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How local tea shops are surviving amid international supply-chain issues

Vernon's Alysia Lor-Knill, owner at Teassential.
Vernon's Alysia Lor-Knill, owner at Teassential.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/ Teassential

There are few things more comforting than wrapping your hands around a hot, steaming cup of tea.

The soothing beverage is warming, calming and uplifting, and can connect many of us to our cultural roots.

“Tea comes with so much history,” said owner of Teassential in Vernon, Alysia Lor-Knill. “It is one of the most consumed beverages around the world.”

Not only is tea a valuable commodity for consumers, but the quaint local shops that sell it are invaluable to communities, providing a unique place for people to connect over the flavours and aromas brought from far-away places.

But importing so many ingredients from these far-away places creates a unique challenge for tea shops, putting them at the mercy of shipping issues and delays, and shipping costs.

“We carry a large selection that we source from lots of different companies and countries,” Lor-Knill said. “To be successful you need to always be planning a few months in advance.

“The shipping costs can be really expensive, so we stockpile our most popular teas. We don’t typically run out of an ingredient but sometimes it does take a while for stuff to get here and sometimes products disappear when crossing borders.”

Lor-Knill imports her ingredients from six different countries: black teas and boba pearls from India, green teas from China and matcha tea from Japan to name a few.

In 2021, there was a delay in the import of boba pearls for bubble tea when the ship bringing it got stuck in the Suez Canal for weeks.

READ MORE: Stuck ship thrusts sleepy Suez Canal village into limelight

“We had quite a few people asking about that too when it happened,” Lor-Knill said. “There was a big, temporary boba pearl shortage, but I think it was from people panic buying, creating an artificial shortage. We made it through without running out.” 

Ethiopian Mocha pu’erh tea from Teassential in Vernon, a blend of earthy pu’erh tea, coffee beans and smooth chocolate.
Ethiopian Mocha pu’erh tea from Teassential in Vernon, a blend of earthy pu’erh tea, coffee beans and smooth chocolate.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/ Teassential

One challenge Lor-Knill has faced is the financial fall-out from the COVID pandemic restrictions in 2020. She said it was stressful and there were shaky times financially, but she managed to squeak through.

Davids Tea closed down the majority of its brick-and-mortar stores across the country in 2020 after losing millions of dollars due to the COVID pandemic restrictions, switching to ecommerce business instead.

READ MORE: Kamloops, Kelowna DavidsTea will not be reopening

For small shops like Lor-Knill’s, the support of the community is a key factor in its success.

She said getting her shop noticed can be difficult.

“We are on the main street running through downtown but our storefront is small so sometimes people out shopping don’t notice us and go to bigger stores,” she said. “We need to bring more awareness we are here.” 

That said, Lor-Knill has regular customers she has served for the six years she has been in business, and she loves having a connection with them.

“I still remember our very first customer and he still comes in,” she said. “We feel pretty special bringing in tea from all different cultures to serve people from all over the area. It is exciting when people come in asking for a tea from back home and we can provide it and hear their memories.”

READ MORE: New Asian fusion eatery opens in downtown Vernon 

The team at Teassential sells black teas, green teas, herbal teas and boba teas, and also makes the teas on site.

“Some customers from nearby businesses will come over and get a hot tea to take back to work with them.”

They provide loose leaves or pack it into tea bags for customers.

They also offer a variety of kits and cups and other essentials for tea lovers.

Teassential is located at 3017 B 30 Avenue in Vernon.

Click here for more information.

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