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Confession: I am one of those annoying people who has a 15 word orders at Starbucks: Grande-iced-coffee-with-skim-milk-and-two-small-pumps-of-sugar-free-caramel-syrup. Absurd, perhaps, but Starbucks gets it right every time and not once have the folks in line behind me expressed frustration that I was delaying their caffeine fix. Why? Because Starbucks is fast. On average, a customer receives their beverage in three minutes from the moment they get in line. Nowadays, when everyone is in a huge hurry to be somewhere- time is a valuable commodity and so there is no excuse not to grab a latte.

/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/tea_308879.jpgBig news from the coffee empire…Starbucks just opened their first tea bar in Manhattan, leveraging their Teavana brand- a company they acquired in 2012. Globally, tea is the second-most consumed beverage besides water. While Americans still consume coffee at a far greater rate than tea, their taste for leaves versus beans is growing. Data from the Tea Association USA says America’s interest in tea has grown by 16% over the past five years. Bottom line- tea is a $90 billion dollar market and Starbucks wants a bigger piece of the action.

Tea, unlike it’s distant cousin coffee, is not known to be a fast beverage. Historically, tea was considered to be the drink of choice for aristocrats and often sipped luxuriously during daily afternoon tea parties. And as a self-proclaimed tea connoisseur, I know that a good cup of tea takes time to brew. In fact, tea experts suggest that you brew green teas for 2-3 minutes, black, oolong and white teas for 4-5 minutes, and herbal teas for 6-7 minutes. Will consumers give up 5-7 minutes for a great cup of tea? Or will Starbucks find a way to expedite that process?

Starbucks plans to open 1000 tea bars- complete with “zen” decor, gray walls and dim lighting. Zen sounds great but it doesn’t sound like a high volume business as with their coffee bars. The high-end tea bar requires a very different customer experience- due in great part to the longer brewing times required. How will the customer be engaged during those few precious minutes? Will they meditate? Or will the tea-rista offer zen-like conversational banter?

Bottom line- Starbucks and Americans have a lot to learn about tea. It’s not as straightforward as espresso vs drip and caff vs decaf. Each of the major tea varietals has different levels of caffeine, flavors and health benefits. Tea is associated with healthy lifestyles for good reason so I’m all in favor of having a tea bar on every block. And perhaps we could all benefit from slowing down once in a while?

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