事缓则圆:SLOW AND STEADY

by Jasmine

Entrepreneurship series

To take things slow in today's context may be the unbeaten track, but Chloe Yau is setting her eyes on the Chinese tea market, and inching her way up to promoting this culture.

October 10, 2019

Tea cups used to serve dine-in customers at Camellia Tea Bar, Katong Square.

It is a simple attitude in the Chinese philosophy. When met with challenges, deal with it calmly. Because if you rush, you might not yield the results you want.

Because this is also a fundamental attitude embraced in the tea culture.

This is one lady’s noble ambition to revive this niche tea culture.

To do so, she first aims to dispel myths that Chinese tea is expensive, inaccessible and premium. Seeing this tradition as, in her words, ‘the DNA of Chinese people’, her hope is for young people to appreciate the art of drinking and brewing tea. What appears as a reckless, perhaps senseless, act of abandoning her career is in fact an act of noble cause. She also firmly believes that although many view Chinese tea as a dying tradition, it is one in which she is betting will gain traction with the right conditions.  

Which explains why she decided to devote six months into the outset of her unemployment to fly to China and educate herself about tea. Fortunately for her, she was acquainted with a tea maker, whom her dad knows personally. Growing up, her greatest exposure to tea was her father’s daily brew, and several trips to China to hear about the selection of leaves. But that was about all. Now determined to change the tides, she knows she needs to build up her knowledge — an eventual, great weapon for the business.

This is partly why after two years into the running of her business, she is still taking it slow. Despite a certainty that there is a demand for Chinese tea, she isn’t quick in her expansion plans. Perhaps tea has its way of slowing down a culture for people to hit the pause button frequently.

In time to come, she believes that the market will appreciate the ethos of her tea business — to market by the word of mouth. She takes time to converse with her dine-in customers about the variety of tea, and spends hours a day brewing, sipping and talking about tea to others. Her first phase in the business, she says, is to educate herself and her customers. It is interesting, because Chloe spent three years studying marketing, and another three years researching on coffee. What came out of a marketing diploma and a coffee research degree is a tea entrepreneur who only believes in the word-of-mouth marketing.

"I studied marketing but the only marketing I believe in is the word-of-mouth marketing."

Hardly skilled with any business knowledge or experience, Chloe is a bundle of optimism. She doesn’t see any other businesses as competitors. Instead, she is welcoming of them. ‘When there is competition, then there is learning,’ she adds. Her outlook for her business is slightly jarring. For so noble a cause and so ready a market, she is taking things pretty slowly.

Her first retail store of Camellia tea was a hit-and-miss situation. Without any prior knowledge about retail operations, she ran into several issues with her store from the onset, in which she sees as both “a regret and learning lesson”. But she continues to self-upgrade, reading up about consumer dine-in preferences, using travel trips as inspiration, and exposing herself to various business models.

There is no overnight success, and Chloe’s quiet fight to bring back a culture so foreign, so lost, yet so close is endearing. She takes on the full load of imparting both the basics and the aspirations of tea to the masses all at once. It may take a few more years, who knows, but her quest to step up is worth congratulating.  

Founder of Camellia Tea, Chloe Yau.