How Quitting Her Job and Traveling the World Led to Jennifer Odera’s T&Co.
Sometimes, bravery looks like doing the unexpected thing; other times, bravery can mean simply asking the unexpected question — and answering it honestly.
Jennifer Odera has done both. After working her way up in the hospitality industry all over the world, she hit a crossroads. Was she willing to postpone her dreams of becoming an entrepreneur? Or would she dive into the hard work of making it happen and give it a shot? Thankfully, she chose the latter and we get to reap the reward through her company, T&Co.
Making it easy for you to sit and ponder your own dreams and crossroads, Jennifer’s subscription-based service meticulously sources the best teas from around the globe and sends them to you for savoring each month. If tea has never been, well, your cup, then T&Co. exists to help you discover the best blends yet to woo your palate.
We’re chatting more with Jennifer and her adventures sipping and business-building, below:
Darling: Why tea? What led to the start of T&Co.?
Jennifer: I reached a point in my career where I started to question whether my hospitality path was really fulfilling me, and as I looked further up my career track and consulted the advice of my mentors I began to explore the idea of not waiting until retirement to finally run my own business.
So I quit my job, took a year off and decided to travel and rediscover my passion. While I was in India, I was deeply inspired by the entrepreneurial culture and while on a train back from Varanasi, an immensely overwhelming experience, a simple cup of tea from a chaiwala (a person who prepares, sells and serves milk tea) reinvigorated me and it suddenly became clear that if I was going to be an entrepreneur, then I should start with what I know and love — tea.
DM: The focus of the January T&Co. box is “the culture of being mindful.” Can you tell us what that means to you and how you cultivate mindfulness in your personal and professional life?
Jennifer: Mindfulness to me is really all about prioritizing being present and taking time to pause and appreciate life. It is the conscious practice of spending time on your own, or if you are fortunate enough to find a moment in the day to share with someone you enjoy, to recalibrate and refresh yourself.
DM: How does tea fit into your wellness routine, and what advice would you give to others who want to commit more to self-care this year?
Jennifer: Tea fits into my wellness routine as I’ve incorporated it into my work schedule replacing the proverbial coffee break. I take 10 minutes at some point between 10:30 and 11am to fix myself a cup and listen to music (about one or two songs, tops). Walking away from my workspace and preparing the tea as I let the kettle boil is very calming and creates anticipation. So, when I return to my desk and sip on my tea, my short jam session re-energizes me.
Then again between 2:30 and 4pm when the afternoon slump hits, I take 15 minutes to have some tea with a little snack and either have a short chat and laugh with someone, (this may be a colleague, or I’ll call up a friend) or I’ll read some poetry or write out my daily list of three things I’m grateful for.
DM: Your background in the hospitality industry has taken you all over the world. How has tea made you feel at home in the different countries you’ve lived in?
Jennifer: I hadn’t realized that tea has been part of my lifestyle everywhere I have lived (Kenya, England, France, Portugal, Qatar, Switzerland) until I moved to America actually. It has manifested in different ways apart from being a natural reminder of home and my family tradition (Kenya, where I’m originally from is one of the largest exporters of tea in the world, so I grew up going to lunch and tea with my extended family every Sunday throughout my childhood).
It’s been an indulgence, a social lubricant, my respite, part of cultural assimilation, etc. The underlying current is that tea has been an open invitation to easily connect to a community and culture bigger than myself, and the more I travel the more I see how it is a unique expression of local lifestyle and the importance of taking time to enjoy the day.
…tea has been an open invitation to easily connect to a community and culture bigger than myself…
DM: In what ways has your hospitality and traveling experience shaped your approach to starting a business in the food and wellness industries?
Jennifer: Hospitality has given me a unique respect for sourcing and providing good quality tea and offering all the elements of a tea experience. Travel inspires me to share the culture and traditions that surround the origins of tea in order to make it simple for people to encounter a foreign experience and easily discover their own tea preferences.
DM: What would you go back and do differently (if anything) when it comes to your business?
Jennifer: Starting T&Co. has been a labor of love, if you asked me this question in January of 2016 I would have given you a list of things I would have wanted to change or do differently, but now looking back, I realize the value of iterating and improving based on customer feedback. I have learned so much this past year and T&Co. continues to get better, so I wouldn’t change a thing.
DM: Any teas you’d recommend for coffee drinkers trying to cut down or kick the habit in 2017?
Jennifer: I think coffee and tea are each very unique and don’t think one can ever fully replace the other. So, I’d start by acknowledging that and then suggest a few teas that may satiate the cravings of particular coffee drinks, as some tea blends and tisanes have similar tasting notes. Roasted chicory root, yaupon or maté taste most like filtered coffee, while our mocha nut maté with hot milk and sugar is reminiscent of a hazelnut latte.
DM: Speak to the woman who thinks drinking tea tastes like hot water 😉 Is there a wrong and a right way to prepare tea so that it’s most flavorful?
Jennifer: There are so many different types of tea, yet most people only know of two: black and green tea, when there are at least five different tea varieties in addition to herbal tea/tisanes. These are: white, green, oolong, black and pu-erhs (dark). Within these varieties, much like wine, the same teas from different growing regions taste different and there are also several different tea blends. Additionally, teas can also be scented and/or flavored with fruit, herbs and flavorings resulting in hundreds of distinct brews of tea. So I genuinely think it’s virtually impossible not to find a tea you would love.
There is a wrong way to prepare tea and that is by brewing it too long and using the wrong water temperature, which happens in a surprising number of food outlets. So we provide a tea guide outlining basic guidelines of how to store and prepare the different types of tea.
DM: What would we be surprised to know about you?
Jennifer: That I am not anti-coffee! Because I eat, sleep, drink, talk tea all day so many people assume I would never touch coffee, let alone drink it. I’ve found coffee to be the dirty C word that is never to be mentioned in the tea industry at conventions and events, but I don’t take such an opposing view to it.
I don’t drink it every day as I am careful not to be “fueled” by it, but I respect the complexity of the production process and always enjoy a well-brewed mug of fine bean variety.
To learn more about T&Co., check out their subscription plans below or over on their website, HERE.
T & Me – $19 per month
(available for one-time purchase or a 3-6 month subscription)
T & You – $27 per month
(available for one-time purchase or a 3-6 month subscription)
T & Us – $29 per month
T & Friends – $59 per month
Are you a tea drinker, coffee drinker, or both?
Images via T&Co