Tea in the Experience Economy. Tea Actors and Tea Gurus

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In the previous article on Tea in the Experience Economy, we talked about the cases in which you can work with tea as with coffee or with wine. Such cases were not very many, so for tea in general, it is better to find its own unique approach. We believe that it is possible to work effectively with tea in the paradigm of the experience economy.

At first glance, the consumer tea culture fits into the experience economy paradigm very easily and with a very attractive result. Tea, tea utensils and other paraphernalia are convenient and very flexible decorations. The person who makes and serves tea is an actor. The tea party that this person arranges is a performance, an immersive performance. It is the presentation (combined with the taste and aroma of tea) that is the source of experience and impressions for guests (clients); and it should be such experience and impressions for which they’d willingly pay a little money.

Such a notion of tea drinking is in no way original, or new. Show-kind tea events (Japanese tea ceremony, samovar tea drinking, acrobatics with long spout teapots, etc.) is a concentrated expression of any consumer tea culture. The sets and actions of tea actors in different countries, of course, are different — but they differ much less from each other than the ones of actors in classical opera and Japanese Noh theater. At the same time, the aggregate set of knowledge, skills and attributes necessary for organizing and conducting tea performances is compact, not very complicated and not very expensive.

Theoretically, the approach “tea drinking is a performance, and a tea specialist is an actor” is the very unique tea way that will allow the tea culture, tea specialists and the tea market to develop successfully. But the application of such a theory in practice raises obvious difficulties. For a tea actor to be able to successfully sell vibrant tea experiences to his customers, a rare confluence of circumstances should occur.

First, there must be effective demand for tea performances. Second, the carriers of this demand must be benevolent and careless, so as not only to easily part with money, but also to relay their delight from this parting further. Third, the skill of the tea actor must be really high. Fourth, this skill must be appropriate, so that the benevolent carelessness of a small number of clients lasted as long as possible. And finally, fifth, the tea actor must have some peculiarity that will distinguish them from their colleagues and, at the same time, will be their competitive advantage. This might be an unusual costume, at least.

The combination of conditions is unlikely. That is why there are very few tea actors who have been practicing for a long time, continuously and successfully, despite the fact that the “acting” approach itself is simple, attractive and has long been known. Success is achieved by talented and successful individuals — and in this sense, the tea scene is no different from any other scene.

Nevertheless, a tea actor who puts on tea shows and sells tea experiences is already quite a viable way of developing tea in the experience economy paradigm. And the fact that this option suits few means only one thing — we need to look for more options. They do not need to be all-encompassing, but if there are several of them, their total efficiency will be enough for tea specialists as well as for tea culture.

Very close to the “tea actor” variant is the “tea guru” way. The guru also sells tea shows, but he has a different audience and a different sales strategy. The actor’s performances are purely entertaining, and they mostly work with happy (content) people.

Guru’s performances have quite a few compensatory elements — therefore, gurus often work with people who are dissatisfied with something (for example, with themselves). Each performance of the tea actor is self-sufficient, the connection between performances is rarely built. On the contrary, guru’s shows, as a rule, are based on a certain ideology (starting with the most primitive ones, such as “good tea can only be found here, I source it myself”) and are connected through it. In addition, the guru, unlike the actor, is focused on building productive communities.

In fact, the tea guru approach works a little more often than the tea actor approach, but the number of successful tea gurus is still very low. They again turn out to be talented and lucky charismatics — after all, for the successful implementation of the guru approach, one needs a confluence of circumstances no less rare than for the successful implementation of the acting approach. However, tea actors plus tea gurus are definitely more than nothing, so we can consider the development of tea in the experience economy paradigm promising and keep looking for more options.

Olga Nikandrova & Denis Shumakov. Teatips.info. 2021