Time for Tea?

I’m on a mission at the moment. To be able to get a decent cuppa when I go out!

After a lovely afternoon tea with friends at the Savoy last week it brought home to me just how much of an opportunity we are missing in hotels, restaurants and cafes. The top hotels have truly embraced this; look at what they are delivering at the Berkeley for example with their royal hats themed cakes, and local to me at Pennyhill Park in Surrey.

But if tea really is such a British institution couldn’t we be making more if it?

Nowadays we can get every possible permutation for coffee. But as a tea drinker few offer anything like the same selection of teas or put in anything like the same amount of effort.

According to the Tea Council tea outsells coffee by 2:1, but of this 86% is drunk at home. Is this because tea drinkers don’t trust hotels, restaurants and cafes to make a decent cuppa?

Do the numbers add up?

There’s certainly a commercial argument for getting tea right. The potential margins on a cup of tea are higher than coffee, and if you make an occasion of it this gives the opportunity for upselling a full afternoon tea package.

And unlike coffee you don’t need fancy and expensive equipment to make your perfect cup or pot of tea.

If 7/10 people drink at least one cup of tea a day (opposed to only 4/10 who drink coffee) there has to be an opportunity for any hostelry to be tapping into this market, surely?

Health

According to Bill Gorman of the Tea Council in his presentation at Caffe Culture last week, contrary to popular belief tea does not contain more caffeine than coffee, it actually contains about half the amount compared to instant coffee and a third of filter coffee. Tea is also widely known to be rich in a particular group of antioxidants called flavonoids; there is about eight times the amount of ‘anti-oxidant power’ in three cups of tea than there is in one apple.

More information can be found on the Tea Advisory Panel site. http://www.teaadvisorypanel.com/

And above all else tea is refreshing. So when we do get a summer, it’s a great way to rehydrate. Tea makes up 1/3 of what we drink. Whilst the black tea market has plateaued speciality tea is growing by 7%. The biggest competition comes from water and juices.

Snobbery

There’s a lot of snobbery around loose tea. Loose leaf can still be poor quality. Your customers will trust the big brands, which use a plucking standard (2 leaves and a bud) which produce approximately 4-5% fibre, whereas a cheaper economy tea might use 6-7 leaves and get 40-50% fibre, which makes for a pretty poor drink.

There a huge range of quality teas, both loose leaf and tea bags. I just love those sexy little pyramid bags such as Novus http://www.novustea.co.uk/ . Exploit the branding and if you use a quality product you are going to be more confident in charging a decent price. If you are just starting to expand you tea range do it gradually; judge your customers tastes, avoid wastage and build up your team’s knowledge gradually.

Presentation

Why do we hide our tea offer? You look at the menu and see all the coffees listed out and then hidden somewhere in the middle you’ll spot ‘Tea’. Give it prominence on your menu, and give some detail to educate your customers. At the Savoy the team menu (all 4 pages of it!) each tea had a description. Not only this, the waiters were able to describe each tea, and asked what sort of tea we liked so they could recommend. (At the time I thought this a bit ironic to have a Canadian and a German knowing way, way more about team than the 4 of us Brits put together!)

If you are in a setting where your tea is on view, make sure it is presented in a way that shows you give your tea some care. Leaving it sitting in a tatty cardboard box on top of a water boiler, getting dried out does little to enhance its appeal. You wouldn’t expect a customer to buy a can of Coke sat at an ambient temperature on the counter. Talk to your tea suppliers about display tins or stands.

Serving

Tea needs freshly drawn water (so there’s oxygen and nitrogen in the water apparently, but please don’t ask me about the science behind this!) For black tea the water needs to be boiling. This means that water from your coffee machine won’t be hot enough for a decent tea. On the other hand green tea will become bitter if made with boiling water, so let the temperature drop to 85°C.

Everyone likes their tea differently. So train your staff to ask how people like their tea. In our house my Earl Grey gets half the brewing time of hubby’s English Breakfast.

Give a perception of value by serving a pot of tea rather than just a cup or mug. Not only does it mean 2 cups (at no extra cost to you) it gives the customer the flexibility to brew their tea to their preferred strength.

If you serve tea in a cup or mug, provide somewhere to put the spent teabags – that’s accessible with one had (i.e. not a swing top bin – one hand holding the cup, one hand holding the bag, result – tea dribbles all over the bin top as you nudge the bin open with the tea bag!) Just a little thought not only makes it easier for your customer, but leaves less mess and probably saves a fortune on napkins into the bargain. Even with teapots provide somewhere for teabags in case your customer wants to stop the tea brewing any further.

Milk is the bane of my tea drinking experience. Following the principle that the water needs to be boiling to brew the tea, if you serve tea in the cup never put the milk in before the bag comes out. In Norway I was even presented with a cup of tea where the milk went in before the water and my tea bag was left on the side – with the best will in the world this will never make a decent cup of tea, however good your raw ingredients.

Use semi skimmed milk and preferably allow the customer to pour their own milk; however much or little you put in, it will never be right!

Educate

Educate your team on your tea offer and train them in the art of tea making. Use your suppliers for advice and to help with training. If they can’t or won’t do this find a supplier who will. It’s a great way to impress your customers and build trust. Not only will be a lot easier to upsell to other products, but goes a long way to establishing your reputation as a place to trust for a decent brew.

Make a feature of tea

Once you’ve mastered the art of making a decent cuppa, use this as a basis for tea themed offers and promotions. Introduce a tea of the month, ask your supplier to work with you on a tea tasting, look at your sandwich and cake offering to combine with your tea for the quintessential English afternoon tea, and promote this to improve footfall for otherwise quiet times of the day.

So in summary my 10 top tips for a perfect brew:

  1. Use quality tea and a recognisable brand
  2. Build up your range of teas gradually
  3. Review your other offers to make a special feature of afternoon tea
  4. Give your tea menu prominence and add descriptions
  5. Present your tea attractively
  6. Invest in some teapots (and hot water pots)
  7. Check the temperature of your hot water and ensure it is boiling for brewing black tea
  8. Give customers somewhere to put their teabags
  9. Use your tea supplier to educate your team on the properties and flavours for each of your teas, and
  10. Train your staff in how to make a decent cuppa

All this talk of tea has made me thirsty. Time to put the kettle on…

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