xiao chen – thoughts on how to do “small” business

xiaochen tea

Originally uploaded by maryannodonnell

More thoughts on how Shenzhen does and does not work, this time inspired by a conversation with Xiao Chen, my tea vendor.

Yesterday afternoon I went to Nanshan Tea City, where Xiao Chen and her husband have a tea stall. They are from Fujian and sell amazing Iron Guanyin (the new tea is in and fragrant) and different grades of pu’er, which is what I usually drink. Pu’er is a fermented tea, and, like red wine, becomes richer and more complex with time.

Xiao Chen had just received an order of 13 year old pu’er that she wanted me to try. We sat at the table, where she prepared the tea, washing the leaves three times instead of two, poured the tea from the clay teapot into a class pot, and then into my small teacup.

As she has taken it upon herself to educate me about tea, Xiao Chen explained the importance of each step. Washing the tea leaves insures that one drinks the best taste, the small clay teapot preserves the fragrance and quality of the leaves, moreover it achieves these high quality results without wasting tea leaves. A glass pot is necessary because when the tea is poured out of the clay teapot the tea does not have uniform flavor. Instead, the first tea is relatively weak and the last tea is relatively strong.

While we were sipping the tea, Xiao Chen explained how she and her husband do “small” business (做小生意). Unlike big business, she said, small business depends upon “renyuan (人缘)”. According to Xiao Chen, renyuan is about the trust that people have within a human relationship. For their business to succeed, she and her husband need return custumers. To maintain the trust, the vendor and the custumer have to believe that the other has their best interest at heart: the custumer wants the vendor to earn enough money to make a living, and the vendor wants the customer to purchase high quality goods at the most reasonable price. Continue reading