By Kevin Christiansen, Cafe Barnabas
As various forms of the COVID-19 quarantine washed over tea producers, retailers and wholesalers alike, together we entered a season of forced innovation.
It’s been challenging, invigorating, frustrating and thrilling; story material we’ll share with our grandchildren.
Like a tidal wave, Cafe Barnabas (Topeka, Kan.) anticipated Safer at Home’s arrival with determination. The goal being to protect sales in our top category – bubble tea. A simple solution emerged: Develop an easy kit that families could use to create this beverage and distribute through non-contact, home delivery.
Flying Tea Kits
When the quarantine wave hit, these mobile kits replaced close to 60 percent of sales, allowing us to mostly maintain staff in a delivery capacity. A majority of these “Flying Tea Kits” were delivered to children and teenagers, providing “More Than to Go.” Students were able to experience the joy of tea and its emotional oasis in isolation.
Those of us in the tea industry provide a platform for common experience. This sensory-rich beverage embraces culture, flavor and art in the leaf, while exposing the reality that the experience is not always shared. It’s a biological fact that sensory input varies between humans. The experiences from person to person are common, but not the same.
Angel Tea Kits
The sales volume and popularity of our “Flying Tea Kits” became a data set, revealing patterns and trends. In analyzing this data, it was discovered that a disproportionate number of sales were to students in affluent neighborhoods. Our Facebook page overflowed with success stories and pictures – producing increased sales – but these memories where rarely shared by at-risk students. Cafe Barnabas is a not-for-profit youth organization; as such, we moved to correct the trend by launching “Angel Tea Kits.” An Angel Tea Kit was a partnership between a community food network, Cafe Barnabas, local public schools and generous donors. A philanthropist could purchase a kit containing all the supplies necessary to make two 24-oz. bubble teas, and our partners helped us add a large box of essential food items, including fresh bread, produce and a frozen protein source. Volunteers non-contact delivered these kits to students living in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods throughout the city.
As a tea professional, I love eliciting joy from a great cup of tea, especially amidst trying times. The appreciative expression that consumes a teenager’s face as they receive a week’s worth of food for their family and a tea creation activity kit is hard to describe.
Community Impact & Profitability
Our not-for-profit business focuses on a double bottom line – community impact and profitability. Success is evaluated using a P&L statement plus the stories of changed lives. Our P&L proved the high ROI of good will, as our customers more willingly supported our business and as we supported our community. The social media impact allowed us to win many new customers. A total of 86 Angel tea kits were sold, producing exponential community impact while increasing revenue. This metrics style challenges our team to maintain tenacious positivity.
Yes, it’s easy to be overcome by countless negative economic figures, but it’s much more rewarding looking for heroic acts that are performed by volunteers, essential workers and health care providers. One’s worldview is like tea: A novice recognizes a bad cup based on his or her own preference, but a cultural sommelier develops the ability to steward public emotion by cultivating positivity.
Social entrepreneur Kevin Christiansen, Cafe Barnabus, challenges tea professionals to dream big. His dream, Cafe Barnabas, was voted Best of Topeka for its innovative tea. His vision for youth development earned him recognition as one of Topeka’s Top 20 professionals under 40. Christiansen’s latest project, VERGE, is a 6,000 square foot student center focused on academic achievement, tea education and cultural enhancement. Learn more at CafeBarnabas.org.