Tea is the most widely consumed beverage after water. The tea industry has also, historically, been overly centralized the world over. One company wants to change this. Tealet, a wholesale tea distributor, is looking to revolutionize the tea world with modern technology.
“There are several middlemen which were once necessary for the international trade of tea,” Tealet CEO Elyse Petersen explains, citing China’s Cultural Revolution and 1950s-style western consumerism for undermining tea quality worldwide in favor of mass production. “Things like Bitcoin make for a more sustainable future for this industry.” Tealet uses Bitcoin to settle with producers in eight countries.
Revolutionizing the World’s Favorite Drink
Tealet teaches farmers how to make quality tea themselves, instead of merely producing bulk green leaf by the kilogram – a practice which encouraged chemical-based agricultural practices to create more output – instead of a higher quality.
Based in Las Vegas, Tealet struggled with payment options like Paypal before exploring digital currency. The company had to educate its producers on Bitcoin, all of whom choose to receive their local currency so as to maintain their family farms. The company does accept Bitcoin from the public for its bulk, whole leaf tea, as well.
“When we first started to accept Bitcoin in 2013 our sales were great and people in the community were really excited to support us,” Ms. Petersen said. Since then, sales have slowed, though the company remained engaged in the Bitcoin community.
“We started paying certain invoices with Bitcoin, and we also received an angel investment in Bitcoin,” Ms. Petersen reveals.
Tealet, which distributes mainly to teahouses and restaurants, doesn’t offer any ordinary tea, but, rather, whole leaf tea in several varieties including white, green, oolong, black, puerh, and yellow. Their tea doesn’t entail the use of tea bags and the leaves can have water poured atop of them more than once.
“It becomes a ritualistic process,” says Ms. Petersen. “It’s not something you make one tea bag out of. It helps you to create social experiences with friends and it can go on for hours.”
Tealet has partnered with farmers in Malawi, China, Taiwan, India, Japan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, USA, and Indonesia.
Totalitarian Tea Industry
For 5,000 years the majority of tea history took place in China. There have been breaks in this heritage, like during the Cultural Revolution, whereby tea production was centralized.
“It made it impossible for a tea farmer to process and sell their own tea,” explains Ms. Petersen. “A Tea farmer would harvest green leaf and sell it to centralized factory by the pound. Farmers ended up impoverished, and this can still be seen today.”
China’s move away from its communist history, towards the more open commercial-capitalism/communism, has bode well for tea producers. There is a growing upper middle class which appreciates quality tea. Today farmers are able to sell to consumers, and connoisseurs of fine teas are driving prices up. A similar centralization of tea production happened in the west after World War II, with companies like Lipton coming to dominate the market.
“Today farmers get higher prices because the market values their product,” Ms. Petersen says. “Our transparent marketplace, as well as Bitcoin’s low fees, means the farmers can see more of the money that is rightfully theirs,” the Tealet CEO says.
What is your relationship to the world’s favorite drink after water? Let us know in the comments below.
Images courtesy of Shutterstock, Tealet
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