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The Opportunity in Tea

If you’re a customer of ours, you’re already in a great position - you’ve got a range of delicious teas available. But beyond the quality of your leaves, is your overall tea offering working as hard as it can for you? Read our lowdown on how tea can play an important role in your business, from increasing loyalty to growing revenue.

Why now is the time for tea

We feel very lucky to work in the world of tea, and there has never been a more exciting time as we are, at last, seeing the demand for better tea rising. Speciality tea is attracting affluent, young, educated and health-conscious consumers, all of whom, as more ‘savvy’ tea consumers, are shifting expectations for what ‘good tea’ looks like. In short, your customers are becoming more demanding when it comes to ordering a cuppa.

So why are customers leaning towards speciality tea? There are a number of reasons, all of which come together to make tea a particularly compelling proposition.

The first is health. The health properties of tea have been celebrated for centuries in different societies, but thanks to a growing wellness movement in recent years, its benefits are now acknowledged for both physical and mental health are now being appreciated by a new generation of tea drinkers here in the West. Our own messaging at Good & Proper has been focused more on the simple enjoyment of a good cup of tea - the flavour of the leaves and the drinking experience - than on its appeal as a product doing good to our bodies. Nevertheless you would be hard pushed to find an everyday experience offering more benefits for your health. These range from reducing cholesterol and repairing ageing skin cells to aiding digestion and even fighting disease. While many products desperately struggle for acceptance through ‘clean labels’, the new holy grail for food and drink start ups, tea has nothing to hide. Tea is and always has been natural and unadulterated. This super-clean label therefore reinforces its new relevance for younger ‘millennial’ tea drinkers. Finally the concept of mindfulness - the practice of tuning into the present moment, of taking a moment to stop and slow down - is also ideally suited to the drinking of tea. Unliked the fast-paced, functional appeal of espresso-based coffee, the ritual of loose leaf tea and the natural time frame it carves out are inherently slow.

The second reason tea has a new and exciting relevance is a focus on provenance and flavour experiences. In coffee, we saw fast and furious cappuccinos pushed aside to make way for ‘speciality’ coffee shops, which elevated the coffee bean from mere commodity to artisanal foodstuff. And with it came a new focus on where those beans came from, the techniques involved in producing them, roasting profiles and what that meant for flavour and a focus on brewing method too. All of a sudden their customers started looking for more than just a caffeine hit - they want a taste of something different and delicious. The same trend was seen in beer and spirits, with customers less interested in drinking large volumes of poor quality liquids, instead looking to ‘craft’ producers offering originality, variety and a flavour experience. That shift from volume and price to quality and complexity has made connoisseurs of all of us, and that relentless quest for taste very much applies to tea now too. Reliance on standard black teas is no longer enough, with growth coming from trading up to higher quality teas with origin stories behind them, as well as a diversity of tea types, from floral greens to herbal infusions.

Finally, we know that post-pandemic customers heading into a coffee shop are no longer looking for just a hot drink. They are looking more than ever for community, for bustle, for an escape and an experience. With this in mind, a sit-in tea is, if available, the choice for a great many customers coming through the door, particularly late morning or in the afternoon when many have had their allotted ‘coffees’ for the day. If that tea experience is a great one then you’re winning a lot more than just that single transaction - you’re winning true loyalty from customers for whom these daily rituals can be an important constant in these turbulent times.

The opportunity

So we know that not only are customers willing to pay more for a better cup and a higher quality experience, they are expecting to. So with that in mind, it’s important to understand the opportunity that tea presents for your business:

Improving your overall offer

With the growth of speciality coffee over the last decade, many operators have focused hard on ensuring that the quality of the coffee offer is on point. From sourcing the right beans to investing in the right kit and training your teams, we’ve seen a real investment in getting the coffee right. But with this new savvy tea customer, you need to make sure the tea is on point too. However central the coffee is to the business, you are a customer-centric business, and customers want quality across the overall offer in order to give their loyalty. That means coffee, but it also means the food and the tea too. Don’t let a poorly considered tea offering let the rest down.

Higher Margins

There is no doubt that there is a ceiling on how much a cafe can charge for a standard paper-and-string tea bag, presented in a mug. After all, there is little experience, the quality may be no different to what they’re used to at home, and the value-add for the customer is very little. However, if you are choosing to serve carefully sourced, whole leaf teas, in a pot that allows the customer to pour their own cup, add their milk to their preference and then top themselves up again a couple of times, all of a sudden that customers is having a tea experience, with the value on that for the customer upwards of £3.50. While you may have paid more for your tea leaves, both the % and cash margin on that transaction will be significantly higher. In short, a great tea offering can and should represent a valuable contribution to your overheads. Even if serving loose leaf teas isn’t an option for you, the way the tea bag tea is presented (eg the cup or pot), the fact that the tea inside the bag is clearly whole leaf, from a speciality tea brand and offering delicious flavour will already elevate the experience for the customer from the ordinary to something worth paying a little more for.

New Customers

Many coffee shops see a large % of their turnover in the first few hours of the day, while late mornings and afternoons can be a little quieter. This is where tea can provide a valuable opportunity - by letting those same coffee customers who came earlier (as well as other footfall in the area who didn’t) know that you also have a great tea offering, you’ll encourage people to visit at those other times too, therefore growing revenue across different day parts. Needless to say you'll also bring in those new, underserved tea-drinkers who would otherwise assume that you'd forgotten about them...

Loyalty

By creating a great tea experience in your cafe, you’ll have plenty of customers wanting to recreate it at home. Stocking retail tea on your shelves not only serves as a great way to signpost to your customers that you are serving delicious, high quality teas on site, it is also a valuable and easy opportunity to increase basket size when they grab a pack to take home or gift alongside their order. More than that, if they become a regular Good & Proper drinker at home thanks to the experience they had with you, you’ll likely become the place they restock each time so you’ve won their repeat custom too.

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Getting it right

So, we know that there’s an increased demand for good tea, and we now know that tea represents a valuable opportunity for your business, but how do you get it right and ensure you’re maximising that opportunity? Here’s what you need to know:

The tea itself

The first thing to get right is the tea – finding a good tea supplier who can support you with great quality, whole leaf teas, carefully sourced and full of flavour. You could do everything else right but of course if the leaves aren’t good, there’s only so far you’ll get. And you might be tempted to think will your customers even notice the quality, but they will - a delicious, flavoursome cup is not only like to be a surprise and delight at the moment, but it is also what will keep them coming back time and time again.

Water

A critical part to any cup of tea - water quality. Hopefully if you’re serving good coffee you know all about water but for the avoidance of doubt, you need, freshly drawn, oxygen-rich, filtered water to ensure a lively and flavoursome cup of tea - particularly if you’re in a hard water area like London. Mineral-rich, hard water is alkaline, which tends to produce a thick, chalky, sometimes even metallic-tasting cup. It is also slow and inefficient at extracting flavour, meaning it’ll take longer to infuse. Soft water, on the other hand, is acidic. Though that makes it much more efficient in dissolving flavour, it tends to happen too quickly, meaning your cup may over extract, leaving it bitter and astringent. There is therefore a happy medium to be found - as close to spring water as possible in terms of acidity, with a pH of around 7.

Teaware

How you present your tea to the customer is critical, as it is where you add the most value for the customer and where just ‘tea’ on the menu can become something they happily pay much more for and come back for time and time again. While a tea bag in a mug might feel like something they could easily replicate at home, a teapot involves the customer - it may require them to remove the leaves, they can add their own milk, they pour the tea and are then able to top themselves up. All of this participation elevates the transaction from a simple ‘cup of tea’ to a whole experience, particularly if the teaware is beautiful and you can see the leaves infusing or the colour of the infusion.

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Staff engagement

As hospitality professionals no doubt you won’t need to be reminded of the importance of training and staff engagement, but getting this right for tea is two-fold.

Firstly, your team will need to have a good knowledge of the range. This will be important for helping the customer choose the right tea and guiding them towards something they’ll love, and for letting them know how long the tea will need to infuse when placed in front of a sit-in customer. They’ll need to be familiar with each of the teas available - where they’re from, what they taste like, how long each needs to infuse and which ones are caffeine-free - even better they’ll have formed a favourite or two so they can make authentic recommendations.

Secondly, they’ll need to understand how to extract the best possible flavour from each and ensure the tea tastes delicious, consistently. That means an understanding of and a process for brewing time, water temperature and dosing. Sometimes the best way to help a team understand this is by knowing what happens if these processes aren’t followed - for example too little tea and the infusion will taste thing, too long a brew time and the tea will be overextracted and bitter.

Tea doesn’t have to be complicated, but a little guidance can be the difference between a good and a great tea offering. We often see that having one or two ambassadors within the team who are particularly engaged with the tea offering, have tried the teas and can genuinely talk enthusiastically about the range you have available has a direct and very real impact on quality, consistency and ultimately sales

The menu

This is the final thing to get right but perhaps the most important, as signposting is where it all begins! We have too many customers who have chosen to made the decision to work with us, are paying more for better tea and great teaware, and yet fall at the final hurdle which is letting their customers know they’ve gone to all that effort! We cannot emphasise enough how important it is to signpost your tea offering on the menu and the huge impact it has on sales - and that means putting more than just the word ‘tea’ at the bottom of a long list of coffees. You need to shout about it as a point of difference, and nowhere more than at the point of ordering - otherwise the customer won’t know what they should expect from your tea, and certainly won’t be able to justify the premium price point that sits next to it.

Need any help pulling together your tea offering, training your team or finding the right teaware? We'd love to help - just get in touch with the team at wholesale@goodandpropertea.com and we'll arrange a call. 

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