with a virtually unlimited market. Sure, there are hundreds of online tea shops, with more popping up all the time. On the other hand, the market for specialty tea in the U.S. has exploded in the past few years and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down.

No doubt, specialty tea is hot–and online merchandising has never been simpler or more profitable. That doesn’t mean it will be easy, of course; the industry’s expansive growth is no secret. Even as we speak, the U.S. market is attracting established tea retailers from around the globe. The power of the internet means that chains from Europe and Asia are able to storm the market with name-brand products and dreams of aggressive growth.

Even here in the US, a number of tea companies can fall back on the resources of venture capitalists or other investors. National chains like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s–not to mention a good number of regular grocery stores–now sell mid-level or higher loose-leaf teas. At the same time, giant online one-stops like Amazon let you browse dozens of tea collections from different merchants that can be ordered by simply yelling at Alexa.

You WILL have competition.

As with any business, your chances at success often depends on what advertisers call the “Unique Selling Position”: why would people buy from YOU as opposed to anyone else?

Established business definitely have the edge here: if you are just starting out, they’ve got you beat on web presence, brand reputation, customer satisfaction, marketing and packaging, and probably even price. So what can you offer that they can’t?

That’s the question and the answer: the one thing you can offer that they can’t … is you.

If your friends are coming to you with tea questions, it’s probably not just because you know tea: it’s also based on the fact that they can get a solid, understandable answer from someone they trust.

If you love what you do, it shows. Entrepreneurs of all types will tell you that personal interest is a key selling point–and a great start at creating an online presence that stands out from the crowd.

The internet is a paradise for people who are happy serving a niche market. I like to compare to being a musician: if you want to be a rock star, well, the odds are very much against you: there just aren’t that many positions available. But if you simply want to make a living as a working musician, well, there are plenty of opportunities … you just have to find where you fit.

Look, building any business requires “ adaptability, hard work, and the ability to listen,” in the words of one entrepreneur. But when you’re doing something you love, you’ll be surprised at how much work can seem like play.

What You Should Know Before You Try to Open a Bookstore/Café

Do you love books? I love books. Somehow, books and tea (or coffee) seem to just go together. Which is probably why every introverted bibliophile I have ever met has at one point or another uttered something along the lines of “I want to open my own bookstore/coffee house/tea room/café.”

To which respond, “No. You really don’t.”

I’m not trying to be Debbie Downer here; I just happen to have a pragmatic side. Book lovers–all of us, I’m afraid–have this romanticized idea of a warm and cozy nook that magically takes care of itself while we snuggle in a comfy chair with a hot cuppa and read, read, read to our heart’s content.

In other words, we dream of opening the kind of place where we’d like to hang out.

Thing is, if you’re running the place, you don’t have time to hang out. A wise man once said, “You don’t own a small business: it owns you.” This might be even more true in a specialty business. For example:

  • Your life becomes defined by your customers’ needs. Stayed up until three finishing that book you just couldn’t put down? Tough. Your sign says “Open at 8,” so you’d better be there.
  • What you do becomes more important than who you are. Not a morning person? Have trouble making easy conversation? Dislike being interrupted mid-task? Sorry. You’re the shop-owner: the way people perceive you becomes your brand. You cater to customers … even the unreasonable ones with screaming children.
  • Your romantic daydream will often clash with business reality. You need a business plan going in, but once you’ve started, you do whatever it takes to keep the business alive. Remember, you’ll be going up against big name discounters like Barnes and Noble. That means your cozy farmhouse ambiance might have to give way to polished chrome and brass … and shelves of Dickens and Melville might need to be cleared for more copies of “Fifty Shades of Rainbows.”
  • It’s work. You’ll need to be there before opening each morning to get foodstuffs ready. You’ll be on your feet all day meeting customer needs (or worse, sitting all day because you have no customers!). And you’ll stay long after closing, cleaning up, restocking shelves, and preparing for the next day.

And there’s more: if you’re a literary person, it usually means you prefer to deal in words, not numbers. But running a small business is all about numbers: what you pay out, what you bring in, paying bills, figuring taxes. You’ll also have to deal with legal expenses. Licensing. Insurance. Chargebacks. Theft. Unreliable employees. Hiring and firing.

And all in an industry that has one of the slimmest profit margins of any business.

Are you discouraged yet? No? Well, in that case, you might actually have a chance of making your dream a reality.

But if it all sounds like way more trouble than its worth, well, maybe just brew yourself bit of black oolang, find a cozy corner to curl up with a copy of David Copperfield, and dream about all the books you’ll be able to enjoy by not opening your own café.

Monica’s Payday Cake Recipe

Long time, no post! I’ve been busy dabbling in new hobbies and adventures. Last month I went with a friend who is starting an online business to an ecommerce conference, and it opened my eyes to a whole new world of online possibilities beyond blogging! Continue reading

Chai Tea Latte Recipe

With the cooler weather coming in, few things are more refreshing than a steaming cup of tea. Green tea, black tea, herbal tea, white tea, oolong tea… I like them all! Chai tea is one of my favorites, though chai actually just means tea in many other languages. Chai in the states usually refers to black tea brewed with herbs and spices, which is the recipe I am giving here. Continue reading

Pumpkin Recipe

The first time I made this recipe was over the summer even though pumpkin muffins are associated with autumn. Still, when I saw this recipe I couldn’t resist giving it a try. And I’m glad I did! This recipe is a staple favorite now and I use it to make the flavors of fall year-round.  Continue reading