Last month I had the chance to visit one of the tea gardens that supplies us with our chun mee (translation: "spring's eyebrows"), a variety used in most of our green tea blends, including our new Citrus Green Energy Tea and Jasmine Green Energy Tea.
After the international flight, a long drive, a short flight, and then another long drive through the countryside of Anhui Province, historically one of China's poorest areas, our one-lane road got bumpier and eventually ended. So we set out on foot until the path ended as we came to a 20-foot wide river. As my hosts pointed to the tea bushes on the other side, I asked, "So, where's the bridge?"
But my hosts told me, "There is no bridge." The entrepreneur in me immediately identified a problem waiting to be solved. But my hosts looked at it a different way. "Aside from the fact that a bridge is expensive to build, the river overflows during the rainy season, so how would we know what height to build the bridge? A bridge would mean roads, and roads mean cars, and cars mean more pollution and traffic. And besides, we have our own way to get across." Then they pointed to a bamboo raft on the river bed. We were ferried across three at a time on the raft. Our feet got a bit wet, but otherwise no one fell in.
Because this is an organic tea garden, they don't have to worry about bringing over heavy bags of chemicals. And the finished product, tea leaves, is light and easy to transport. The lack of a bridge was a way for the garden to protect its own pristine surroundings, which can be a challenging thing to do, especially in China, where much of the country is on a rampage to develop infrastructure and industry.
Entrepreneurs are inclined to solve problems, but as I learned in Anhui, some problems are their own solution.
SETH GOLDMAN | Columnist | Co-founder of Honest Tea
Seth Goldman is the President and TeaEO of Honest Tea, the company he co-founded in 1998 with Professor Barry Nalebuff of the Yale School of Management. He's preparing the September release of a graphic novel titled Mission in a Bottle.