Coronavirus Experience. Changing Work Environment in Latvia, Poland & Ukraine

In normal times, the work of tea masters often involves two principles: the ability to shape the market for their services and productive interaction with the professional community. How do these principles work in a pandemic that has already significantly changed the market? We have prepared a collection of coronavirus comments by tea masters from different countries — we hope that their experience will be useful and interesting, and your ideas and support will help them to cope with temporary difficulties.

Andrei Ivanov. Winner of TMCI Tea Pairing 2017, TMC international judge. Project: Izpodnebesnoj (tea tastings, tea tourism, educational events, tea sales). Riga, Latvia

After the virus tumult arose, I haven’t organized any new events. I have conducted the ones that were scheduled before, and I continue regular tea school sessions. At the moment, it’s hard to tell what’s coming next. I’m always in crisis, so I’m like a fish in water so far. Crisis is my comfort zone.

Gundega Silniece. National coordinator of TMC Latvia. Projects: Strada (a coffee house in Old Riga), Illuseum (a tea house and tea wholesale). Riga, Latvia

At the first stage of the coronavirus crisis, when all restrictions were only recommendatory, the number of guests in our coffee shop in Old Riga, which is visited mainly by tourists, decreased by about 30%. At the same time, the tea house traffic, with most guests being locals, was very good. Then, in just a few days, the situation changed drastically.

The coffee shop is now closed as there are no tourists. The locals come to the tea house not to drink tea, but to buy tea; and they buy a lot, to create a reserve. So we switched the work of the tea house into retail mode and stopped serving tea. In this mode, we plan to work as long as possible, or necessary. We do not exclude that the tea house will be closed by the authority’s decision — judging by the situation in neighboring countries, this can happen within a week or two.

We are optimizing online sales. We’ve placed all our goods online, including those that were not previously intended for this. We deliver orders via pickpoints. Online sales have increased by several times, of course. Wholesale trade was reshaped — we excluded all possible people to people contact in the warehouse. And, of course, a lot depends on landlords and their willingness to meet the tenant’s needs and reduce the price, as well as on the financial safety cushion of each particular company.

In fact, the crisis has opened up new opportunities for us. It’s not so much an opportunity for growth and capturing new markets, but rather an opportunity for internal optimization, debugging of business processes and elimination of various defects.

Murat Kornaev. Winner of TMCI Tea Pairing 2016. Project: Manggha (restaurant with an emphasis on tea at the Museum of Japanese Art and Technoloy). Krakow, Poland

I’m sitting home building an online store. We’re closed, with no delivery. We hope to open in a week, but opening is one thing, the other thing is how much time it will take people to start going to restaurants again. The latter is unknown. And even the former is not apparent. Every day new coronavirus cases are reported in Poland, one of these days the government should announce what’s next; it is very likely that the quarantine will be extended.

As for other tea projects, one tea shop in Wroclaw has organized food delivery, most others are either closed or switched to online sales. In the Czech Republic, as far as I know, the situation is similar.

Dmitry Filimonov. Winner of TMCI Tea Preparation 2017. Project: Goodwine (wholesale and retail trade in delicacies). Kyiv, Ukraine

In short, retail tea sales have increased due to the fact that people are sitting home and therefore they buy weeks worth of supplies. Tea falls into two categories at once: a necessary good (essential basic product consumed daily) and a “therapeutic” product that enhances immunity, warms and satisfies fluid needs (which is relevant for virus prevention).

However, our HoReCa business has of course come to a halt due to the closure of all public catering establishments in the country. Things are very sad here.