My journey in tea began 5 years ago in Hawaii when I first started working for Ito En (USA) as a QA supervisor. Here I learned how awesome tea is and was finally content with my career as a food scientist. For once I was helping an industry that produces a product that is healthy for our bodies, communities, and environment. I left Ito En to do a second Peace Corps assignment in the Caribbean and upon my return to Hawaii I studied for a Japanese MBA. At the University of Hawaii I co-authored a market feasibility study for the young Hawaii Grown Tea industry. My team identified a great potential for US- grown tea and saw that Hawaii is at an advantage because of it’s prime soil and conditions for growing and producing tea. At the end of my school program I completed a 4-month internship at Kyoto Obubu Tea Plantations with the International Tea Farms Alliance (ITFA). Here I became a Global Tea Ambassador and have since connected deeply with tea growers in India, Indonesia, Korea, China, Taiwan, and Sri Lanka.
ITFA has a mission to connect tea grower with tea lovers. I have assumed this mission since I’ve returned to Hawaii and started building Tealet. Tealet is a marketplace that allows seamless and transparent commerce between tea growers, tea lovers, and tea retailers. This company has taken me around the world and have introduced me to many incredible people such as Kevin Rose, James Norwood Pratt, and leaders within the industry. This company is not the traditional corporation, we are a social enterprise and will be built by a community. It’s a company built upon technology and community which is why much of our development has occurred on Facebook and Twitter. If you love tea and are interested in joining our community please connect.
Tea Lovers – Browse, Buy, and Rate teas in our retail marketplace
Tea Retailers – Interested in sourcing tea direct from the farm online? We are soon launching a wholesale marketplace, Sign up to be notified when it’s ready!
What I ask of the tea world: Please connect with me! I can’t do this alone and there are those with much more experience and knowledge that can give me and my team guidance. Tea growers, please let me know if you would like my team to document your stories and help you sell tea online. Retailers, let us know what your customers want and how we can connect you with the best sources of tea. Tea lovers, join my journey as we help revive tea culture around the world!
I have been busy working with my partner and many other collaborators on Tealet, a marketplace that connects drinkers with teas around the world. We have been making much progress and are ready to launch a new service called Global Tea Taster. This is a bimonthly subscription service that will introduce you to a variety of teas directly from the grower. Tealet will tell you the stories of each of the teas and the grower behind it.
You can learn more about this campaign and contribute here: http://www.indiegogo.com/tealet
Kets and I just got back from a weekend of collaboration, celebration, and community at Lightning in a Bottle. We were asked to present solar drying at a workshop at the Temple of Consciousness. I wasn’t too sure how the workshop would be received, but Kets and I decided to take the materials to make a dryer and hope that we would be able to finish the work in the 1 hour that we had allotted for the workshop.
Click to view manual for building your own solar dryer
We were so blessed to have an attentive audience that was interested in seeing how they would be able to implement solar drying in their own homes. We finished building the dryer by 2PM on Saturday and filled it with sliced apples, pineapple, mango, and banana. The design of the dryer was a little different than what we are used to in the Caribbean and Hawaii because the line of latitude for the site of the festival is 35 degrees. The dryer ended up being taller, but we made due.
Many of our fruit pieces were done drying by 11AM the next morning, proving that solar drying can be done anywhere as long as you have a stead source of sunlight. We even left the dryer out at night as we danced around and played with our new friends. Condensation accumulated on the dryer throughout the night because of the significant drop in temperature, but the shiny sun dried it all out in the morning.
I am very happy that we took the opporuntity to take solar drying to this great event. Kets and I hope that we will be able to do more workshops at events like these because it was a great place to connect with others with similar interests and we learned so much. The dryer we made here was given to someone that is going to use it in Santa Barbara. Let’s continue sharing the love and the knowledge!
A month ago I launched a new business called Tealet. It is an evolution of all the work I’ve been going over the past year, including much of what my team accomplished with Hawaii Collaborators.
During Startup Weekend Honolulu in late April 2012 I worked with a team to build a prototype for an e-commerce marketplace that empowers tea farmers around the world to post their stories and sell their teas directly to customers in the US. US customers can browse, buy, and rate these teas and explore tea culture around the world. We have built this up to a working prototype at www.tealet.com:
Click to visit marketplace
We are learning as we are going, but it is going very well so far. Our goal is to build community and optimize the tea experience value for both growers and drinkers. As a social marketplace we also are very active with social media, so be sure to connect with us on your favorite tool:
Article in Kyoto Newspaper - April 1, 2012
Elyse is currently completing an internship with Kyoto Obubu Tea Plantations in the town of Wazuka. She works on internet sales and the promotion of tea.
Originally from California she studied food science and technology at university. She worked on food safety, product development, and food marketing in industries such as dairy and sushi. She says she now “wants to meet many people in this vast world to deepen my life.” She lived and volunteered in Africa for two years teaching about agriculture but faced many challenges working in a community that never went to school. “I have learned one thing between America, Africa, and Japan; the importance of community. I have always found “family” in all my new friends.”
Her internship is part of a MBA program at JAIMS which is a education program of Fujitsu. She chose this tea company as her business experience in Japan. She explains “I saw an entrepreneurial opportunity in working with a small company with a big vision like Obubu that can not be experienced at a larger company.” When she first arrived in Wazuka in January 2012 she felt “the tea plantation landscape was so beautiful. We also have tea gardens in Hawaii, but they are very small compared to Wazuka.”
She is currently responsible for event coordination, English website content creation, and helping with activities with Obubu’s newly launched International Tea Farms Alliance. When she completes her internship in April 2012 she has big dreams to help further grow tea culture in Hawaii. Many farmers have started to cultivate tea in Hawaii and she hopes to share tea knowledge and skills from around the world to help grow this industry within the next 20 years.
“In Japan I have learned the importance of sharing information about tea farms with the world. The US tea market is very large and growing, so there is much opportunity for tea farmers around the world.”
Yesterday I was invited by a new friend to give a workshop on solar drying in Kameoka, very near to Kyoto, at her NPO that provides agriculture education for children. Our journey by bus to the small town should have been enough to let us know how wonderful of a day it would be. Before reaching Kameoka we passed valleys filled with beautiful trees and crystal clear, blue rivers.
The workshop was held at an outdoor education center that also serves as a community farm where people can come for free and get their hands dirty and learn all they want about farming.
Growing healthy children in this greenhouse
In addition the center has a kindergarden for young children and their parents to come and learn from a very young age the importance of self-reliance and agriculture.
About 9 people arrived for the workshop, including their children. Most of the kids played while the parents listening intently to the benefits of solar drying.
This was one of the most difficult workshops I ever did because I had to do most of it in Japanese. It was a nice challenge and I was even able to expand my Japanese vocabulary to include terms such as latitude, sun ray, and moisture content. After I gave a brief introduction of how I was exposed to solar drying, including showing the Fruits of the Nile video. We went into more detail of the design of the dryer and its process. People were surprised to learn that the dryer functions similarly to the greenhouses that they are so familiar with seeing across the Japan countryside. Every one of the attendees is excited to build their own, but first they agreed that they would build one at the education facility and experiment with it. It was an appropriate day to talk about solar drying as the sun happily shined on us all day.
By chance yesterday I found myself in Nara’s first coworking space, Wakakusa Cafe. The owner, Hiro Nakanishi, is an entrepreneur on a mission to make positive change in his community and connect with others around the world. From the outside of the space you would suspect it’s just another coffee shop, but once you enter you feel the energy of collaboration and innovation. He has a full cafe and even serves beer and an assortment of sweet and savory crepes. I had the ham and cheeze crepe, super yum.
I have been very surprised by how much people in Japan use social media and how good they are at it. When talking with a friend last week she told me that Japan is like 5 years behind in catching on to social media. I also heard before coming that no one will be using Facebook, everyone was going to be using another network called Mixi. Well, both those statements might be true, but Facebook has caught on incredibly quick and I think the Japanese culture of collectivism is playing a significant role in high value interactions on social networks.
How is one good at Facebook? Well, I’m just pulling from my own personal experience, no reports from Mashable or other social media commentary. Most of us Americans have been playing on social networks for over 5 years now, from MySpace to Facebook and now Pinterest and I feel like we are still trying to figure it out. We are seeing them turn into powerful tools to grow a global community. This is because we see how large our personal audience has become and the significance every one of our postings has. We are now connected with our coworkers, family, and strangers, not just our close friends. It’s now about posting content that matters to us so we can develop a shared context with the ones in our network. This shared context is going to save our world very soon.
Hear Pono Shim’s story. He’s an amazing person and an incredible inspiration to me.
PBS Hawaii – Long Story Short – Pono Shim: Through A Child’s Eyes from PBS Hawaii on Vimeo.