How Coffee Houses Can Get Tea Right

by Jason on January 10, 2011

in Uncategorized

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It’s not that I’m anti- coffee, I’m just pro- tea.

With the dawn of a new year come new year resolutions. Even if we hesitate to call them that, many of us will try to do differently and improve our lives. This is true of coffee drinkers who plan to give up or reduce their java intake. Sadly many will stumble back into their rut. But it’s not their fault.

It’s just too quick and easy to get coffee compared to tea. And the tea that is offered in these places does not fall in the ranks of “good” tea.

So how could coffee houses better cater to tea drinkers? If Starbucks is making an effort to offer better tea, couldn’t your nearby coffee castle do the same? We tea drinkers may be in the minority, but our ranks are growing faster than the coffee population.

Suggestions for coffee houses that want to do tea better:

  1. Offer real selection. Some people will crave pomegranate-cranberry-froo-froo-vanilla chai, and some will want a simple cup of sublime da hong pao. Go beyond tea bags to loose teas. Allow tea drinkers’ palates to grow within your store.
  2. Reusable ceramic cup- no waxy smell

    Ditch the paper cups. How many times have tea drinkers ordered tea only to have the cup delivered and remove the lid to inhale the sumptuous aromas of- crayons and birthday candles. That waxy, papery smell. Don’t use plastic cups and think you’re anyone a favor either. There are enough of those ceramic, paper-cup-look-alikes that you could sell one and offer some kind of frequent drinker program with it.

  3. Stop making everything smell like coffee. I know this is a tough one. Every fiber in your being says: “good  coffee aroma sells more cups.” Fine- at least allow for some air circulation so that I can smell my tea, and you can sell me another cup.
  4. Better yet, allow people to steep their own tea. Give them the tea, a steeping tool (a paper filter bag is a start), and access to hot (and warm) water. There is more personal preference and preparation variation in teas than coffee. Think Goldilocks- you have to make allowance for Papa Bear drinkers (very strong), Mama Bear (very weak) and Baby Bear (just right).
  5. Educate staff and customers. Even at tea houses, I encounter servers who act as if they have never drunk the tea they serve. They can neither enjoy it themselves, nor inspire tea-joy in others. Don’t let this happen in your local beanery.

If a coffee house can get close to doing tea better, it will likely develop fiercely loyal customers. And when the seismic shift towards tea occurs, they won’t notice short lines or empty tables.

Walker Tea Review- a tea blog with tea reviews and tea tastings. Operated by Jason Walker.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

latteteadah January 10, 2011 at 23:48

I agree with you on one point, about educating baristas and customers on the whys and hows of tea – that’s something the coffee places could improve on to draw customer loyalty. Tea houses could use some improvement in that area in some cases as well (thinking Teavana, as an example.)
But either I’m spoiled with good choices in my area or there’s a true wave of change happening, because I haven’t yet gone into a coffee place that also sold tea that didn’t at least have an educated selection to choose from. Most places market themselves as “coffee and tea” – and even though tea isn’t primarily what they serve, the sourcing of their offerings shows there’s at least someone knowledgeable behind the scenes. You may not get a question answered right away from the bar staff if you’re not sure about what you want, but when I see oolongs and puerhs being offered with the usual fruity blacks and greens, there’s hope that that will change! Even chains like Caribou Coffee have improved their sourcing and selection in the past year with Ti Kyan Yin (marketing or truth – hard to say?).
Not sure where steeping is a problem for coffee shop customers either unless they’re serving hot tea post-prep. Usually just the tea lattes or iced varieties that they don’t serve with the sachet they’ve used – and that’s only because most places use tea syrups for those drinks. Starbucks leaves the bags in the cup, you can remove them or leave them in, for example.
But you do raise an interesting topic – definite food for thought! If a shop decides to dual-specialize in tea as well as coffee, they should jump in with both feet and consider the tea-drinking crowd!

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