November 2013 Issue
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Teavana/Starbucks Open New NYC Shop

by Cynthia Fazekas

These buds are reaching new heights!

The big recent news in the tea world is that Teavana has opened its first concept store since being acquired by coffee industry giant Starbucks. While the move was certainly expected, it has sent ripples through the specialty tea industry as speculation circulates on what affects it will have on independent retailers.

While we as an industry have come a long way in the US in promoting better quality tea, there is still a long way to go. Big companies with big marketing budgets can only help our cause. Tea awareness creates tea customers and with enough customers all purveyors can find their niche. Just as some coffee drinkers will gravitate to the low hanging fruit of a Starbucks on every corner, a more discerning customer may prefer to shop local and seek out the artisan roaster in their own town. If a chain coffee shop sparks the desire that sends the customer to their local guy, the local still wins.

Some criticism recently spewed is about the quality offered as tea connoisseurs sneer at the abundance of flavored and blended options. What they offer may not necessarily be everyone’s cup of tea (pun intended) but flavored teas tend to be the conversion catalyst from a non-tea drinker to a tea drinker. Again, building more customers is the way to ensure survival of all and flavored teas are the way to engage the novice.

A certain, small percentage of all these new tea drinkers will go on to become connoisseurs and find a palate for the really wonderful, pure, orthodox teas we all know and love. Haven’t we all offered a sip of a high end, premium oolong, super fine sencha, or whatever to a friend only to have them tip their head and ask, “Do you have anything that tastes like mango? I love mango tea.”

What’s great is that they continue to offer unflavored teas so those who are innately destined for palate sophistication can find the path, which inevitably leads to other fine tea sellers.

There’s still plenty of room for all as tea takes new prominence in the American psyche. Embrace the growth and relish the joy of all that is available to entice new travelers on the path of tea. Cheers!