I’ve been in the specialty tea industry nearly a year now (I joined World Tea News in March of last year), and I just had my first experience of the kind that more seasoned industry professionals must confront on a regular basis with all sorts of mixed emotions.
For lack of a better term, I’ll call it “brew waste”. This is when a server ruins a perfectly good tea by brewing it at the wrong temperature, for the wrong amount of time, and/or using the wrong kind of equipment.
I met a business colleague in a recently opened tea and coffee shop here in Las Vegas. Seeing mainly Japanese greens on the tea menu – and being a curious journalist – I asked who the shop’s supplier was. The woman behind the counter gave me the name of a reputable brand, known in the industry for sourcing, blending, and distributing high-quality tea.
I couldn’t wait to try my Kukicha!
Sadly, the server evidently brewed my tea in boiling water. What was placed before me several minutes later was a still extremely hot, forest-green sludge. As I brought the large, bowl-shaped cup of wasted tea away from my lips, my heart sank. It was undrinkable. My colleague and I had to leave soon, or I would have demanded a better-brewed cup.
World Tea executives take great care to teach all staff as much as they can about tea, and we are lucky to be exposed to some of the most delicious specialty teas on the market. It’s enough to make one a tea snob.
But my experience at the tea and coffee shop was about much more than that. It was about the fear so many of my sources have shared with me over the past year: the fear that potential customers are lost every day because of a bad experience with tea.
I’m not going to stop drinking Kukicha because a server didn’t know what he was doing – but that’s because I know what Kukicha is supposed to taste like. What if I were trying it for the first time? I might think, “This is horrible. I’m going back to coffee lattes and will never venture into this exotic green tea land again.” Or, at least that’s what many in the specialty tea industry worry will happen.
It’s easy to blame this on tea room owners who are directly responsible for knowing good brewing techniques and passing them on to staff, but I believe the responsibility is actually shared by all of us in the industry. The media has to spread the word to consumers so that they know what to expect in a good cup of tea. Suppliers have to train their customers, who can then better train their staff. Everyone has to continue their own education so they’re on top of brewing and serving trends.
The fact that we still have a long way to go is both good news and bad. The bad news is, in the case of my recent experience, for instance, that somewhere along the chain of responsibility, someone failed to educate or be educated properly, and this could be happening somewhere else as I write.
The good news is interest in tea has never been higher. There’s a vast public out there thirsting for knowledge. Let’s all do our part to teach them what good tea really is and how it’s made, and put a stop to brew waste forever!