Monday, August 23, 2010

Loose Tea in Coffee Shops

Face it...the U.S. has more of a coffee culture than a tea culture. And I love coffee shops, both as a great place to work when I am self-employed, and also as a hang-out space, and a community gathering space and place to host events. But that said, some coffee shops serve better tea than others.

An example of how to serve great tea in a coffee shop:

This example is from Barriques in Madison, WI, at the location on W. Washington, just SW of the capital. This is a great coffee shop (read my review on Yelp). Note my cell phone--yes, I really do time my steepings when I write reviews.

This setup is great. What are the ingredients?

  • Top-notch loose tea - in this case, Rishi Tea. The pictured cup above is an Iron Goddess of Mercy (medium roasted) from Nantou, Taiwan; Barriques has quite a selection of Rishi, I might add.

  • Use of a basket infuser - leaves room for the leaves to expand rather than a teaball or other constraining tea infuser.

  • Serving of the tea in a separate vessel - in this case, a glass teapot, which is given to you after you order the tea. This allows you to control brewing to taste. Barriques is generous with the leaf, allowing you to make multiple infusions.

  • This setup is sustainable - not only is Rishi Tea a leader in sustainability among tea companies, so the tea itself is an excellent sustainable choice, but note the absence of anything disposable. The only thing missing in the case of Barriques is that they do not compost their tea.

I want to give a second example that is less-than-ideal but still pretty good. In Lancaster, PA, Chestnut Hill Cafe serves Rishi tea, using disposable paper tea filters. Slightly less-than-ideal brewing conditions, but appropriately, their tea is less expensive per cup. It's still high-quality loose tea and you can still control the brewing time and make multiple infusions.

Can we encourage more Coffee Shops to do this?

Yes. The key ingredient here is to let coffee shop owners (which includes both individual owners of independent coffee shops, and the management of chain coffee shops) that it's realistic to serve loose tea in coffee shops. A few key points are to let them know:
  1. It's already being done successfully.

  2. The quality of the resulting cup of tea tea allows you to charge more (covering the cost of the additional labor in serving the tea and washing the dishes) and still have a happier customer.

  3. Loose tea can be very inexpensive which can increase the profit margin and offset any additional labor costs.

  4. Although loose tea takes longer to prepare, it's still negligible in comparison to many of the more involved espresso drinks.

  5. Using loose tea means you stock loose tea, and can sell it--expanding into a new niche (being a tea shop), which can bring in additional business.

  6. Basket infusers + disposable paper tea filters give optimal "for here" and "to go" options.

  7. Serving high-quality loose tea in teapots bumps your shop up a notch or two in sophistication, which can have indirect positive effects on the rest of your business.

What do you say? I think it's just a matter of time before all coffee shops start moving in this direction.


  1. I agree it's just a matter of time! Of all the local cafes I've seen, quite several of the "cool" ones sell tea too, at least a few tea products. I love coffee, but I seldom have more than one cup per day. It seems the growing coffee market in the past a few decades has trained drinkers of great taste. Many of them may find it less than healthy to have too much coffee in a row. So they may have great potential to be tea drinkers as well!