During the COVID-19 lockdown, I've dedicated the last several weeks to helping with the build of an undercover area to serve as The Artisan Tea Hut's back-up tearoom for rainy and windy days, among other purposes. Cuts, bruises and aching muscles aside, there's something really satisfying about building with your own hands and designing with your own mind.
As The Artisan Tea Hut gets ready to open its doors again once Stage 1 of the government's plan to ease social distancing measures comes into action, you may notice some differences on our website.
While we are still keeping our Introduction to Tea Culture and Introduction to Tea Meditation sessions free to the public, we have decided that it is time to start getting the balance books looking healthy. So we are making our Tea Culture Discovery Series and Guided Tea Meditation Series member-access only. For a short time, our membership fees will be at a modest $35.00 for each series. However, we do want to show our appreciation for our most enthusiastic supporters who have helped us with spreading the word about what we do, or have given us access to their social media platforms to promote our tea sessions. To these people - Sajhu, Helen, Annabelle, Steve, Scott, Paul, Debbie, Bridget, Adeline, Amie and Andy - we offer free memberships.
In addition, while I'm unable to return to China to resume my work there, I have decided to work on establishing a small tea farm and tea-making workshed so that in the future I can run weekend workshops for those who want to learn how to make their own tea. Naturally, given that the plants will need some time to grow, the workshops will be some years away, but I think Canberrans and Queanbeyanites will enjoy the idea that there is a hobby tea farm in their region.
I thought I would use this month's blog post to go into my reasoning behind setting up The Artisan Tea Hut under the sharing economy business model instead of a traditional business model.
My ultimate ambition has long been to find a way to introduce traditional Chinese tea culture into Australia and make it go mainstream. I initially had invested with a business partner to open up a standard teahouse, but that plan fell through when I discovered that China's logistic laws prevent most teas from being shipped out of China. I eventually found a loophole to get the teas to Australia, but I definitely could not scale it up. With a small supply of teas combined with the exorbitant commercial rents in the Canberra region, I soon felt my dream slipping away.
But every problem has an opportunity. I was listening to a business podcast that was talking about the sharing economy being the way of the future. For those who are unfamiliar with the lingo, the sharing economy is about taking excess unused assets and capitalising on them. This is what Airbnb does, where people can rent out their spare rooms, and what WelcomeOver does, where people can invite diners into their homes to share a meal with them. Naturally it followed that I could set up a teahouse in a similar way. So I got to work modifying some free space in a relative's residential premise just outside of Canberra. The photo above is the final result - my own beautiful, tranquil, cosy outdoor teahouse.
Under the sharing economy model, I am able to eliminate high commercial rents that so often cripple small local businesses unable to compete with the purchasing power of large corporations. Further, by being based in a neighbourhood environment, I am able to cultivate a genuine sense of community that corporations try to mimic, but often struggle to achieve. The sharing economy model lends itself perfectly to turning a mere transactional experience into an experience of social and local connection that so many people are pining for nowadays. This is one reason why I would like to see more people in the Canberra region entering the sharing economy to turn their passions into side hustles - whether it be cheese-making, artisan coffee or heirloom gardening. Imagine waking up on a Saturday morning and feeling like scones with cream and jam for breakfast. Instead of getting into the car and heading into town, you can just walk down the street to your neighbour's place - both convenient and a perfect excuse to get to know people in your neighbourhood.
The other reason why I would like to see more local sharing economy businesses is that, in the year of COVID-19 where we need to avoid large gatherings, a residential-based shop or service is a perfect business model for reducing the spread of the virus without sacrificing in-person social contact. This is something online businesses are unable to do. I can still keep The Artisan Tea Hut accessible to the public by arranging one-on-one appointments for tea tastings and tea purchases. In the year of COVID-19, many of us have also realised how important it is to diversify our income source, and a side hustle like a sharing economy business can help with that, albeit the model isn't scaleable.
I hope one day there will be many backyard teahouses across Australia just like my own sharing tea cultures from across the globe. A grassroots movement may be the most effective way to make traditional tea cultures go mainstream in Australia.
For anyone interested in starting up their own sharing economy business in the Canberra region and would like some advice, my door is always open. Just reach out to me through the contact page and let's chat over some tea.
About the Author
Jaq James is the Founder of The Artisan Tea Hut and is a Contributing Editor for Tea Journey Magazine. She splits her time between China's tea regions and Australia's capital.