After five years of searching, I have seen The Starbucks of Tea.

I formally joined the tea industry in 2004.  Since that time, I have attended dozens of trade shows, participated in trainings and tastings, had tea with numerous entrepreneurs and executives, and visited well over 100 tea shops from New York to San Diego.  I’ve seen roughly a dozen companies make a concerted effort to become the “Starbucks of Tea”, and another two dozen or more who were planning on doing so.

In my humble opinion, none have much of a chance of achieving the national success and prominence suggested by that title.

There are a host of reasons why I don’t believe any of today’s leading tea companies has a real chance at becoming The Starbucks of Tea, but the main reason is that Starbucks has always had the option of claiming the title themselves.  For years, Starbucks has been watching and waiting for the moment that tea offered a significant enough opportunity for profits to warrant the investment.

Starbucks purchased the trendy tea company Tazo back in 1999, but because they’ve stuck to a tea-bag strategy, the purists have tended to dismiss Starbucks as a competitive threat.  This summer, though, Starbucks officially served notice that they are testing the profitability of tea.

The Starbucks of Tea has arrived, and it is Starbucks!!

In July, Starbucks opened the first of four new concept stores under the name “15th Ave Coffee and Tea” in Seattle.  The menu offers pots of tea brewed with loose leaves and includes teas like Silver Needles, Dragonwell, Jasmine Pearls, Genmaicha, Ti Kwan Yin, First Flush Darjeeling, and Pu-Erh.

I think it’s safe to assume that if the venture is successful, Starbucks will dive head first into the loose-leaf tea business.  If Starbucks is not able to turn a sufficient profit…well, that may be the worst news of all!