A Start-up Brand Chases a New Generation of ‘Tea Friends’ and Profits for Yunnan Farmers

by Diana Drake

This month’s Future of the Business World podcast takes us to the mountains of Yunnan, China, where high school student Victoria Fang Gao – who is headed to Wharton’s Leadership in the Business World program in July — has spent many summers exploring and discovering the mysteries of pu’er tea. Feeling the connection to a tradition that is in her blood, Victoria (pictured above filling her basket with “the magic leaf”) has a deep commitment to building awareness about the origins and practices of the pu’er tea industry, while also helping to lift tea farmers out of poverty by forming a long-term trading relationship with them.

Be sure to click the arrow above to listen to Victoria’s compelling brand story. An edited transcript of the conversation appears below. 

Wharton Global Youth Program: Welcome to Future of the Business World. I’m Diana Drake with the Wharton Global Youth Program at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.

It’s an exciting time for our Wharton Global Youth team as our summer on-campus and online programs begin. We meet so many earnest and innovative high school students from all over the world. Today’s podcast guest will be joining our Leadership in the Business World program in a few weeks, and we wanted to catch time with her before the LBW learning begins.

As with all of our featured Future of the Business World students, Victoria Fang Gao has an intriguing entrepreneurial edge. A year or so ago, she began developing her own tea brand in her native region of China. So, I guess you could say that today, we are going to spill the tea on this evolving industry.

Victoria, welcome to Future of the Business World.

Victoria Fang Gao: Thanks for the FBW broadcast, Ms. Drake, and for giving me this opportunity to share my story to the future business world. I’m absolutely thrilled to be here with you guys today. And I’m looking forward to ‘spilling the tea.’

Wharton Global Youth: Okay, let’s get started. Tell us a bit about yourself. Where do you live and go to school?

Victoria: I just moved back to Kunming in Yunnan, [China] and I previously lived in Chengdu for five years. I currently study at Beanstalk International Bilingual School in Kunming.

Wharton Global Youth: I’m excited to talk to you about your entrepreneurial endeavor today, because it is about something I truly love, which is tea. I love my teatime. You developed your own tea brand, as I said. Can you tell us what it’s called and what kind of tea is featured in this brand?

Victoria: My tea brand is called Di Lin, a Chinese phrase. So, Di Lin is associated with Buddhism, because I’m Buddhist myself. The phrase Di means something like “the truth” and Lin is “Forest.” So, a short translation would be “True Forest.”

The type of tea that is featured in my brand is mainly pu’er tea from Yunnan. I collect tea from tea farmers all around Yunnan, such as Zhenyuan and Jiangcheng, which are villages in Yunnan. These teas are from areas that are less developed and are not well-known among people, compared to tea in Mengla, Bingdao and Banzhang pu’er tea. These are really famous, and they have the value of around 10,000 [Yuan] per kilogram.

My tea brand also has both fermented and raw pu’er tea, which are two techniques and two types of pu’er tea in the whole pu’er tea section. These two fermented and raw teas come from the same type of tree, but the process of making them is very different.

Wharton Global Youth: Take us back a year or so ago when you first started to develop your tea brand. First, I want to know what inspired this idea. And as you said, I understand you worked closely with Yunnan farmers. Tell us about this region of China and its reputation for tea protection. Is it known for this product? There are a couple of questions in there. I’d love to know what inspired you and then maybe you can talk more about your experience with the Yunnan farmers.

Victoria: The idea started a long time ago when I was in grade nine. So not a long time ago. But [maybe three years ago]. However, the word tea has been in my mind since I was a little kid, perhaps when I started understanding Chinese.

My grandpa is the founder of the Yunnan Pu’er Tea Association. And he wrote a whole poem line called 普洱一叶盖环宇. A translation would be that he believes that pu’er tea will someday cover every corner of the world. He believes that pu’er tea can reach any part of the world in the future. At first because this is a poem, as a little kid I never understood this. But as time went by, as my Chinese standard improved, I started to realize the importance of tea in my own hometown, in my family and even in my own blood. For me, it’s not just a beverage. It can also be a medicine, a commodity, and a plant. But most importantly, it is a means of communication to the world for the tea farmers. And I think it is one of the keys in an economy that has nourished and fed generations of tea farmers. Basically, it’s just life and this is what tea farmers live for is the magic leaf. It contains so much beauty and wisdom and I want to share it with more people to let more people be cured by tea.

Besides this, I also want to help the tea farmers, especially the ones who are not famous. The reason [they are not well known] is [due to] lack of advertisements. Many tea farmers are poor because they don’t even know how to talk about their tea. They [live] in the mountains and they’re not that complicated, because they live in [simple] villages. They only make contact with their own people. It’s hard for them to get any connection from the outside, meaning that they don’t have the business mind to get the tea sold using advertisement. They’re not familiar with marketing. Therefore, they rely on other people, for example, Guangzhou people, to help them sell the tea. I wish that someday I can let Yunnan tea [farmers] see the world and maybe even let the world see them.

In terms of tea production in Yunnan, Yunnan is the second-biggest tea production region in China. The first one is Fujian, which produces many white teas. In teas, we have six big types, and pu’er tea is organized into the dark tea section. It’s fermented tea, so it’s organized in the dark tea section. Yunnan produces up to 15% of Chinese tea. Yunnan’s tea is really different from others, because it’s the origin of tea. The oldest sample that we can find of an ancient tea tree is in China. It has the oldest tree, which I think is 3,400 years old, and I don’t remember the exact number, but it is around 30 meters high. So in Yunnan, our areas mostly produces ancient-tree tea, meaning we have tea forests and tea fields that you would see in most tea-producing regions.

Victoria Fang Gao.

Wharton Global Youth: What important lessons did you learn from the farmers you worked with? Do you remember a particular story, for instance of an experience that you had with one of them?

Victoria: There are a lot of stories and a lot of stuff that I learned from [the farmers]. If I could [express it in three] words, it would probably be resilience, passion and positivity — although I don’t think positivity is a word, so maybe optimism.

Every summer, I go down to the mountains and I will live in the mountains for one to two months of my vacation. I usually accompany [the farmers] to the mountains and pick some tea, or I will accompany them to make tea. [The process involves] baking it and fermenting it. I went in the mountains [with] one of my family’s friends who is a tea farmer and I went to pick tea with him. The sun was really blazing hot. In Yunnan, the average temperature is about 20 Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit), but the sun was blazing, and I had sweat coming down my face. We walked through the muddy fields and slopes up to the mountains to pick the teas. It was really slippery, even in the sun. I saw them climbing up the trees with a ladder and they reached the top of the tree in a moment. They’re climbing the tree so fast that I didn’t even realize they were up there. They started picking the tea and it was a really meticulous process for them. They have to pick the right quality, so it’s not like just picking a random leaf from a tea tree. They need to observe it and to see whether the number of buds is correct. They also [have] to see whether there are bugs or any diseases on the buds. One tree can only result [in filling] one basket, which is just around one kilogram of tea from one big tree. So, it’s a really meticulous process and it’s really hard to get a high-quality tree.

I was only picking from the small trees, the baby trees around them, because climbing up to 15 meters high is a challenge and it is a bit scary. I was sweating by the time I finished picking my first tree [and the farmers] accompanying me started to sing songs in the Yi ethnic group’s language. Those people really have a beautiful rhythm. It’s just mysterious for me because I don’t really understand their mysterious language. However, it echoes in the mountains and it is raising my heart. It’s just so beautiful. It’s mysterious, and even if I can’t understand it, it still has something that resonates with my soul.

After we came back to the tea factory, I was exhausted. And I saw [the farmers] looking like they didn’t even go up the mountain and they didn’t pick the tea. So I asked them: “Don’t you get tired? Why do you keep doing it? It seems too exhausting to let anyone do it for a long time?” One of them laughed and replied, “My mother used to take me up to pick the teas. Besides, a cup of tea will wash away all fatigue just like magic.” I smiled and I nodded and I became silent. These people are not just tea farmers. They are actually guardians of the mountains. They are so burned brown and hunched by the tea weight, but there’s a smile on their faces and a twinkle in their eyes that tells me the hope of the magic leaf.

Wharton Global Youth: That’s very special. What an experience. Thank you for sharing that with us. I want to know what your tea tastes like. You’ve mentioned kind of the dark nature of it. Does it have hints of certain herbs and flavors? Can you describe it?

Victoria: [As I said], we have two types. One type is raw pu’er tea. The raw pu’er tea has hints of honey and orchard. So while like most tea, when it first touches your tongue, it has a slightly bitter taste [when it mixes with your] saliva. [And then it is followed] by a really sweet aftertaste. After drinking one cup, you feel like you drank a cup of water. It’s really amazing. That’s why tea is the best beverage if you feel thirsty. In terms of fermented pu’er tea, because it’s fermented, it has a really different taste from raw pu’er tea. It has a flavor of wheat and bread. It’s really flavorful and the color is a bright red-brown; it’s really beautiful. And the texture is more like rice soup. I don’t know if any people [listening] have [had] rice soup before, but it’s smooth and glutinous, with a rich and mellow taste.

“I think brand is indeed the key to success in any business…Buying a brand is like opening a book; only a good story can keep the readers coming back and back again.” – Victoria Fang Gao

Wharton Global Youth: As you developed this brand, you focused on something that you call sustainable sourcing. And I’d love you to tell us more about that. Can you help us understand what this is and why it was important for you to make that part of your brand identity?

Victoria: In terms of sustainable sourcing, I focus on lifting the farmers out of poverty by forming a long-term trading relationship with them. Every year, I will collect tea from them, either the new [teas] or the old ones they have discovered in the basement. Each time I collect those teas from the farmers, I make them into the products in my brand. It’s really important for my brand identity, because this is essentially why my brand exists, which is to help tea farmers out of poverty. It is the soul of my brand. Sustainable sourcing cannot only bring income to the tea farmers, but also bring cultural awareness about Yunnan tea to the world.

Wharton Global Youth: When I’m out there buying my own tea, there’s an enormous selection. And the packaging is usually something that I’m drawn to, with colorful photos and inspirational quotes. What decisions did you make about the packaging of your product?

Victoria: I draw them by myself, which takes me a long time. The different teas come from different regions and in Yunnan we have 26 ethnic groups, which is a lot. 55% of China’s ethnic groups are in Yunnan. Different regions have different ethnic groups, and they have different tea. When I go down to the mountains, I see the ethnic groups and we will talk about their traditional art, such as the patterns on their clothes and also something about their local art crafts. In Dali, we have the tie-dye theme (Bai people), so I incorporated some of the tie-dye elements into my tea package when I was designing tea from Dali. I find inspirations for the packaging in the local arts. Besides this, I also incorporate local scenery, like special landscapes and forests. This packaging not only makes my tea look unique, but also helps to spread ethnic beauty to the world.

Wharton Global Youth: Wow, this is truly a passion project for you in so many ways. You’ve said that the mission for your brand is to alleviate poverty, as we’ve talked about, and to spread tea culture awareness among young people. Tell us more about that mission. Do you think young people understand the tea industry and all that you’ve discovered?

Victoria: For most young people, it is hard for them to understand anything about tea because — I don’t know about other parts of the world — but especially in China, some young people think tea is something for old people, something for middle-aged people, and it’s just not in their age range. They think it is too old. Some people may not understand the actual beauty in tea, because they have a natural barrier to it. They only see grandpas and grandmas drinking tea. They never saw young people like them drinking tea.

When I became aware of tea in my blood, I decided to start a small mission and to start small. I hosted a tea culture club at my school and I used a lot of activities and lectures to spread tea culture. I didn’t tell them you should be aware of the culture or something like that. I just taught them the history, the types, and also the essence of Chinese tea. And of course, young people love to eat something. So, I also prepared some traditional tea desserts for my club members. We were discussing tea and tasting tea together. Besides traditional Chinese Kongfu tea, which is the popular kind in the Chinese tea industry, I also have topics and activities about Chinese ethnic-group tea, which is really different because every ethnic group has their own way of brewing tea. I also taught something about English afternoon tea, because I find this really interesting. In this way, I started small and spread tea culture to younger generations by letting them get involved in the process of tea. In my business, I plan to innovate and experiment with different formulas for tea to make it more favorable and attract young people from around the world to experience tea at a beginners’ level, I don’t think telling people about its importance can change anything. The best strategy for me is to let more and more people experience it, become interested in it and love it.

Victoria prepares her tea.

Wharton Global Youth: Where is your tea brand for sale?

Victoria: Because I just started my own business, I don’t have my little place yet. But I cooperate with tea people [who have] tea shops and I ask them whether they can help me to sell my tea and I will divide up the profits. This is also a way for me to deepen my connection with them. Because after all, I’m just a high school student. I don’t know a lot about our society, or maybe even the market, but if they’re more experienced they can be my teacher and they can tell me about all those things. Besides, having a tea friend is better than if I have none.

I have a temporary selling point in Chengdu in a tea bookshop. [It’s a famous area]. People go there a lot. [It’s a commercial area with] a lot of book shops and a river alongside it. Chengdu people really like to drink tea beside the river. I think this place will be better, and it also sells other kinds of for tea, so I feel like I can [sell my] collection to them. I also have two locations in Yunnan. I have put my tea into local restaurants that have tea rooms, so they can order the tea on their menus. And when they go to the tea rooms to chat with the boss, the boss will also share the tea with them. I also plan to set up my own little tea shop where people can experience and buy tea by September in Yunnan. One of my mother’s shops that is for rent will be vacant by that time. So, we can directly move in. And I’m currently buying all [that I need] for the tea shop.

Wharton Global Youth: It seems like you’ve been very reflective during this whole time. And I’m wondering what has this journey of product development taught you about the power of a brand, especially in a crowded market like tea production? And I’d also like you to tell me a little bit about what you’ve learned about the tea industry itself. For example, does it face any challenges from things like climate change? I guess I’m asking you to give me some key takeaways about branding and also about the industry.

Victoria: The answer to your first question about power of brand: I think brand is indeed the key to success in any business. There are too many good teas and too many poor tea farmers. It’s hard for consumers to find every one of them in the mountains, because it’s hard to get any connection because they’re not known to the wide public. A brand like mine can collect those and help the tea farmers to sell the tea to a wide audience or to the world. It makes everything easier and better, because people can find the tea easily and the tea farmers can sell their tea easily. The key to the tea industry I think and also for every product is about how you talk about it besides its real quality. A brand that is full of stories can definitely help the tea to squeeze into the market. Buying a brand is like opening a book; only a good story can keep the readers coming back and back again. This is what I think is the power of the brand.

And for the second question about takeaways in the tea industry — one takeaway in the tea industry is really serious. Because tea is so diverse, there’s not a real standard to it. The tea associations and the government have been working on this problem for years. Unscrupulous merchants, the black-hearted merchants, will use fake tea. So, teas grown from Hunan and low-quality tea areas — the tea that tea farmers don’t like and just throw away. And those people buy it at a low price and sell it to people who know some of the names of the mountains or the teas, but they lack a serious knowledge about real tea, meaning they only know about something like Bingdao and Banzhang pu’er tea, but they don’t know what it tastes like, or what it’s supposed to look like. So, the consumers who get fooled [with the fake tea] will turn away from this particular type of tea or even turn away from this region and reject it.

Wharton Global Youth: I want to wrap up with our lightning round. Please try to answer these questions as quickly as you can.

When you’re not drinking tea. What is your favorite beverage?

Victoria: Coffee.

Wharton Global Youth: Something about you that would surprise us?

Victoria: I’m a big fan of equestrian sports. I’ve been practicing it for seven years.

Wharton Global Youth: Your favorite TV show, podcast or book to binge?

Victoria: I really liked the book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.

Wharton Global Youth: What is a brand that inspires you?

Victoria: One of the brands that inspires me is My Tea Pal, a brand from my friend, Vincent Liu.

Wharton Global Youth: When you arrive on Penn’s campus this summer for Leadership in the Business World, which food do you hope to eat first?

Victoria: I did some research and found something about magic meatballs served at the Magic Carpet food cart. That is made mainly from vegetables, so I want to try it to see how magical it is.

Wharton Global Youth: Nice. Something you hope to learn soon that you don’t yet know?

Victoria: Besides all the leadership concepts that I’m going to learn in class, I also want to chat with my classmates and learn about them and their dreams and maybe make lifelong friends. Additionally, I also want to learn more about Penn.

Wharton Global Youth: Which businessperson would you most like to sit down with for tea and why?

Victoria: I think the founder of the famous Yunnan milk tea brand, Chagee. Its founder is Junjie Zhang. He is the first businessperson to push Yunnan tea and aesthetics around China. I want to ask him about his vision and history, because we’re essentially doing the same thing.

Wharton Global Youth: Victoria, thank you for joining us on Future of the Business World.

Conversation Starters

How is Victoria’s tea brand a reflection of her passions and experiences? How does that contribute to the power of this brand?

Victoria believes that tea culture has an elder identity, meaning that not many young people appreciate “the magic leaf.” Do you agree with this? Why or why not? How might more young people embrace tea culture?

Part of Victoria’s business mission is sustainable sourcing. What is this and why is this important to her brand?

Do you have questions for Victoria? Post them in the comment section of this article and she just might respond.

15 comments on “A Start-up Brand Chases a New Generation of ‘Tea Friends’ and Profits for Yunnan Farmers

  1. Victoria’s tea brand is a direct reflection of her deep-rooted and passions and diverse experiences, which can significantly contribute to the tea’s appeal and market success. Victoria has a personal connection to tea and tea culture, where her fascination stems from her family experience and personal appreciation for its rich history, cultural significance, and nuanced flavors. This passion drives her commitment to quality as well as authenticity, ensuring that the tea she produces resonates with true tea enthusiasts who value these qualities as much as her. Victoria’s background is also connected to regions where tea is culturally prominent, China. Her deep understanding of the tea’s cultural context allows her to craft products that are not only high quality but also culturally respectful. Victoria’s personal story and passion can create a powerful narrative that resonates with consumers. By sharing her journey, challenges, as well as dedication to supporting Yunnan farmers, it adds a human element to the brand, fostering a deeper connection with customers. Which is also why Victoria’s brand is a reflection of her own values and experiences, making it unique. Her genuine passion differentiates her brand in a competitive market, making it more
    memorable and trustworthy to consumers.

  2. I’m truly astonished by the fact that Victoria, despite being so young, has already established a thriving business. At an age when many are just beginning to explore their interests, she has not only identified her passion but also turned it into a meaningful enterprise. In fact, the only remaining question in my head after listening to this interview was: What are the biggest challenges and advantages you have experienced as a young entrepreneur?

    The idea of business with a personal narrative behind captivates me. Victoria’s connection to the pu’er tea industry through her grandfather and her summers spent in Yunnan adds authenticity, which I think is crucial in a crowded market. This personal touch not only distinguishes her brand but also builds a compelling story that resonates with consumers. Also, I knew little about the Yunnan region and its tea culture, so it was fascinating to find out about a whole new market and to discover how much heritage and history can be infused into a modern business, creating a bridge between tradition and innovation.

    My favorite part about Victoria’s brand was the sustainable sourcing concept. I think that beyond providing local farmers with stable income and helping preserve the traditional methods of production of pu’er tea, sustainable sourcing makes her brand more exclusive because it ensures high-quality standards in pu’er tea production. So, this approach not only benefits the farmers but also appeals to consumers who I feel are increasingly conscious of the ethical and environmental impact of their purchases.

    Lastly, on the idea that tea culture has an elder identity, as a young Brazilian, I feel that this is true here as well. I think it is because tea drinking can seem outdated or uninteresting to younger generations. However, I think there is potential for change. By incorporating modern marketing techniques, such as appealing packaging and social media engagement, and by creating products that resonate with younger tastes and lifestyles, more young people might embrace tea culture. Victoria’s approach to integrating educational aspects, like her tea culture club, and innovative product development can play a significant role in shifting these perceptions by inspiring other young entrepreneurs to follow her lead.

  3. Victoria, I just want to start off by saying that I love everything equestrian as well, the horses are like family to me. Your business in promoting the work of the farmers in Yunnan is truly so impressive as well! Your article caught my attention as there are so many parallels in our goals for the future of entrepreneurship and business.

    Stemming off my love of horses, I have been surrounded by nature my entire life. As a result, I also have a great appreciation for our Earth and the ways in which we can live sustainably. After starting and running two non-profit companies with the triple bottom line as a driving goal, I learned a lot about how to use entrepreneurship skills to make an organization self-sustainable.

    Similarly to your business’s alliance with the farmers in Yunnan, I am currently working with a nonprofit organization in Uganda called Anasi Farmers to make their funding self-sustained as they receive the majority of their funding from grants, which although very beneficial, offers less stability as grants can only accept a few applicants. For some context, Anasi Farmers is a nonprofit organization dedicated towards empowering women economically through teaching them regenerative farming techniques. They also provide education on pertinent issues, such as violence against women and sexually transmitted diseases. I love your idea of making special designs for your business to attract customers. I am making a documentary as a way to connect customers with the work and purpose of Anasi Farmers. I want to showcase not just the final product of a handbag or piece of jewelry, but the labor and love that went into making it and how the purchase of these items will continue to enrich a growing community. Then, just as how you have expanded the market of the pu’er tea from Yunnan to Chengdu, I am also creating an international market for the handcrafts, selling them both online and in-person, for example on Amazon and at community events.

    While an integral part of a business plan is competition analysis, solely focusing on this narrows one’s window of creativity in forming an idea. One should also consider how their business will enhance the preexisting structure of their community. Victoria presents the idea through her startup: What if businesses not only considered the needs of their customers but also took into account the same for other businesses? By doing so, business plans may also become more feasible as in Victoria’s case, she only has to focus on the packaging and selling of the tea, allowing her to balance her work and school life. Furthermore, the tea industry as Victoria mentioned, is already very well-developed in parts of China. So, rather than starting an entirely new tea business in a saturated market, Victoria took on a new angle, spreading the Yunnan farmers’ high-quality tea to places that lack such a product. So, caring for one’s community is not just philanthropic, it’s also what will make one thrive in the increasingly competitive business world.

  4. Victoria Fang Gao’s journey into the world of pu’er tea is a testament to the profound connection between tradition and innovation. Her brand, Di Lin, is not just a commercial endeavor but a bridge that connects ancient cultural practices with modern entrepreneurial spirit. By immersing herself in the lives and labor of Yunnan’s tea farmers, Victoria is not only preserving a rich heritage but also empowering these communities economically. Her approach to sustainable sourcing highlights a compassionate capitalism that seeks to uplift rather than exploit.

    What stands out is her meticulous attention to the authenticity and storytelling of her brand. By incorporating local ethnic art and cultural elements into her packaging, Victoria ensures that each tea product is a narrative, a piece of Yunnan’s soul reaching out to the world. This is a refreshing deviation from the often superficial branding seen in crowded markets.

    Moreover, her efforts to engage young people in tea culture by blending traditional knowledge with modern tastes and formats is both innovative and necessary. It challenges the stereotype that tea is an “elder” beverage and opens up a dialogue for younger generations to explore and appreciate the depth of this ancient elixir. Victoria’s vision is a beautiful example of how entrepreneurship can be a force for cultural preservation and social good.

  5. I used to hate tea.

    As a child, I never saw the point of drinking anything that was not fizzy, neon, and packed with sugar. To me, tea was just simple green leaves soaked in boiling water, and I embarrassingly never understood its appeal until I was well into my teens.

    Tea can be a tricky thing to appreciate as a child, and it was not until I started learning more about it that I gained a new perspective. To that end, I highly recommend The history of tea by TED-Ed, which was the video that first inspired me to drink more tea. For me, tea symbolises calm and helps me reconnect with my culture as a Chinese diaspora, especially as I have not travelled back to my hometown for many years.

    What resonates deeply with me about Victoria’s journey is the larger idea that tea culture has an elder identity. It was the same trap that I admittedly fell into and I deeply admire Victoria’s goal to promote tea among young people. Flashy energy drinks and bubble tea dominate the culinary tastes of teenagers now, but more effective marketing that highlights tea’s various flavours and medical aspects can help tea become more “trendy”. To that end, I think that it is crucial tea manufacturers use all their storyteller capabilities to promote the history of tea as well. Articles such as this one are imperative to spread the word, and platforms with a larger reach among the teenage population such as Tik Tok are a must to reach a larger audience of teenagers. Thank you for sharing your inspiring journey Victoria!

  6. “They are so burned brown and hunched by the tea weight, but there’s a smile on their faces and a twinkle in their eyes that tells me the hope of the magic leaf.” This powerful line from Victoria, a fellow high school student, gave me hope for the future of our generation around the world, not just in the US where I live. Victoria is amplifying the voice and talent of the local tea farmers and increasing her brand while doing so–a win-win situation for both parties. She managed to take an idea that stemmed during the ninth grade and actually scale it into something that will be in markets soon and that might change the lives of the tea farmers forever.

    Victoria’s work also serves as cultural diplomacy. She achieved her goal of wanting to share the local culture with the world, and by creating this brand, she has done so in an amazing way. As she discussed, branding is the focal point when building a business. She recognized that the farmers do not have the ability to advertise their skills and product themselves, mainly due to lack of knowledge in that field. Her business idea represents the true definition of innovation, something I’ve been thinking about for a while now.

    Innovation does not always have to be something completely new, like an outstanding new technological marvel that comes straight out of the futuristic novels of the 2000s. The true meaning is doing something you love, for a good outcome, that can help others in a creatively new way all in the same venture. Victoria mentioned a friend who created MyTeaPal, an app made to encourage tea drinkers to connect with each other through an online community. I would imagine that having friends with similar passions and innovative thinking can only increase the passion and hard work that goes into Victoria’s brand and business. Victoria’s work is a true inspiration, and I believe that her brand will succeed because of her ability to outreach and her passion to make sure that the trading relationship she builds with the farmers helps them financially so that they can worry less about small inconveniences while living and working in the mountain conditions.

    I will definitely be supporting Victoria’s product, and I cannot wait to see what it grows into. Her work inspires me to connect with the local textile and clothing shops in my Gujarat hometown back in India, to hopefully share some unrecognized talents with the world!

  7. I am so inspired by Victoria’s journey with her business and how she aims to share the unique qualities and rich history of pu’er tea with a broader audience. Coming from a Chinese family, this article really hits home, because my grandpa was really into pu’er tea. Every Sunday, I would watch as he sits on the soft brown carpet of our living room, and start his weekly pu’er tea ceremony. The ceremony starts with the preparation of the tea leaves. My grandpa carefully measures the leaves, using a bamboo scoop to transfer them into a warming pot. Next, he heats the water to the precise temperature needed for the specific type of tea being prepared (usually pu’er tea). As the tea steeps, he times the infusion, ensuring that the leaves release their flavors at just the right moment. Once ready, the tea is poured into a fairness pitcher to ensure an even distribution of strength and flavor among the cups. My grandpa then pours the tea into the small, handleless cups, filling them just halfway to allow me and my sisters to appreciate the tea’s aroma before letting us taste it. Victoria has been greatly impacted by her grandpa’s vision that pu’er tea will one day be consumed everywhere in the world. I remember my grandpa’s passionate face as he talks about why pu’er tea needs to be appreciated more. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll break into the tea industry as well!!

    Something I admire Victoria for is the crucial aspect of her business being sustainable sourcing. Sustainable sourcing refers to the practice of procuring goods and services in a way that ensures long-term viability and positive impacts on the environment, society, and economy. Victoria is committed to lifting tea farmers out of poverty by forming long-term trading relationships with them. This ensures that the farmers receive a stable income and that the tea is ethically sourced. In a crowded market like tea production, sustainable sourcing sets Di Lin apart. Consumers are increasingly looking for products that align with their values, such as environmental sustainability and social responsibility. By emphasizing these principles, Di Lin can attract a loyal customer base that cares about the impact of their purchases. One of the goals I have is to help workers whose job doesn’t bring them a stable income, to receive one. Reading about how Victoria has been working towards this gives me the reassurance I need to start, especially at a young age like she is.

    I’m also learning from this article through the business world’s lens as Victoria’s aspirations extend beyond the borders of China. She recognizes the potential of her tea brand, Di Lin, on the international stage. When asked about her plans for expansion, she highlights the importance of understanding different tastes and preferences in global markets. “How do you plan to navigate the different tastes and preferences in international markets compared to those in China?” she is asked. Victoria’s strategy involves leveraging international partnerships and collaborations to introduce Di Lin to new regions. This approach ensures that the brand can adapt to local preferences while maintaining the essence of Yunnan’s tea traditions.

  8. While listening to this, I was thinking of how disconnected we are from the farmers and production of we eat. I think that it is great that Victoria’s brand is bringing the consumer closer to the actual producer, as it is empowering and allows consumers to see who they are supporting. This brings a new wave of consciousness to who we support in the industry and similar industries. For example, the cacao industry is very similar to the tea industry as it’s labour-intensive, and many accounts of abuse and child labour have come out of the harvesting and production of cacao. Due to those accounts, many in the industry shift to fair trade cacao only. With consumers being more aware of the process of production, they can support businesses and brands that practice fair trade.

  9. Victoria, I deeply loved reading this article and you have truly made a positive impact so I want to start off by saying thank you.

    Reading Victoria’s personal journey and about the origin of her tea brand is truly inspiring to me. Her passion for her tea brand clearly arose from her experiences since childhood. I believe her experiences and the kind individuals around her made her realize from early on how important it is to appreciate and preserve cultural heritage and tradition. Victoria’s tea brand goes beyond making pu’er tea and others known to the world but also fosters appreciation among younger generations and makes them reflect on their own cultural heritage and traditions.

    Personally I come from a small Caribbean island. With a population of 200,000 people I learned since childhood the importance of preserving our cultural heritage and teaching younger generations our beloved traditions and practices. This article truly made me reflect on how I want to make that positive difference for my homeland as well. One of the issues arising in my homeland is preserving our language as it is slowly dying due to individuals feeling like it is not necessary to teach their children because it does not create any opportunities for them.

    One way I believe this could change other than spreading awareness through impactful voices is by using technology as a benefit to preserve my language for future generations. As a future computer scientist I hope to one day make a keyboard for my native language in order to stimulate the people of my country to practice their native language.

    Victoria made me reflect on my aspirations and how important cultural heritage is to me as well. Thank you once again!

  10. Being a high school student with mountains of homework is hard enough, but being a high school student with their own brand, is even harder. This is Victoria Fang Gao, a passionate and hard working student. She has the eyes and mind like no other. One that is imaginative and with a mindset for success. Success to her isn’t about money or fame, it’s about doing what she likes, being proud of herself, and knowing that she is making a difference to the tea farmer community.

    What makes Victoria such a smart brand owner is her fascinating motivation. Her motivation comes from her deep cultural roots and personal connections with the community. Having a start up is tough, and I relate. I’ve been in one, and unfortunately it failed as 90% of startups do. Seeing Victoria and her brand, I’m both inspired and jealous because I know that she is and will continue to be in the sucessful 10%.

    To be in the 10% is a privilege that the 90% may not ever experience, and Victoria is definitely on the right track to experience that. What is beautiful about her story is how she views tea. Tea has become an essential part of her life. As she says “a cup of tea washes away all the fatigue like magic.” Tea, for Victoria, is a source of inspiration and medium for storytelling. This reminds me that success stems from passion and deep understanding of one’s product and consumers. Perhaps we all need a bit of tea to be as passionate and motivated as her (joking).

    “Buying a brand is like opening a book; only a good story can keep the readers coming back and back again” are the wise words from Victoria. When I read those words, my eyes and mind felt a shock wave. No wonder why she can become so successful because she knows how to tell a story–not only the story of her brand but the story of tea itself.

    Victoria’s journey has become one of my favorite entrepreneur story. Her ability to speak with passion and purpose shows the authenticity she obtains. I look up to her as an entrepreneur myself and hope to be just as successful and well-spoken as her. Victoria, I wish you luck with high school and your brand.

  11. Reading this article was deeply inspiring. Often we think of businesses as huge corporate powers created and fueled by the sole purpose of profit and money. Victoria’s story highlights the organic growth of a company fueled by a passion and the urge to improve society. She saw the underappreciation of tea farmers and made it her mission to help fix this. What is most impactful is that she did this personally, meeting with the farmers, harvesting tea herself, and meticulously hand-drawing the packaging for her brand. This personal connection shows us the core reason people create brands and products: to make life better for others. It must be a magnificent experience to see the change you are delivering!
    Additionally, Victoria’s story is a representation of the steps and struggles a brand takes. She started small, with only a club at school, and now is looking to open up her own store! Thank you, Victoria, for being an inspiration to all high school students, and showing us that age doesn’t matter, as long as you have a passion and a goal. This journey is also a reminder for everyone about the passion required in a business, and how starting simple – no matter the age – can take you really far! Wishing you the best of luck Victoria 🙂

  12. Modern day consumerism has made it easy to disconnect the products we purchase from their place of origin. When I enter a grocery store, I fall into a routine of scanning shelves for familiar names and swiping them off their ledges, blissfully ignorant of the product’s journey onto the store’s shelves. Likewise, when I purchase tea, whether in satchels or in bottles, I don’t think about the tea farmers who spent months cultivating the leaves, I think of going home and enjoying the refreshing beverage. This interview has provided me with a much needed reality check.

    Victoria’s mission to alleviate the financial struggles of tea farmers is truly commendable. Like she said, there are too many good teas in the world, and too many poor tea farmers. While not surprising, the unfortunate truth is that it’s hard for small farmers to find a stable customer base in such a saturated market, especially in a country like China, where large corporations dominate the tea market and the popularity of imported tea continues to rise. Victoria’s initiative, through sustainable sourcing, not only produces high quality tea, but also addresses socio-economic challenges faced by those at the very foundation of tea production. By directly partnering with tea farmers, Victoria’s business is able to bypass typical supply chain inefficiencies that are often disproportionately detrimental to small farmers.

    For me, Victoria’s business model exemplifies how young entrepreneurs can promote positive changes in challenging industries. Her personal, deep-rooted connection to tea, as well as her drive to improve the livelihoods of those she works with, truly humanizes her whole business, and her passion permeates through the screen. In a world where the convenience of shopping for familiar brands has overshadowed the stories behind the goods we purchase, Victoria has found a middleground. Every cup of her tea tells the story of a farmer; it provides insight into a distinct culture. As someone who consumes more tea than water on a daily basis, I wish Victoria all the best in building a more sustainable and equitable future in the tea industry.

  13. I was born in Fujian, which is the largest tea-producing region in China that Victoria mentions in her podcast. Although I immigrated to the U.S. with my parents when I was only 4 years old, I also have profound interests and enthusiasm for tea and tea culture. Since I was a little kid, I often see my parents and grandparents drink black tea, or green tea on a daily basis. If coffee is the most popular drink for Americans, then tea is definitely the most popular drink for ordinary Chinese people. As a Gen-Z teenager, I personally like green tea with a little bit of cane sugar or honey. It kind of tastes like Arizona Green Tea that American people often can buy in a supermarket, but much better because I use good quality tea leaves that my grandparents bought in their hometown in China.

    Even if some people may believe that tea culture has an elder identity and that not many young people appreciate “the magic leaf”, in my opinion, tea culture has no “age discrimination”. In fact, the younger Chinese generation consumes a large quantity of tea annually. It is said that young consumers have become one of the largest consumer groups of tea in China by drinking milk tea. China’s milk tea industry has experienced rapid growth in the past decade and many Chinese people believe that the milk tea market will continue to expand in both China and some foreign countries in the next decade. When walking on a street in China, we often see many young people holding a cup of milk tea in their hands. Chinese milk tea is made by adding sugar, fruits, milk, creams, etc in boiled tea water. I am personally a big fan of Chinese milk tea and cannot resist the aroma of tea and the taste of sweetness. There are many different brands of franchised milk tea stores in almost every city in China now. Some brands are mediocre, while others are very popular with long queues of people waiting for tea drinks outside the stores. My favorite Chinese milk tea franchise is Molly Tea. Molly Tea is known for selling Jasmine green tea with sugar and cream. I am very lucky that I am able to buy it in the Chinatown of New York City. Every time, I have to wait in line for at least 30 minutes for my favorite drink. The reason why Molly Tea is so popular among young people in both the U.S. and China is not because of the fruits or sweeteners added to the tea, but is because of the top-quality green tea used in the drink. From the booming milk tea industry, we cannot deny the fact that today’s young generation, especially Gen-Z, actually know how to appreciate tea very well and they love to embrace tea culture. As a milk tea consumer, I often find sellers spending a lot of time and energy on designing milk tea cups and packing bags. The designs of milk tea paper cups and packages also reflect sellers’ personal understandings and preference of tea culture, which also invoke buyers’ interest in tea culture. I have seen on social media platforms that some consumers continue to buy certain brands of milk tea only to collect their favorite milk tea paper cups or packing bags. Therefore, we can conclude that tea culture has no “age discrimination” because people are naturally attracted to beautiful things and culture.

    The most touching part of Victoria’s story is that “sustaining sourcing” is the most important part of her business mission. This means that Victoria wants to build up a sustaining relationship with tea farmers from remote and impoverished mountainous areas and sell the teas of those farmers through her own brand to help those poor tea farmers in remote mountain areas to live a better life. From Victoria’s story, we know that she lives in a family that is very familiar with Chinese tea culture. She ensures the quality of her own brand of tea even by picking tea leaves by herself and collecting every detail of her product from tea farmers. The most expensive and top-quality tea sold in China is organic tea from remote mountainous areas without environmental pollution. As we all know, while China has become the world leading industrial and manufacturing country, some areas have air and/or water pollution problems. Even if tea farmers adopt a fully organic way to grow tea, tea leaves may have chemicals that are harmful to the human body due to environmental pollution. Victoria’s brand only sells teas from remote mountainous areas, where it has little contact with the outside world. Her business mission, “helping to lift tea farmers out of poverty by forming a long-term trading relationship with them”, also proves that her brand is selling top-quality green tea growing in a remote area without environmental pollution. Her business mission “sustaining sourcing ” ensures her brand and products are both sustainable and high quality, which is very important to her brand.

    Lastly, I want to tell Victoria that she could try other sales channels, such as selling her products on popular social media platforms, like Douyin (Chinese version TikTok), Wechat, etc. Live streaming sales is currently the most popular e-commerce sales channel in China. It has the advantages of low sale costs and large audience and customer bases. It would be beneficial to make videos, promoting her products on social media platforms.

  14. Dear Victoria,

    I had the pleasure of reading your inspiring story with Di Lin tea on the “Future of the Business World” podcast, and I’m absolutely captivated by how your passions and experiences have brewed into such a unique and amazing brand! Your dedication to blending traditional Pu’er tea culture with a modern entrepreneurial spirit is a heartfelt story of cultural preservation and personal passion, which makes it so appealing and authentic.

    I’m really inspired by your focus on sustainable sourcing! This approach is a win-win for everyone! It supports Yunnan’s tea farmers and ensures the production of high-quality tea with a deeper connection between the consumer and the origin of their purchase. This is so important in today’s market, where consumers are really starting to think about the ethical implications of their choices.

    Your remark about tea’s “elder identity” and the challenge of making it appealing to younger generations really got me thinking. I’m really excited to hear how you plan to engage young people and transform this perception! As someone interested in sustainable business practices, I’m really excited to see how modern marketing strategies could be integrated into your business model to attract a younger demographic without losing the essence of traditional tea culture.

    If possible, I’d love to hear more about how you’ve managed to strike that tricky balance between preserving traditional methods and innovating in a way that really captures the attention of a broader, younger audience! Also, I’d love to hear about your biggest challenges in aligning your brand with sustainable practices and how you’ve overcome them!

    I’m really excited to hear your insights and wish you all the best with Di Lin!

    Best of Luck with Your Tea Business!
    Siqi Hu

  15. Despite sharing a similar heritage to the author–both of my parents were born and raised in China–I’ve never been particularly invested in tea of any kind. In fact, my entire household doesn’t drink tea very often, or even at all, preferring beverages such as juice, water, or coffee. In the past, I’ve sampled some tea at restaurants and events, hoping to feel closer to my own lineage. Unfortunately, I found it too bitter for my preference, and accepted that enjoying tea wouldn’t be something I’d share with my Chinese ancestors. Tea simply… wasn’t my cup of tea. Nonetheless, this podcast caught my eye and stirred my curiosity. As I listened to the podcast, I felt as though I was seeing another face of my family’s tradition that I hadn’t acknowledged before.
    At first, after hearing about Victoria’s plan, I started to formulate doubts. Charles Darwin’s famous theory of natural selection states: The organisms that are better adapted to their environment are more likely to survive and pass on their genes to future generations. Simply put, the strong survive while the weak perish. How does this relate to tea businesses? I began to wonder, while Victoria’s objective of helping smaller and more unknown tea businesses thrive is admirable, is it the most effective use of her resources? Although the businesses–as illustrated in the podcast–don’t have the means for widespread advertisement, perhaps that’s a sign that they weren’t meant to thrive.
    However, after listening further, I was swayed by Victoria’s reasoning. The business exchange Victoria describes is beneficial to both parties, which is an excellent reason to continue this business endeavor using sustainable sourcing. I realized it wasn’t about who’s stronger than who, but that we’re stronger moving forward together, everyone contributing their own strengths. While the tea farmers are at a disadvantage with advertising, quality products with Victoria’s assistance could start an exceptional business together. Whilst they aren’t currently well-known by the world, the tea farmers’ role in her plan is key to a successful endeavor. Perhaps, one day, pu’er tea really will cover every part of the world.

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