Let me take you on a Parisian stroll or whisk you away to lush Sri Lanka.
It’ll only take a few minutes.
When I’m creating my own tea menu, I think about taking my customer on a journey that will capture the imagination as well as the practicalities of providing a high quality cup of tea.
Tea is steeped (pardon the pun) in so many ancient and exotic cultures, it is rich with association. And rich with story, from aged Pu’erh tea cakes worth thousands of dollars each; to my favourite Longevity Eyebrow and the enchanting unfurling Dragon Pearls.
Here, I offer some thought starters on developing a conscious tea menu; one that complements and adds value to your business.
Designing your tea menu – clarifying your requirements
Whether you have been in business for 20 years or two months, it pays to have a tea menu that is a conscious selection rather than something your supplier happened to stock or the last Barista ordered.
This doesn’t mean sourcing direct yourself, although that may be an option. It means being clear about your needs so that you make informed choices in partnership with whomever you choose to source from.
When considering your tea menu, the blends you choose are not just flavours; they each have a feel and a romance that suggest certain experiences, and that will appeal to different customers, or the same customers at different times. Consider emotions, not just a rational sale.
Trade talk about tea is generally technically focussed on the functional – leaf size, origins, character and growth habits of hundreds of varieties of black, green, white and herbal tea.
This has its place of course, but is a little like reading the dictionary from A to Z; aimless and heavy-going. It works better to clarify broadly what you are after first and then dip into the detail of regions, blends in partnership with your chosen supplier.
The first two questions to start to get a sense of what will work for you are:
- Who are my actual or desired customers? What do they want?
- What is my ‘brand’ image? What will enhance the feeling that I want to evoke?
What do my customers want, which customers do I want to attract?
Broadly speaking, tea drinkers fall into one of three categories:
- Men who enjoy a cuppa and will ‘drink anything with a string on it’ to quote one of my research participants. They will tend to order a takeaway or a ‘cup of tea’ at a café.
What to stock: A good honest black tea that can be taken with or without milk in leaf tea bag (to keep your reputation intact).
- Tea lovers: mostly women 30’s plus who drink leaf tea at home or the more expensive brands, they love the classics mixed with a little something different and appreciate the experience when a little effort is made. They know their tea.
What to stock: It works to carry quality classics, such as Earl Grey and then something outside the norm. Depending on time of day/year, this might be anything from a cheeky Darjeeling to a quality white tea. Tea lovers don’t tend to appreciate ‘everything-but-the-kitchen-sink’ blends – for this group; less is more.
- Caffeine Avoiders/Health drinkers – this group tend to be women, younger, may be pregnant, may have a health issue or recent scare. They might also be over the caffeine hit (for ever or just this afternoon) and in the mood for something different, warm and calming.
What to stock: Make sure you have interesting green teas, white teas and herbals. They will be up for exploration, so it works to have some variety on the menu, something a bit different. Here we are talking more about added ingredients than exotic varieties. Rather than a straight green, or a straight green and mint blend, try Green, Jasmine & Pear for example. They also very much appreciate the visual and aromatic elements of the tea.
Caffeine Avoiders are big on chai as a milky substitute for higher caffeine coffee. They will appreciate a chai with plenty of character– ginger, cardamom, and honey on the side.
What is our image? What will suit?
This is the fun part. A little marketing thinking.
What matters here is that you are clear about the image you want your business to portray and that all elements – interior decoration, staff manner, food and of course; tea menu, communicate that.
Even the teapots you use say something.
I was at a café recently which served my tea in red and white spotted ceramic teapots and cups. The message was clear: we like a bit of fun, we care about our tea, we are warm and homely. A very different message from say stainless steel pots, which to me communicate hospital cafeteria.
In my business Madame Flavour; our brand is about bringing a personal touch to tea. That suggests offering teas that have care in the detail, Australian elements and elements reflecting Madame’s own experience.
So I created blends like White Tea with Rose – which communicates quality and originality; and Sultry Chai – which draws on my father’s time in India; and uses Australian Mountain Pepper from near our family farm in Gippsland.
You can do the same.
What does the name and location of your café suggest you offer your customers? What does the weather in this part of the world lend itself to? Humming inner city venue or gentle rolling hills and wind chimes?
Inner city might inspire you to offer a specialty ‘Tea Spa Menu’ with a selection of wind-down, peaceful blends for uptight patrons. Or a specialty black menu.
Rolling hills and wind chimes might inspire a ‘Best of the best’ Chai selection or a couple of special black teas from other hilly regions of the world like Dimbula in Sri Lanka.
Tropical Noosa or cosy Launceston? Lighter green, white and herbal teas will be more popular up north versus more substantial greens such as Sencha for cooler environments.
While it is tempting to rush through this exercise and let your supplier give you the bog standard usual; taking some time to think about this can provide a direction and a vision which has benefits across the business.