Expat Interview: All the Tea in Taiwan

Today we meet Austin Yoder. Austin was originally born in the United States, but as a result of his father’s job he grew up as a Third Culture Kid, traveling throughout Asia. He love for the East didn’t die when he returned back to the U.S. and, after completing his degree his itchy feet got the better of him and he set off on new adventures. Here Austin describes his life in Asia’s major cities and reveals how his experience as an expat ultimately developed into an extremely interesting business venture.

You are somewhat of a serial expat. Can you please tell us a little about your background. Where are you originally from and how did your expat experience come about?

I was born in New York, but have lived an expat life since I was eight years old. My father worked for a multi-national insurance company when I was young, so we lived in Asia for most of my formative years. That early exposure to different cultures, people, and foods has been the biggest single influencer in the shape of my life, and is the main reason I now feel most at home when I’m on the road, living abroad. I went to school in international schools with all of the other expatriate children and was fortunate enough to travel around through Asia on family vacations. I went back to the US for university, and though I loved my US university experience, I missed the international lifestyle. While in University, I studied abroad in both China and Taiwan in an effort to get back overseas, and moved to Taiwan to begin my expat life anew as soon as I was able to.

You have lived in Hong Kong, Jakarta, the U.S. and now Taipei, which did you like the most and why?

Hong Kong, Jakarta, and Taipei are very different cities, so in a sense it’s not fair to say that I like one better than the other. Hong Kong is an amazing international city. Jakarta, though still developing, is full of lush jungle, and has one of the best international schools in South East Asia. I’ve travelled to 25 countries, and Taipei has some of the warmest, most hospitable people I’ve met anywhere. I love Chinese food, and unique delicacies like stinky tofu and fried chicken buttocks make Taipei one of the most interesting culinary cities I’ve ever been in. I’m living in Taipei at the moment, and see myself living here for the foreseeable future. It’s a very comfortable city to live in, and is located conveniently close to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Seoul, Tokyo, and most other major Asian hub cities. The cost of living here is low, and the people, food, tea, and the culture in Taiwan are simply amazing.

Which did you like the least?

Again, I don’t think it’s quite fair to compare three cities, which are so different to each other – it’s sort of like comparing apples and oranges. I’ve enjoyed all of the cities that I’ve lived in during my tenure as an expat.

What are the three biggest lessons you have learned from your expat life?

The biggest lesson I’ve learned as an expat relates to food, and your attitude towards living in a new environment.

Food: Reward Yourself, and Your Family for Being Adventurous

When I was growing up in Hong Kong, my parents invented a game to incentivize us to try new foods, and be adventurous. Hong Kong is home to many Cantonese, some of the most adventurous eaters in all of China, and so is also home to some of the funkiest, wildest, most bizarre foods in the world. The game worked like this: for every new fruit, or vegetable that we tried, we got a tally mark on a whiteboard that hung on our kitchen wall. When we got to ten tally marks, they would give us 100 Hong Kong Dollars. My brother and I would usually blow this money on candy or CDs (yes, CDs were still the way to get music at that time), but the point is that we were rewarded for being adventurous. As a kid living overseas, I tried hairy fruits, spiky vegetables, and smelly, slimy things that I would never have ordinarily eaten. Growing up, I was always the most adventurous eater in my group of friends. At present, my local Taiwanese friends are always impressed by the fact that I genuinely enjoy eating Taiwanese foods like stinky tofu, steamed pigs blood, and fried chicken buttocks. Though these foods sound strange to some, I am able to immediately relate to locals and make friends with them easily whenever we get talking about food, which is quite often. The lesson of the story? It pays dividends over the course of your life, and your family’s life to internalize an adventurous, curious attitude about life in a foreign country.

If you reward yourself, and your family now for being adventurous when it comes to food, you’ll all be rewarded with long lasting friendships with the locals in whichever country you decide to live in.

What advice would you give to someone who was relocating to an overseas country for the first time?

Make up your own version of the game that my parents invented to help my brother and I become adventurous eaters. If you’re an expat with children, are a young expat couple, or a single expat living abroad, you will have infinitely more fun in your new environment when you have positive incentive to be curious.

While living in Taipei you started an usual business. Please tell us what you do and describe how that came about?

I am in the best business in the entire world. I get to travel around and look at beautiful mountainous scenery, constantly seek out experiences that delight and surprise me, and meet with people from all walks of life – from farmers to massive international exporters. That business is, of course, the business of tea. The first time I was living in Taipei, while I was studying abroad in university, a Korean friend of mine introduced me to Taiwanese tea: loose leaf oolong teas (wulong teas), red teas, pu-erh teas etc. I completely fell in love with tea in Taiwan when I tasted a Muzha Tie Guan Yin oolong tea whose flavor reminded me of strawberry hookah. I was extremely surprised by the experience, and spent my entire summer, and all of my student scholarship money buying and tasting as much tea as I possibly could. Tea has been an important part of my life for many years now, and the goal of my company Tearroir is to introduce premium loose leaf Asian teas to expats and westerners who are serious about wine. Though we are largely a business to consumer operation, we work with a select number of businesses as wholesale partners, as well.

I met my business partner David, an expat from Australia living in Taipei with his family, in a tea appreciation class in Taipei City. When I discovered that he was passionate about both wine and tea, we realized that wine people should also be tea people. After all, many of the same factors that influence the quality of an excellent wine also influence the quality of an excellent tea: the mineral content in the soil the grape, or leaf, is grown in, the altitude at which they are grown, and the season and year (vintage) when they are picked. The tearroir™ of tea is just as important as the terroir of wine. The tea industry has been growing at an amazing clip, and we believe that most serious wine drinkers are beginning to pay attention to premium teas. So, we are reviewing, rating, and educating the wine world about premium loose leaf tea. We are the wine lover’s guide to tea.

What key challenges did you face when trying to establish a tea start up?

Though it hasn’t all been sugar and spice, Tearroir has had a surprisingly easy time getting off the ground in Taipei. Regulations for startup companies in Taipei are not overbearing at all, and corporate tax is only 17%. The Taiwanese government is actively trying to promote the island of Taiwan as an international destination, and a leader in international business and scholarly research, so we have been met with open arms everywhere we go. It only takes about a month to incorporate a business here in Taiwan, and as I said before – Taiwan is home to some of the most friendly and hospitable people I’ve met anywhere in the world.

What three top tips can you offer to expatriates who are considering starting their own business?

  1. Give serious thought to the most strategic place to incorporate your business. If local press and media will be important for your success, you should probably incorporate in the country in which you are doing business. Or at the very least open a branch office there.
  2. If your target customer base is overseas and you’re a location-independent company (online company, or trading company), you might want to think about incorporating in either Hong Kong, or Singapore. Both countries make it extremely easy to incorporate a business, and most revenues earned outside of the country are tax exempt.
  3. Different strategies will work best for you depending on your business objectives, and it’s important to think through your entire plan before you choose where to incorporate (and speak to a lawyer).

What experiences from your time as an expatriate have been most helpful in assisting you with your venture?

If I hadn’t grown up in an adventurous expat family, I would certainly not have been able to accomplish half of what I’ve been able to accomplish with Tearroir so far. If you are an expatriate entrepreneur, or are thinking about beginning your own venture while living abroad, it is extremely important to maintain a spirit of adventure. There will be unanticipated setbacks, there may be language barriers, sometimes there will be cultural differences between you and people you work with while living overseas. When you live overseas, everything is an adventure. I’m fortunate that Taiwan goes out of its way to encourage entrepreneurship and international cooperation within the foreign community. It always helps to have local friends who can help you to understand the culture and regulations of the country you’re living in, particularly if you don’t speak the language fluently. Make as many local friends as you can, make a sincere effort to appreciate and respect their culture, and you will be surprised by how many doors open for you in unexpected places.

What’s next for your venture?

We’re working at present on two massive undertakings. We’re going to write the definitive English language guide to tea estates in Taiwan, and we are also working on a documentary series to introduce Oolong tea (wulong tea) to a broad international audience. There are many documentaries and television shows out there at present that explore wine in different local environments, and we intend to be the first people to produce a similar series exploring the world of tea. We will start by introducing the tea of Taiwan, and move on to introduce teas in different countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Japan, and Korea.

A last thought on entrepreneurship as an expat:

The people you work with, and their outlook on life have a significant impact on your company’s ability to thrive in a new environment. Tearroir would not have been able to achieve success of any measure if both of the founders were not dedicated to living an expatriate lifestyle. I feel incredibly fortunate to be working with a partner whose vision, lifestyle, experience, and passion are a constant inspiration to me. We are able to push each other to explore new opportunities in challenging environments, and as such, business is always exciting and fresh. And if any expats out there have been thinking about moving out to Taiwan, or have questions about Taiwan, I’d be more than happy to answer any questions I can. They can get in touch with me at austin@tearroir.com.

Author: ExpatInfoDesk