Monday, May 11, 2015

Tea Tasting at Events - Sweet

In 2008 I had the pleasure of working with an amazing team in Beijing for the Summer Olympic Games. On arriving in Beijing, as one of the first to come during training, I was greeted at the large and overwhelming airport by Kiko and Lindsey, and a large group of super-cute, nervous and somewhat giggly Chinese team members in training.  They would be with us for the whole month, and were in great hands learning under Kiko, whose knowledge of event transportation is second to none, and anyone in this industry knows this is an art, especially on large, world-scaled events. Lindsey had a host of roles over the course of the Games, and I always found her presence to be one of calm and still get-it-done. Now, several years later to see them translating their skill set and love of tea into a business that would add something unique to events is quite fantastic, and I asked her to share her story in greater detail here.

1. Lindsey, tell me about why you created Blackbird Tea - what couldn't you 
find already in the world of tea?

The primary reason is that I love tea – the first time my mom made me English Breakfast tea with sugar and milk I fell completely in love – and when I started contemplating the idea of starting a business with my husband, Kiko, tea popped into my mind. He’s a coffee drinker, but he got on board. 

Also, I was noticing among the people around me that the story surrounding tea was, in my opinion, incomplete. Most of my friends saw tea as something you drink when you’re sick or in need of a health boost. And while tea is certainly comforting and healthy (especially when enjoyed without loads of sugar and milk), I think it’s also just a tasty beverage. And with loose leaf tea, which is the best type of tea to drink in terms of taste and health benefits, many people I’ve met tend to get nervous and think it has to be this mystical, serious process that is so concerned with steeping times, water temperature, and portioning that they just don’t try it. But you can make a great cup of tea just as easily as you can make coffee, and it doesn’t have to be a fussy, cumbersome process. Tea is good for us, it has a long history, and it can be ceremonial, but at the end of the day, it just tastes really good. You can take the other aspects of it or leave them.

So mainly, we’re aiming to share good, high quality tea and to demystify it in a way.

My experience: I too had a similar falling in love experience with my neighbours who moved in across the street when I was eight.  A British family, every day after school there was tea, with delicious treats I learned how to bake at their house, and cloth napkins. It was both grown-up and peaceful.

2. We have really seen a push towards wellness in the past year or so with meetings and events. This is something I feel very strongly about as we tend to fill up participant's time into very long days, and we don't always offer the most hydrating or nourishing items for these long days. Tell me about your vision for how Blackbird tea can fit into this new thinking.

I realize that I’ve just gotten done saying that people don’t need to think about health 
when it comes to tea, but when I say that I am mainly speaking to debunking the idea that if something is healthy is probably doesn’t taste good, or it’s something we’ll only have when we feel under the weather. We’ve made huge strides in the world of food with regards to realizing that things can be good for us and taste great, but I think that tea still has a ways to go with this. Part of the issue is the stories we tell about tea – that it’s a healthy alternative to coffee, that it’s a cancer fighter, etc, all of which are true, but I think we have to broaden the story.

Tahira: We certainly can't take away coffee, but as participants seek to personalize their experience having choices is always a good thing.

3. I love the idea of creating on-site tea experiences!  I see a ton of opportunities for both venues and hotel brands, particularly those embracing this movement towards health and offering lifestyle menus - to be able to offer planners something really creative.  What would a Blackbird tea tasting experience offer to event guests?

Blackbird is still really small, and with our experience with events we are drawn towards the evolution of both adding tea experiences to events, or eventually to supply product for meetings and events. So far we’ve done parties and some great pop-up shops and have found it is a great way to introduce people to another option. 

Plus, guests wouldn’t get those jitters associated with too much coffee but still have a way to connect with others over a hot cuppa!

You can make it a cocktail too – tea and spirits go well together! 

Tahira: I love the idea of offering alternatives to guests, and tea cocktails would be fun.  I see a workshop brewing!

Since we’re still small and nimble, there’s a flexibility there that wouldn’t exist with all brands. I think our best quality at the moment is that we are able to create most any kind of experience to complement the experience of the event – special wedding favors in  upstate New York; a small tasting stand at a private fundraiser for the surf industry in California; a retail pop up space in Seattle. All different looks and objectives but achievable through our small size, which in that sense, is an asset. We offer that flexibility coupled with some really tasty teas, a small, local business feel (because that’s what we are), and a love of sharing our knowledge of tea with guests. If people want to know, we’ll talk about the origins of the teas, ingredients, how to make them at home, and even the journey of starting a tea business. 

Lindsey, thank you for taking the time to share this with me.  I see so many opportunities for forward thinking events to add to what they are doing as you do offer more than just a teabag on a station, and I believe as we continue to seek more authentic experiences and connections, you offer a way to make this happen.  When we think about what we are learning about meeting and learning design, time for reflection and the introvert's need for quiet time, I think stopping at a tea station, or in a larger event even a great pop-up space, offers something really special.  For anyone who wants to reach out directly - 

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