“I was working at the Senate in 2013 and the traffic in Manila went from bad to worse. I was spending two to three hours driving to work everyday, and that’s on a good day. I was stressed out and almost psychosomatic. But in December that year, I bought a pack of loose leaf tea. Unlike brewing tea bags, you have to measure one teaspoon for each cup, you have to be mindful of the water temperature, as well as the steeping duration. As I was making it, I discovered what I now recognize as a Zen moment. I found a quiet space inside me and all the stress disappeared. Long story short, I started looking forward to that ritual every day. That moment actually led me to become a tea business owner and a student of Zen practice.”
Stepping inside the abode of Sheryl Martinez, founder and proprietor of Teavolution Manila, we quickly realized that we weren’t in for any regular interview. With us seated, surrounded by a marvelous collection of cups and pots, Sheryl brought out an ornate tea set, which included the bamboo tea tray and a “tea pet” in the form of a three-legged toad figurine.
As we spoke, Sheryl made a humble showing of a Chinese Gong Fu tea ceremony, steeping Oolong tea leaves and demonstrating how to prepare marigold blooming flower tea while pouring some of the tea over the tea pet.
One could easily tell by her deft movements and practiced routine that she was a maestro when it came to the preparation of tea. Perhaps that’s why she was so suited to the running of Teavolution® – an online teashop based in Manila.
But while Sheryl had been a tea drinker for as long as she can remember, it was the discovery of the blooming flower tea that drew her interest one day, back when she was still employed at the office of former Senator Serge Osmena. “A flower bloomed when the server poured hot water on the dulcet,” she explained, talking about how the leaves and flowers would unfurl beautifully as they steep in the pot. “I wanted that experience, I thought it was magical.”
She soon quit her job, and spent the next few months soaking up everything she could about the history, practices, and particulars of tea. “When starting a business, know everything you can about your product,” she says. “You have to be knowledgeable. Because curiosity can be satisfied with accurate answers, and those answers could lead to fascination. Then you can captivate people, capture their attention and sustain their curiosity.”
By late 2014, Sheryl had set up the Teavoution Manila website. Now she sells all kinds of loose-leaf tea from China, Japan, Kenya, Taiwan, and other countries. She also holds workshops, both for groups and private sessions, for those who wish to be instructed in the art of tea making. In 2016, the International Tea Master’s Association, a tea school based in the US, officially licensed Sheryl as a certified Tea Sommelier.
She explains that there’s no discrimination when it comes to the invitation of tea-making: as she points out, over the five-thousand-year history of tea, almost everyone became tea drinkers – from the emperors right down to the common folk. Just the same, she’s had all sorts of tea drinkers as customers. Originally marketing toward the demographic of mothers and aunties, she has since noticed that Millennials enjoy tea, too and in fact, comprise 86% of her business’ market.
“It never gets old,” she says, of performing the ceremony with blooming tea for new tea drinkers, “There’s magic in it – to see their faces light up when the flower blooms before their very eyes.”
Her goal is to one day inspire and birth a tea culture in Manila. Unlike most of its Asian neighbors, the Philippines lack a distinctive tea culture comparable to those in India, Japan or China. Plus, there’s the fact that the Philippines is largely a coffee-drinking country, so not everyone is quick to try the alternative.
Still, her hope for it remains stronger than ever:
“I don’t aspire to replace coffee or any beverage in the market. What I’m offering is a healthier option. Besides, if you drink tea, you’re in good company,” she says, “Just look at tea drinkers across history: monks, poets, writers, statesmen, philosophers, and kings…You can’t go wrong.”