Shift Notes by Michael Ortiz

Miami tea lovers that know good tea, know Jo Jo Tea

REAL STORIES ABOUT KITCHEN REALITIES

 

Shift Notes is a digital space on The Hungry Post’s platform for hospitality professionals to vent and speak their truth about the past, present and future of our industry. It’s unfiltered and real. So far we’ve heard from Chef Michael BeltranChef Michelle Bernstein and Larry Carrino. Next up is Mike Ortiz.

 

We’ve known Mike Ortiz, creator and founder of JoJo Tea since 2013. Mike aka Jojo is Miami’s local pioneer when it comes to tea. It’s been seven years since we first met and we have a clear memory sitting at Mike’s house surrounded by boxes and boxes of tea. Those days felt like happier times in our lives. We were both starting something new, we were younger and ready for whatever would hit us. Since then Mike has grown his company. You can find the JoJo Tea name in many menus throughout Miami restaurants. Mike also has a tea room for those who want to do a tea tasting sort of the same way you can do a wine tasting. No hangover though. Living in times of uncertainty, everyone is continuously trying to reinvent themselves. Mike included
A few weeks ago I was asked to write some notes for The Hungry Post. How is coronavirus affecting me and my business?

I didn’t even know where to begin, so I put the project on some shelf in the back of my mind, trusting that it would come together at some point. There was just so much going on. JoJo Tea is moving its headquarters. A whole variety of reasons makes it so that we want to be out of there by June 15. Our website has always been something of a secondary focus and all of a sudden, it’s practically our only source of revenue. I’ve got about 70 products up there. And now I am learning the importance of formatting for SEO, something that I glossed over in the hurry of getting a website up. We’re working out agreements with a copacker. We’re adjusting our business plan. . . We’re changing the whole theory.

There’s so much to do, on so many different fronts, that it’s really rare and difficult to have a moment to reflect. Worse, it hurts to reflect.

 I remember starting JoJo in 2011. I remember selling tea to my friends. I remember my first restaurant account, Chocolate Fashion. I remember the adventures of doing as much as I could to really come to know and understand the Miami restaurant industry. Over all of those years, the best memories all happened at restaurants. From a little pop up in Coral Gables called Eating House to a legendary home/fortress in Manhattan called the Beard House, I remember countless flashes of perfect joy surrounded by clanging silverware and clinking cups and music and the lady at the bar who looks just like Anne Coulter talking about how misunderstood Anne Coulter is as my knife clips off the tail of a perfectly cooked shrimp over curried corn at Ghee.

At Ariete, as Celia’s voice fades away, only to be followed by Q-tip’s as I carefully sip a bone marrow wood-roasted oyster out of its shell. At Kaido as clarified milk punches sit under a blimp made of butterfly knives and make me feel like a top Singaporean gangster, just off of Miami Avenue. Itamae, Pinch, Madruga, Zak The Baker, and all of Michael Schwartz’s spots, and our miraculous coffee shops, and so many more, they all hold so many moments of perfect joy. Well, they all held so many of those moments, before COVID.

I’m afraid that my report is quite sad! Not only for my business. It’s something much more difficult than that. We used to do tastings at our Small Tea room. There were only six seats, and seatings were $45 per spot. Our tea room was on the third floor of our nondescript medical building. In other words, nobody walked into that door that hadn’t clearly decided to visit us and learn about tea. Their commitment and enthusiasm gave me the space to give a lesson in tea as deep as they were willing to go. Some guests focused on history, some on farming, others on the processing of the leaves once they’ve been plucked, and all of their interests converged at the moment of the sip. They’d look at each other, amazed at the bursts of aromas and flavors and aftertastes that they had never experienced before. We would taste eight teas, one from every major category, and then we’d all be happy and go home.

I think there’s an unspoken religion in the hospitality industry. Whether it’s a good day or it’s absolute shit, there is an aspiration towards selflessness. It’s amazing. There’s an unspoken rule about doing whatever you can to give your guests unforgettable experiences, even if it costs your peace of mind for the night. Within this religion of hospitality, there are mystics, countless alchemists that dedicate every fiber of their being to helping you forget your problems and leave in a better mood than you arrived in. And they are all losing practice.

We’ll continue to develop the website. We’ll continue figuring out the best solutions for co-packing, and we’ll prepare for our move.

But something is missing. In the middle of March, the music stopped. At some point, of course, it will creep back on. But the dance was so good before it cut off that it’s just hard to feel like it will ever be the same.