Guiding the Tea Noob

With corporate America taking notice of specialty tea and strong support from influential celebrities like a certain daytime TV doctor, we are likely to see an influx of tea novices (noobs, in geek speak.)

Here are some tips to help you guide these tea noobs to tea success:

Brewing is Adaptable - Most tea companies will provide general brewing suggestions on their packages as a guide. The tea novice may perceive these are hard rules and dismiss a great tea entirely if those particular brewing suggestions are not to their liking. They may not realize they can simply use different leaf quantities, water temps or steep times to customize what is known to be a quality tea. Be sure to encourage experimentation and contacting the store with any brewing questions or comments.

A universe of leafy goodness in a basket.
A universe of leafy goodness in a basket.

Keep it Simple - Teas, as we know can be as complex as a formal tea ceremony or as simple and leaves and hot water. Those new to tea may need a gentle introduction as so not to be intimidated with perceived fussiness. Be sure to set them up for success with easy to use apparatus such as variable temp kettles, fine mesh infusers and teas that are not too fussy to brew. We know there is a whole universe of tea appreciation out there, but at first tea noobs need only to see a tiny hamlet.

Sweeteners - Less is more! Perhaps because of over brewed fanning experiences, some consumers may feel the imperative to add sugar, honey, etc. to each and every cup. If you can offer sweetener-free samples brewed in your store, you can show the customer that if brewed correctly, tea does not need any enhancement. This might be a hard sell for some consumers, so expect push back and encourage them to experiment at home by using a little less sweetener cup by cup to retrain their palate and eventually lose those extra calories completely.

Flavored v. Non - There seems to be a chasm between those who prefer flavored and those who prefer non-flavored teas. A wine aficionado will surely veer toward the non-flavored and be less enamored with the less complex and obvious flavored teas, but how do we determine the best tea type for any particular customer? This takes interview techniques and reading the customer when sampling isn’t an option. (What is their favorite tea so far? What are your favorite treats? How often do you eat fast food?) If the customer really isn’t sure, it is best to have them buy samples of a few of each style so they can cup and discover preferences at their own pace. But if they have the time and you have the ability to brew on the spot, try a useful comparison cupping by pairing Formosa Bai Hao oolong with a peach flavored oolong. Both will have peach notes, but will the customer prefer the natural, subtle hints of peach in the Bai Hao or be smitten with the added peach flavor, more easily discerned in the flavored oolong? The result will give you an indication of where this customer’s preference lies.

Support - As your customer takes tender first steps into the world of tea, support must be provided to ensure early success. This will grow their tea confidence and encourage trying other teas and brewing styles. Honest advice, knowledgeable problem solving and friendly, non-judgmental service will benefit the customer and build a trusting and hopefully long-term relationship with their preferred tea guides.