Sampling is a huge part of the success story at the Carriage House Tea Room and Selby House Café in Sarasota, Florida.

Encouraging guests to taste a sip of new tea varieties can build a dedicated clientele, and for many it is the first time they try a quality loose-leaf tea.

A cup of hot tea, properly brewed and steeped, has been part of the dining experience for millennia. You’d be hard pressed to find a restaurant menu without tea on the menu, but, as Kim Jage points out, all tea is not created equal.

“All restaurants serve tea, but many serve tea bags only,” says Jage, executive vice-president of World Tea Expo, the country’s largest tea industry event.

“The tea industry is $8 billion in the U.S. and what’s driving that force is premium tea. Premium and specialty teas are becoming a trend across the board.”

With tea varieties numbering in the thousands, Jage stresses the importance of working with reputable suppliers who know their product selection.

“They can help choose tea varieties best suited to the types of foods served in the restaurant. Asian dishes are best paired with Japanese green and Chinese green or black teas,” she explains. “Steakhouse dinners pair wonderfully with more robust African teas as well as tea from India.”

Making a decision to step away from the ‘tea bag only’ mindset is step one in growing sales. Jage has several suggestions to take advantage of the growing stylish and sophisticated market in specialty teas:

  • Add loose-leaf teas to the menu—the margins are four to five times that of tea bags.
  • Invest in glass teapots with glass infusers. Glass shows off the beautiful effect of an unfurling tealeaf as hot water hits the tightly hand-rolled bundle of leaves. Glass pots are easy to clean, efficient, cost-effective and don’t hold any residual aromas.
  • Use a dedicated water dispenser and make sure it’s calibrated to the proper water temperature for brewing tea.
  • Look at other avenues for tea to generate profits: Incorporate it as an ingredient into dishes; sell specialty tea for customers to use at home in their own recipes; add tea-based cocktails in almost any flavor combination—think ‘mar-TEA-nis’—to the bar menu.

As with many culinary trends, the path to success lies with educating customers. Jage points out that tea events can be fun and generate additional revenue using the downtime between lunch and dinner service.

Jage has a few ideas to get started:

  • Host a tea tasting and focus on teas from one country of origin, or a tea type from a cross-section of countries.
  • Demonstrate a traditional tea ceremony.
  • Customers with a more sophisticated tea palate would enjoy a tea infusion challenge—guests can infuse the tea and the rest of the group picks the best cup. “Three different people will make three different cups of tea, even using the same ingredients,” says Jage.
  • Follow the 2012 trends: Matcha lattes using Japanese matcha tea and cold brewed green tea are hot trends, fuelled by the growing public awareness of the health benefits attributed to green tea.           

By Josephine Matyas

Industry News