UH degree: BBA ’03 in finance Mānoa
Hobbies: Basketball, travel, stocks
Fantasy career: Pro basketball player
Actual career: Tea merchant
Favorite tea: The Dragon Well, a green tea from China, and Cold Mountain Oolong from Taiwan
Tip for tea newbies: Find something you like and drink it often. Don’t add milk and sugar (unless you’re supposed to). Eventually your tastes will expand.
Ervin Gong celebrated graduation with an extended trip to Asia. His wanderings led him to Beijing, where he spent a year studying Mandarin and falling in love…with tea.
“My family is Chinese, so we always had tea in the house, but I really liked the tea shops in China and started to appreciate the many different varieties,” he says.
Back in Hawaiʻi, he began importing tea from Japan, China, India and South Africa, selling it wholesale and direct to customers. Once or twice a year he travels to tea farms and factories abroad to taste and buy tea.
In February 2011 Gong fulfilled a long-time dream, opening The Tea Farm Cafe in Mōʻiliʻili. The comfortable yet elegant cafe boasts nearly 50 types of green, black, white, pu-erh, herbal and blended teas for customers to see, sniff, sample and buy. It also offers free wifi, sandwiches and even a book swap. “I’ve always studied at Starbucks, so I tried to have a place that is comfortable for students,” he says.
Managing business online and in the cafe keeps Gong busy, but luckily his favorite teas both keep him going and help him relax. “I work twice as hard because I have to,” says the 29-year-old entrepreneur, smiling as he sips his tea.