I had a dream last night – it wasn’t a happy one. I was walking down an empty street, not a very affluent one. The mailman met me by the gate to my house and handed me two bundles of letters. He said they’d gotten lost in the mail, and they were only found now.
I opened each one with sadness slowly growing in my dream self as each one was counting down and read “Liberation.”
The saddest part was that I had sent them to myself.
I didn’t know what it meant, and I cried in my dream. I woke up somewhat worried. I’m the kind of person who thinks that, while there are chaotic dreams that mean absolutely nothing, there are dreams – like this one – that are meant to prepare me for something.
6:34pm I received a call from my manager; all Teavana locations will be closing by Spring.
Now, I have complained. I’ve complained enough. I’ve ranted and stressed and let myself be eaten away by anxiety because of things that have happened at this store, but I never once thought that this would happen – at least not while I was still here.
I had a plan once to make a website where I would post custom tea recipes using our teas. One of my blends even made it so big that it was featured on my region’s store menu. It was one of my most prideful days knowing that I had made an impact on this store even if in the smallest way. I grew from a team member, working from 6 – 9:30 to a manager who is trusted with the keys to the store.
“Who’s store is this?”
“No. When you become a manager, it’s your store. So who’s store is this?”
The woman who trained me talked me through this, and it became my statement.
This is my store. I represent my store. I represent this store that helps guide people through chemotherapy, through health struggles, through family bonding, and through this culture that I’ve loved since I was little.
Tea culture is part of my heritage, and I display it proudly. I was happy to know the benefits of these ingredients, to inform my customers how it can help you just as it has helped me.
I’ve seen my store go through one terrible manager and more than enough employees who didn’t see the job’s worth as much as some of us did. I’ve seen more than enough, and it all contributed to my growth as a salesperson and as an individual.
All in all, seeing this company dissolve right before my eyes after growing up with it is heartbreaking and shocking to say the least.
Outside of the sentimental side of this post, here is why I think Teavana is being shutdown.
When I first saw a Teavana, I was pulled in by the traditional tea culture that was being celebrated in such a modern setting. Yixing teapots with delicate designs and the highest quality teas that up until the turn of the century was only served to emperors. We even had the tea that was served to President Obama. Cool, right?
Our teas were organized by tea category: white, green, oolong, and black. Customers came in asking for teas to help with blood pressure, headaches, cramps, and acne. We showed everyone how to make their teas in the highest quality Japanese hand-crafted cast iron tea pots and showed them the wonders of creating their own sets to share with their family. This was the world I joined.
Fast forward to Starbucks purchasing Teavana – by the time I had joined, we were already acquired by Starbucks, but the obvious changes were not showing. All the changes were benefits given to employees as we were adopted into the Starbucks partner system. This is the system that paid for my college degree as well as my Starbucks stock.
Until now, that was the big change.
As more and more Starbucks customers grew curious of tea culture, they would slip into the store, not knowing why they had to pay $4.99 for a cup of tea to go without bothering to learn that we were using at the most $30 worth of tea leaves for a cup that they would finish within five minutes. Teavana did not settle for low grade teas, and if one was discovered among our stock, it was quickly discarded and never heard from again.
Tea drinkers came out from under the covers and declared their love for the tea, but as Starbucks took more hold on us, our teas took a different direction. Less samples, less creativity, and no traditional teas available for customers to try. I distinctly remember a woman approaching me and trying to learn about matcha only for her to ask:
“So if I mix this with water, this will taste like a green tea latte?”
Being integrated into the Starbucks system not only changed how we operated and what we sold, it changed our clientele. People came in looking for Starbucks drinks and shrugging us off because they were coffee drinkers, not tea drinkers. I’ve even had someone complain with a simple reason being:
“It’s like you guys aren’t actually Starbucks.”
Let me say this once, and everyone better hear me.
We are not Starbucks. We were never Starbucks. Even after acquiring us, we never became Starbucks. As Teavana employees, we sold tea – not coffee. We were not there to cater to coffee drinkers’ complaints over why this cost more than a bag of coffee because – again – this is not coffee.
This is tea.
The transition into Starbucks took away the traditional tea culture that the old Teavana employees loved and celebrated. We saw the worth in our products, and we tried to do our best to show you the same.
Though, we are not entirely innocent. The original sales process was crude and did not cater to a customer’s needs, but money. By the time I was hired, we aimed to fix that. I wanted you to leave satisfied with your purchase. I don’t care how much you spend; I’m selling something to help your health, that was all that mattered.
Steering back, we slowly turned into what most would say “the Starbucks of tea.” Although, that could not be more accurate. Drinks are not our business; it’s tea leaves. I’m not here to be your barista; I’m here to help you find something to make your life better. I am not a Starbucks barista, ready to give you your venti cup of blond roast in the morning. I’m here to give you information to better your life.
Our tea wall changed, organized by flavor because “customers don’t care about how much caffeine or how many antioxidants this kind of tea has.” They said it would only confuse people. The Yixing pots disappeared, and slowly but surely, we knew the cast iron would, too. Right before my eyes, the world I had entered was slowly being catered to Starbucks customers who wanted a quick fix and something that tasted like juice – only this wasn’t juice so there was a false sense of security that this was so much better. We did not receive any new pure teas without fruits or herbs; we got cocktail-inspired teas for customers to mix with alcohol.
The vision had disappeared.
The culture had disappeared.
The roots of what Teavana had grown from – all gone.
The disappearance of the Buddha logo was just the cherry on top. This was the new Teavana.
This is not the Teavana I wanted to work for – that Teavana died a long time ago, the shadow of its former self stood in its place, paraded with sugar and pastel colors.
And the sun just decided that this shadow isn’t worth saving.