How To Plan A Better Tea Program For Your Coffee Shop Business

The idea of coffee as a “specialty” beverage is a driving force of many coffee shops today: serving beverages that are crafted with knowledge and care from quality ingredients, served to a customers who appreciate what they’re getting.

The point, too, of specialty beverages is often to highlight places of origin: the lands and people who grow and tend the plants that find their way into our cups. We have begun to tell the story of coffee well and clearly, and with an emphasis on the human element that makes this specialty focus possible.

Additionally, when “craft” and “artisan” are descriptors, a certain expectation of what the experience will be follows. Specialty beverages are very much about an experience:

  • the care with which the beverage is prepared and presented
  • the environment in which it is consumed
  • the knowledge with which it is shared

These pieces play out through sensory details: when a latte is presented to a customer with an artistically beautiful pour, a glossy surface and richly-colored crema, this presentation reinforces that many elements have combined to make one perfect drink. This presentation emphasizes that the ingredients are high quality, the barista was skilled, and that the drink is worth one’s time and attention.

But not every customer is a coffee drinker, and it is important for a coffee business to offer coffee alternatives. For most shops, tea is an obvious place to turn. However, tea is often an afterthought, included on the menu as something a shop “has” to have, but not prepared with nearly the same attention to the details and story the plant has to offer. Little to no barista training around tea and tea preparation reinforces the idea that tea is second-rate. Adding insult to injury, I’ve seen too many shops take the easy route and present customers with a tea bag and some hot water and very little else.

Think about that for a moment: we don’t give customers ground beans and water and expect them to make their own coffee. Why would we do the equivalent with tea, serving it before it’s properly steeped and ready to drink, paying no attention to the details of preparation and presentation? 

If you have cultivated a customer base that appreciates good coffee, a customer base that understands and asks for the details that put the specialty in specialty beverage, you have a customer base prepared to understand and appreciate quality tea.

It’s so easy to pay attention to the “craft” and “artisan” details I mentioned before when serving high-quality tea. Here are a few things to consider when planning tea service for your coffee shop business:

  1. Try loose leaves, not tea bags.

    Using loose tea leaves allows both baristas and customers to pay attention to and appreciate the visual and aromatic qualities of the tea.

  2. Use simple serveware.

    Clear glass or white porcelain lets the vivid colors of the infusion to shine.  In fact, the simpler the better—you really only need one vessel for steeping the leaves, and one vessel to pour the tea into when it’s done brewing.

  3. Pay attention to the same variables

    you use for coffee when you’re making tea:-  time of brewing—from 2-5 minutes, depending on the tea
    –  temperature—from 180F to 205, depending on the tea
    –  ratio of water to product—1Tbsp (4-5g) tea leaves to 8oz of waterAll three must work together in unison for a balanced, delicious cup.

  4. Serve the leaves alongside the tea.

    Serious tea drinkers want to see the leaves! Serving customers the infused leaves alongside the steeped tea is like latte art—it emphasizes that good tea involves all the senses. You’ll also encourage your customer to steep the leaves again and appreciate the nuances in each changing infusion.

It’s not exaggerating to say that the story of tea is the story of humankind, but that’s far beyond the scope of this post! So, I will just point out that tea is, after all, the second-most consumed beverage in the world (behind water) with a history more than 5,000 years old. Telling this history and story through a focused, careful tea program is an easy, yet necessary, way to grow your customer base and usher the palates of coffee drinkers and non-coffee drinkers alike into a new, exciting world.

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