SiamTeas 2015/2016 – The Next Level
After a well-deserved hiatus during July and August this year, spent among friends and family at Lake Constance, Germany, my vision of how the story of SiamTeas (and thereby my own story) should continue. The result of my contemplations from a helpful distance is rather startling, though, as the story is supposed to continue… just like before. Now, that might not sound too sensational, but: “Never change a winning horse“, as they say, and why make changes where you`ve actually been doing everything right?
There will be, however, ONE fundamental change, a change that all stakeholders will benefit from: me, you, all future visitors and customers of Siam Tea Shop, my bank of choice, my tax advisor, and the German revenue office. A change in the scope of my engagement for SiamTeas and the Siam Tea Shop, the project that in the past has developed from a passion to become a hobby, and then from a hobby to become a side income, and – that`s what`s new – to which I want to dedicate myself full time from now on.
Let us briefly look back on the history of SiamTeas and Siam Tea Shop so far. It all began in Doi Mae Salong, north Thailand, where I discovered my love for tea back in 2010. The idea of presenting north Thailand`s splendid Oolong, green and black teas to a greater western audience and make them worldwide available via an online shop developed in parallel to my new passion right from the start and finally led to the creation of Siam Tea Shop, Version 1.0, in summer 2011. Initially, this was hardly more than a chat function on Facebook, where you could order the teas from my selected producer partner in Doi Mae Salong, a family operation to which I have developed very close ties in the meantime, both privately and in commercial terms. Tea started to be shipped from north Thailand to Germany, where I established a storage and consignment unit and hired a man to take care of the same. In parallel to this, I traveled the tea cultivation regions of northern Thailand back then, creating picture and article series on tea processing and cultivation at the individual venues, such as Doi Mae Salong, Doi Wawee, Doi Tung or Pang Kham, the tiny Shan village close to the Myanmar border that became known as the “tea village in no-man`s land” through my article. As a platform to publish my pictures and articles, I created Siam Tea Blog, where you now also can find the further development of SiamTeas and Siam Tea Shop – right up to this article – being documented in detail (see SIAM TEABLOID).
2012 saw the introduction of a Chinese tea accessories line, tea ceramics in particular, but also other Gong Fu Cha accessories, which I sourced from the shops in Doi Mae Salong that were supplied directly from China and Taiwan. Initially, this appeared as a highly promising approach, as not only did I find a selection of teapots, tea cups, tea boats, aroma cup sets, tea utensil sets, etc. of particularly high quality there, but also prices were as close as can be to those right at the source.
Meanwhile, I had built quite a contact network in tea circles, was – thanks to Facebook, LinkedIn and Co. well connected with tea lovers, tea producers, tea wholesalers and retailers everywhere in the world. In 2013, this made me take on the highly ambitious project of creating a line “Great Teas of China”, where the most important and most popular classic Chinese teas were to be represented each by a particularly high quality, however affordable representative of its kind. That line might still be far from any justified claim on completeness today, however, the collection so far exclusively features true jewels as representatives of each type of tea, some of them from wild growth, others from biodiverse (semi-wild) cultivation, others again – such as our teas coming from UNESCO protection zones in China – being as close to best environmental and organic standards as a tea`s individual background and our high overall quality requirements would allow.
Early in 2014 then, in collaboration with master tea blender Kenneth Rimdahl, a long-term Chiang Mai resident originating from Sweden, and his company Monsoon Teas, I developed an 8 teas strong theme line of flavored northern Thai green, Oolong and black teas, flavored with the essential oils of their respective aroma donors (flowers, blossoms, herbs, fruit and spices) . The new line, created with much love and dedication, but also professionalism and impressing taste-consciousness, has quickly made friends among you and has meanwhile become an essential and authentic part of our offer. The related photo session to our category Thai Tea Blends & Creations have produced some of finest and most worth seeing results in our personal history of photographic tea documentation. The fact that the theme teas of that line even manage to live up in taste to what they visually promise in the shop, fills me – the person who spent weeks creating the picture materials, mainly in the garden of my Chiang Mai home, with a particular sense of pride.
During 2014, along with a large part of the German tea community, I discovered the special features and benefits of Japanese green teas: exquisite taste, high organic standards, and a well-diversified, but nevertheless comparably manageable bandwidth of tea types and qualities. In collaboration with specialized producers and traders of Japanese green teas, I compiled and created our Japanese Green Tea line at Siam Tea Shop, comprehensively representing the Japanese green tea portfolio at the high quality level I had been realizing for our other tea and accessory lines so far, including a convincing assortment of high grade Japanese tea ceramics and other Japanese tea accessories.
The Action Plan
As a result of the insight that things at SiamTeas don`t really need any change, the action plan have created during the past weeks and months primarily focuses on enlarging SiamTeas a little, without actually changing anything that has proven itself during the past 5 years: the focus on pure teas from north Thailand, China and Japan from the higher quality segment, an exquisite offer of high grade Chinese and Japanese tea ceramics and other tea accessories, the informative and well-illustrated presentation at Siam Tea Shop, supported by detailed accompanying and background information at Siam Tea Blog, and the proactively maintained proximity to you as our customer, both on a human level and in terms of a friendly and comforting, always available and possible issues efficiently resolving customer service.
Quite some of the items that are now as a result populating my to-do list, might not be of particular interest for you: that we will unite storage / consignment and our office in one place, namely my home in Nonnweiler, Saar, in Germany, where Micha, the friendly guy, who always packages your tea so nicely, and me in the near future will start working closely together within shared premises, that Siam Tea Blog is to be adjusted to the requirements of the mobile age, and the planned increase in sourcing volumes in favor of shipping cost savings might therefore be mentioned here only briefly, while I wish to provide you already in advance with a more detailed list of those expansions and improvements that you will directly and perceivably benefit from:
There is little to add to our offer of Thai teas. Though it would be desirable for the future to introduce a ripe Pu Erh tea from Doi Wawee production or a black tea as produced by tribal people on Doi Angkan to our assortment, such ambitions have so far failed on the generally poor organic standards in north Thailand, i. e. ultimately the costs of testing individual producers and teas for their EU compatibility regarding pesticide residues. After several (expensive!) such tests have yielded rather non-satisfactory results in the past, the most rewarding strategy seems to be to continue sticking to the already very representative and comprehensive tea portfolio of our long term producer partner in Doi Mae Salong, who we once trust because of their genuine passion for tea, while nevertheless having their samples tested repeatedly in the past at a renowned German bio lab, with more than just satisfactory results.
Unlike that, and as already mentioned above, our line “Great Teas of China“ still has an enormous potential for further development, before it would meet even the most moderate claim on completeness. We plan to achieve that state before the end of 2016, at the latest, and even this year (2015) will still see a good series of new introductions, first of those being the preliminary completion of our Chinese White Tea line with the immanent introduction of Ancient Tree White Moonlight Tea, the “Bai Mu Dan/White Peony version” of our Ancient Tree White Moonlight Buds next week.
Considered as failed must unfortunately be our so far line of Chinese tea accessories. Of course, failed not because of our specific choice of teapots and other accessory items, and also not due to a lack of positive feedback from you, our customers (of which there was plenty!). As it turned out, however, a large number of the products was not available anymore from the same Chinese shops in Doi Mae Salong after a period of 1-2 years anymore, so that the line in its current form is about to expire. MY advice to this: whoever still wants to grab one of the particularly rare and valuable tea boats of that line, such as one of those handmade from precious Jijimu wood, should do this right now, as they won`t be available at Siam Tea Shop very soon anymore, while as far as I know there is no alternative offer available – neither online or offline – that would bring you such jewels on a comparable price level. In the months to come, I will work on identifying relevant producers / suppliers of Gong Fu Cha accessories in China and establish relationships accordingly, in order to come up with a new such line as soon as next year. Of course, the new line and its items are not to remain behind its predecessor in either exquisiteness or quality.
A completely different story tells our still young line of Japanese tea ceramics and tea accessories. This has not only been received very well right from the start, but most of its items will – I have learnt that much from past mistakes – most probably still be available in a few years’ time, so that the effort and time necessarily invested in the research, info text creation, illustration and proper online presentation of such items appears to be justified. Encouraged by the line`s amazing success since its introduction in spring 2015, I am planning a significant extension of our Japanese tea accessory offer even before the end of this year. So, you may look forward to a good series of additi ons to our assortments of Kyusu teapots, Chawan tea cups, Matcha bowls and other Japanese tea and Matcha tea accessory items very soon.
As for our offer of Japanese green teas and derivate products, the situation is very similar to that with our Thai teas: there is simply not much left to add. We might introduce the one or other Japanese tea more in the time to come, but there doesn`t seem to be either much urgency nor significance to that right now, as our current line of Japanese green and Matcha teas hardly leaves anything to be desired. However, there is some real backlog demand in the area of fresh Shincha teas becoming available once a year, starting from the beginning of July, for a short period only. With these, our engagement had been rather reluctant this year, due to our lack of experience in this topic. However, we saw the Shincha Yakushima, which we had selected as a pilot this year, sold out within only a few days from arrival at our storage, so that we will definitely offer 2-3 fresh Shincha teas in next year`s Shincha season, and will also reserve and source these in somewhat more courageous amounts.
Not really official as not really decided yet is the idea of creating a line of essential infusible healing herbs. In my personal life, making use of herbs that have proven their medicinal properties in centuries, where not millenniums of their utilization history in the European and Asian folk medicines as a supplement or replacement of conventional modern school-medicinal drugs and therapies has started playing an ever greater role during the past years. Looking for individual herbs online or in my regional tea shops, I repeatedly experienced that many such herbs are hard to find in the first place, while where you find them, you will all too often receive rather disappointing quality only. Of course, compiling and creating such a healing herbs line and category at Siam Tea Shop would be an immense challenge. The idea is currently hardly more than contemplated, a possible implementation not yet foreseeable, really. Still, the idea is alive, so it could be well possible that such line of infusible healing herbs – of course, with certified 100% organic standard quality, will become an integral part of the SiamTeas offer and identity in a future not so far away.
So, we develop – and will keep developing – and always stay the same at the same time. For me personally, of course, it would be a wonderfully rewarding experience, if the virtually thousands of hours that I have invested into SiamTeas, Siam Tea Shop and Siam Tea Blog during the past years, would – besides the fun and satisfaction I have gained from this engagement – eventually, or even in the near future be crowned by success also in terms of enabling me to make a living of my trade of choice and passion. It seems therefore reasonable to learn from those mistakes made in the past and to not repeat them. Just as reasonable, however, it will be to keep entering and exploring new grounds and territories, and to always raise and face new challenges, even if such challenges will inevitably lead to making new mistakes. Ultimately, what I consider as the most important of all things, is to carefully maintain and preserve everything that has proven itself in the past with undiminished if not increased dedication and engagement, in order to time and again renew or maybe even further strengthen your trust in me and Siam Tea Shop. So, I would like to take this occasion to express my deep gratitude towards any reader of this article, for the time spent, the support granted, and that little piece of way that we have walked together this way.