Traveling Tea Boxes (TTBs): Ultimate Guide To Tea Swapping

The tea community is growing bigger and bigger and it’s brewing a culture with its own rituals. One of them is an activity called the ‘traveling tea box’ (TTB). In simple words, joining a TTB means that you are entering a tea swapping activity with a group of tea lovers who also joined.

Swapping things has always been around, especially before any currency existed. However, what makes traveling tea box activities so special that tea lovers aren’t swapping for economic purposes, but it’s a kind of a enjoyable social activity. After all, we all love to share enjoyable experiences with others.

To get an idea of what you can expect to receive, see for example the image below

traveling tea box
source: My Thoughts Are Like Butterflies

Common Rules For Traveling Tea Boxes

Some tea lovers do want to join a tea swapping activity, but are worried about breaking one of the established rules. Below we have listed common rules that will ease your mind. In addition, if you plan to organize a TTB yourself, then it will be a great checklist for you to go through!

Though each of them will have its unique rules, below are a few types of rules that you will commonly see for TTBs.

  • Tea in / tea out: One basic rule traveling tea boxes is that you put a similar amount of your own teas in the box to what you take out. There is usually no minimum or maximum as long as you stick to this rule (unless this is a stated rule for a particular TTB).
  • Tea type: As the diversity of tea offerings increase, so is the different kind of TTB groups with a different scope of tea. For instance, some tea swapping groups only limit the teas to loose tea and exclude tea bags and some only allow one tea type (e.g. green, black, oolong etc.). Besides this, it could go even more specific, such as a TTB for only unflavored teas or only tea blends.
  • How long to keep the box: This is a common rule that it’s part of every TTB and it normally ranges from a few days to a couple of weeks. Make sure you know this rule and send it out in time to the next person, so nobody who joined the TTB is waiting too long for the next box to arrive. It’s not a big deal if you for some reasons can’t send it in time, but do communicate this to the participants, so they are aware of it.
  • Geography: For practical reasons, for most TTBs it’s stated that participants of only certain geographical regions can join. Mostly often, swapping is limited to a certain country, province or even city, to avoid high shipping costs.
  • Shipping method: Sometimes it’s required to ship the box to the next person using a shipping method with tracking.
  • Sign-up spots: TTBs might be limited to a certain amount of participants. Groups that are too big are often hard to manage and keep over sight.
  • Tea & packaging labeling: Try using packaging for the tea that can be sealed well. Otherwise, the teas will over time start smelling and tasting the same. Take special care of teas that have a strong scent, as those have the biggest chance of affecting other teas in the box. Sometimes original packaging can be good enough already, but if not, try to buy some seal-able packaging. One last note: If you don’t use the original packaging, make sure to write down the tea company and tea name on the new packaging.

Best Tea Swapping Practices

Besides the general rules, there are some best practices that sometimes are part of TTBs and if they aren’t, you can still try to apply them to yourselves to make the activity more enjoyable.

  • Be nice, share teas you love: While you might share tea that you personally don’t like, do not share tea that is low quality or unfresh. A kind of an unwritten rule is that you don’t use the traveling tea box as a way to get rid old tea that you don’t like. While it’s true others might possibly like teas you don’t like,  try to balance it with teas that you really like and would love to share.
  • Write notes: Most tea lovers like to read tasting notes about the teas that others have tried. Some participants will enjoy reading your notes as much as drinking the tea itself. Don’t feel pressured to write a note on every tea, but whenever you do have the inspiration, try at least to write a few.
  • Maintain box condition: If the box is damaged and you feel it might affect the teas when they arrive at the next participant, then make sure to replace the box. Sometimes it’s stated in the rules, but if not, you should still take care of this.

Reasons To Join Tea Swaps

There are so many reasons why you should at least give traveling tea boxes a try.

  1. Try more teas with a lower budget. Do join a TTB in your own country though, because international TTB can be expensive due to shipping costs.
  2. Swap teas you don’t like. If you don’t like certain teas you bought, it’s such a waste to leave it in the kitchen, especially if it’s good quality tea that for sure some tea lovers out there are very happy to steep. As mentioned before, do keep it balanced by sharing tea that you do like and do not share tea that is  not fresh or low quality.
  3. Make friends. Sharing is caring and this rule definitely applies to tea. Share, drink, and make more tea friends.

How To Find TTBs To Join

By now you should probably have pretty good idea whether traveling boxes are something for you. If so, there are two places to find TTBs to join.

  1. Steepster is tea community website with a discussion section especially for tea swaps.
  2. Reddit is another good place. Checkout the subreddit r/teaexchange to start browsing!

If you know any other good place for tea swaps, let us know and we will add it to this list!

Why You Should or Should NOT Start A Tea Business

Almost every single tea enthusiast, at some point in their life will think of starting a tea business themselves. That’s not strange at all, as you should follow your feelings and do what you love right? While this definitely is true, you need to consider more factors to find out if this is really something for you (or NOT).

+Lisa Lin: During my career I  have advised many customers who are growing their tea start-ups as well as friends & family who manage their tea stores. Each and every business is unique, but over time I recognize that tea business actually face very similar issues in the beginning phase. With this article I want to help tea lovers, who consider running their own business, make the right decisions by reducing the gap between expectations and reality.

two hands holding tea cup startup

Romanticizing Entrepreneurship

Tea entrepreneurs are dreamers, and you probably will picture the future of your tea room to become the Starbucks of tea. Though starting a tea business gets romanticized a lot, especially if you love tea, the reality isn’t that glamorous. Basically, it’s simply going to be a lot of hard work. With a lack of resources you are going to take care of tasks such as sourcing, packaging, doing sales & promotions, with the possibly of facing founder’s depression.

Let’s be honest, though there is a lot of tea business opportunities out there, starting your own is extremely hard and you have to be able to endure lots of stress. It’s like growing your own tea plant with lots of care, like a farmer does.

startup tea plant growing

Why It’s So Stressful

There are a couple of reasons why it’s so stressful to start a business. Whether you want to start a tea room, tea shop, or online tea business, the main reason is that you simply have a lot of responsibility. It’s natural to have fear of failure, but when you are a founder do not only have to face your own fears, but also that of your family, as the family’s income is going to depend on your success. And if you have employees, there career are also affected by the success of the company.

So be ready to manage your own psychology. If you are confident about this, the changes of success goes up enormously as long as you listen to your customers and adapt your business accordingly to make it work.

The Worst Reason To Start: Be Your Own Boss

To be your own boss, is the number one worst reason to start-up. If you have watched the movie Horrible Bosses, you know what I mean. If the reason for you is to just be a boss, then you are on the wrong track. Most tea founders I have talked to at some point realized that in practice the real bosses are everyone else around them – investors, employees, customers, or even the local newspaper that could give you lots of exposure. You’re basically working really hard to make everyone happy, before they work hard for you.

So don’t go for it, if you just want to be a boss, because you are tired of working for another. If it’s just power or authority that you are looking for, then go into military or politics. Do not become a founder.

Good Reasons To Start A Tea Business

There are a few reasons that are really good. And with good I mean that if they apply to you, it will greatly improve your chances of success.

Super passionate: This is important, because you need the passion to get through the hard parts of starting up in the beginning. At a later stage, this is also important for recruiting and facing customers, as you need to let your passion about tea shine through when talking to potential employee. Inspire them to bet their career on the tea industry & profession.

Note: Passion is great, but only passion isn’t enough. What you could happen is the possibility that you’ll turn something you really love into something you hate by being forced to deal with all the business aspects. There’s a big difference between doing things you love (with no deadlines). Dealing with things such as marketing, accounting, employees, and debt management comes with deadlines and is different from just being involved in something you love to do as a hobby. (Many thanks to Rochester Glassworks on G+ for this input)

Don’t want to crush anyone’s dreams. Just be very clear and thoughtful about the entirety of the difference between doing something you love as a hobby without the need to make money at it and being forced to do things you may not like or want in order to run your business.

The world needs you:  Very related to passion is that you strongly believe that you have something better to offer, whether it is better packaging, a more practical tea bag or a more healthy tea blend. If you believe you have good tea business ideas that a particular group of tea lovers will like, then you are on the right track. TIP: Do validate your ideas with other tea friends. You must ask them for a honest and critical opinion (otherwise they won’t) to make sure your tea business plan is well validated before you head off.

Relevant skills: Once you believe you have a good idea, ask yourself, if you have a part of the required skill set to make it work. For instance, if you have design skills, than you have the advantage of being able to design the your store/website and tea packaging. If you are a photographer than you are able to take great pictures for your online store or hard-copy catalog. Don’t worry, if you don’t have all the skills, as you can hire employees with those skills or outsource it to a company for a one time project fee. Your skills set is also an important factor in deciding whether to start online or offline first.

The more skills you have the better. If you don’t feel confident enough. Start slow by for instance obtaining skills through national tea certification for tea professionals or to actually visit tea regions to become more knowledgeable about tea.

Industry trends: Tea is the new coffee. So you don’t have to worry about the trend of the industry as a whole. But this doesn’t mean the demand of all types of teas will increase. For example, conventional tea bags are becoming less and less popular. So more focused research, if you plan to sell loose tea blends, then only research this part of the industry. When you open a tea room or tea shop, also research the neighborhood in which you want to settle. Are there competing sellers in the area? Do you think the demographics of this area suits the type of tea that you want to sell?

Figured out whether you want to go for it? If so, then continue read our article series about How To Start A Tea Business Guide

How To Start A Tea Business: Create Your Tea Catalog

create your tea catalog
Is tea a commodity product? No it isn’t. And if you are planning to get into the tea business, than read this article first. Many tea business have a hard time in the beginning phase, because they start thinking about things such as the packaging and the design of the tea shop or online tea store. However, they forgot to ask themselves the single most important question: What tea am I going to sell?

It’s important to start with this basic question, because you’re probably not the only one in your city that sells tea. Or if you are going online, you are most likely not the only online tea store that has a social/online presence. The key is that you have to make choices and tell your audience how you are different and why they should buy from you. Read below in what ways you can be different:

Bags versus Loose: The majority of tea drinkers today are still preferring tea bags over loose tea. The main reason is that tea bags are easier to steep. On the other hand, loose tea is much less consumed, but the market is growing faster.

Blend versus Pure: Are you going to focus on being authentic and sell pure tea? Or are you going to go for blends and make cool commercial teas to seduce the customer?

Tea Types:: Though most tea business try to sell different tea types from green, black to white teas, some others are focusing on one particular type of tea. There are for example many pu erh tea stores that are specialized only in this tea type.

Geography: Besides tea types, you can also specialize in tea from a certain country or even region. Teasenz.com is for example specialized in only authentic tea from China.

Tea versus tea ware: You don’t have to sell tea to be in the tea business. Instead, you could go into tea ware or accessories that make the steeping process more convenient and/or more enjoyable. Very often, tea business decide to sell both, as they are complementary products. It takes some courage to go into tea ware only, but if you do so, you might look much more specialized and professional in the eyes of the tea shopper.

While you don’t have to make a choice for each of the above consideration, I do advice to do that for at least one factor above. For instance, you could decide to only focus only on loose tea, but you do want to offer all tea types, from different countries, and sell blends as well as pure tea.

Final noteMany successful tea entrepreneurs, actually started out of frustration that they couldn’t get certain teas or blends they had in mind, so they created it themselves. Or they found the steeping process to cumbersome and came up with their own tea ware. They have an advantage from the start, because they started with an identified problem that they experienced themselves, and later on they discovered that they weren’t alone! So my advice would be to listen to yourself for business inspirations, and ask others to validate your ideas.

Market Reach & Specialization

Unless, you sell internationally, it’s most likely not wise to narrow down your market too much, because you end up in a market that is too small.

In reality, most local tea stores tend keep their offerings as broad as possible so they are able to make most customers happy. In addition, there are usually not that many competing tea stores in the neighborhood, so that specialization is not as necessary.

If you are an online business, it’s a different story. The most visitors will come from Google search, and you will have to specialize to make sure you are different from all the other tea stores that rank in Google.

This post is part of a series of articles about How To Start A Tea Business.

How To Start A Tea Business: Online Versus Offline

tea business online or offline

One major question, tea start-ups have to make is either to start from a brick and mortar tea shop, tea room, or starting a tea shop online. There is no perfect answer to this, and often it depends on your start-up budget, your personal passion, and your skill set. Whatever you choose, do not feel restricted in the future. After all, tea shops can expand into online as an additional sales channel and online stores can expand into offline shops. Read further below in which we discuss the major factors that you need to consider.

Financial budget

As with many businesses in the world, your financial budget and restrict certain options. You might see this as a constraint, but at the same time it can help you make decisions easier. If you are on a tight budget, it can be better to start an online business first as you will avoid major monthly cost of offline tea shops and tea rooms such as rent and employee salaries

Direct sales skills

Some people have very natural communication/sales skills when speaking to people face to face. If you possess this, then opening a tea shop could be an excellent idea to convert more store visitors into customers. In addition, you might as well visit restaurants, hotels and cafes in your neighborhood and become their tea supplier. Let your passion for tea shine through your sales pitch and you will for sure gain some long-term frequent customers.

IT skills

Do not underestimate the initial cost of starting your own online shop though. IT cost for developing a website can range from 2000 to 10.000 USD depending on factors such as web design and site functionality. Besides simply web development, there could be unexpected IT maintenance required. If you don’t have the necessary IT skills and you are on a tight budget, you could consider starting off from an eBay or Amazon store. Though these platforms will take a certain % commission of your revenue, it can save you big on IT development. If you do possess IT skills, then use it to your advantage to create a powerful and great looking web store. Do keep in mind that a new website needs more initial marketing than an eBay or Amazon store, which we will discuss in the next paragraph.

Digital marketing

If you are shy or for whatever reason not excelling in face to face communication, then don’t worry. After all, more and more people are online these days and this means that there is a big potential customer base that you can tap into. Especially the young generation are very used to being online. If you have strong knowledge on how to navigate online environments such as social networks (Facebook, Twitter etc.) and forums, starting an online store can be your best bet to drive traffic from those online environments right to your web store.

This article is part of a series of blog posts about: How To Start A Tea Business

Honeysuckle Iced Tea Recipe

honeysuckle iced tea

With the health benefits of honeysuckle tea in the international spotlight, we would like the share a wonderful recipe. The cool thing about this recipe is that fresh flowers are used, while in China this herbal tea is made after the honeysuckle flowers are dried.

With Easter and Passover behind us, spring is really and truly here.  The honeysuckle vine draped across my front porch is in bloom, and  every time I go in or out I’m blown away by the scent.  I’ve been determined to use those incredible – edible  flowers somehow.  I’m always inspired by ingredients I can find  in my own yard, (or my neighbor’s!)  Over the last three years we’ve moved so often that I’ve tried to reduce the sting by challenging myself to find the elements in each new landscape that I can incorporate into my cooking.    I tried to make you a honeysuckle ice cream, but I’m going to have to keep working on that one, the flavor just didn’t come through.   Honeysuckle tea is more mainstream, in fact its been used medicinally by the Chinese for thousands of years.   I love it for its delicate scent, and the nectar is sweeter than honey.  I was amazed by how much flavor I got out of a jarful of  flowers.  If you have access to a vine, you’ve got to try this.

Honeysuckle tea is made with the delicate white and yellow flowers of the Chinese Honeysuckle vine.  It’s considered an invasive species, so gardeners and conservationists don’t like it, but it is pretty common, so chances are there’s a vine or two near you.  The flowers come in pairs, and you’ll want to pluck them right at their base, where the nectar is.  Look for freshly opened flowers, and avoid or pick out the leaves, stems, and berries.

Pour scalding water over the blossoms

The tea is made by pouring scalding water over the blossoms, and letting it cool at room temperature.

Let it chill in the refrigerator

Then you can chill your infusion in the refrigerator.

Filter the tea

I left mine overnight before straining it through a coffee filter or tea filter.

Customize and decorate!

The finished tea has a lovely pale celadon color, a light floral scent, and a surprisingly sweet flavor. Pour over ice, and add a sprig of mint. Whatever you do, though, don’t add honey before tasting your tea — it’s incredibly sweet all by itself.  You might want a squeeze of lemon if you don’t like sweet tea.

iced honeysuckle tea

With the winter coming you might not be super interested in iced tea, but it can never hurt to stock up as it’s going to be useful when you are facing a cold or flu!

The recipe is from the Theviewfromgreatisland.com

How To Easily Make Bubble Tea At Home

While bubble tea has been very popular among teenagers in Asian countries. This is proven by the fact that even a bubble tea museum was opened last year in Taiwan. But that’s not it, bubble tea is now also making its way in Western countries with the world’s largest Bubble tea being created in Los Angeles created last year. Though it looks complicated to make, it’s actually really easy and much cheaper than buying it bubble tea store!

how to make bubble tea

1. Buy Dry Tapioca Pearls

Tapioca pearls can usually be purchased at any Asian/Chinese supermarket. Make sure it’s ‘Tapioca Starch’ (not potato) as they taste better! What you will be surprised how cheap they are and you will start wondering why bubble tea stores sells it for premium prices.

2. Dissolve Sugar in Hot Water

Because bubble tea is a cold drink, sugar doesn’t dissolve in it. That’s why you have to dissolve the sugar in hot water first. For one cup of bubbles, you need to use one cup of water and half a cup of sugar.
sugar water bubble tea

3. Boil The Pearls

For 1 cup of dried bubbles (good for several drinks), use 6 cups of water. Keep stirring until they float to the surface. Afterwards, turn the heat lower and cook the bubbles covered for about 20 minutes. Make sure to stir every 5 minutes. At last, turn of the heat and wait for 25 minutes before the bubbles are ready.

4. Rinse The Bubbles!

Rinse the bubbles/pearls like this:
rinse bubble tea

5. Soak The Bubbles In Syrup

Soak the pearls in the syrup you created in step 2 for 15 minutes.

5. Be Creative & Mix

Now it’s all up to you. The original bubble tea is a mix of pearls, black tea and milk. But you are free to choose other types of tea such as oolong tea or green tea a well. Besides, that be creative with other ingredients! Try it at home and share with us your creations!

Flowering Blooming Teas Soon To Be Launched On Teasenz.com

Good news! Teasenz is soon going to launch a new blooming tea category offering tea flowers to wholesale customers. In preparation for this two new articles on blooming teas are recently released! Click the links below to read more:

Blooming Tea Benefits

How To Make Blooming Tea

Enjoy reading!

Honeysuckle Tea

When it comes to Honeysuckle herbal tea, the list of health benefits is long, but the main benefit is that it can fight inflammation which is the of many health challenges such as Acne. See the video and learn how easily it can be steeped with a teapot infuser.

Honeysuckle is slightly bitter with a fresh aftertaste that lasts for minutes in your mouth.