For the past few years around this time, I make a point of reflecting on how our year at the teahouse was different from the previous one, and whether tea interest in our little corner of the country seems to be growing.  If numbers are any indication, ours would point to a definitive “yes”; despite the current state of the economy, we still experienced good growth this year, which is very encouraging.

Numbers aside, what’s more important in learning more about our market, however, is trying to understand what people are really looking for, what they really want.  I think the following questions offer clues as to why our guests journey outside a mall/Starbucks/grocery store to learn more about and procure high-quality tea.  These are the five most commonly queried subjects at our teahouse:

1. No surprise here: questions about general health and nutrition still trump all other questions.  The most commonly asked specific questions are which tea has the most caffeine/will help me lose weight/has the most antioxidants?

What this tells us: Continued media coverage of studies pertaining to tea and health continue to feed the public’s awareness and curiosity of tea’s potential health benefits.  It’s quite clear still that the perception of tea as a widely accepted healthy beverage continues to aid in its renaissance of popularity.  Given this, we consider these questions very carefully in our training and continuing tea education at our store, positioning ourselves to answer these questions as honestly and completely as possible to give our guests the answers they seek.

2. What’s good for a cold/congestion/digestion/upset stomach?

What this tells us: Many people still associate tea with something mom, dad, or grandma gave them when they were sick.  Not necessarily a great association, but we appreciate the interest nonetheless.  This type of query offers us the opportunity to form a positive association with tea, which could lead to a long-term love affair with the leaf.  We explain that while tea isn’t quite the panacea the media often portrays it to be, it can help soothe nasal congestion (just like any other warm drink), comfort you (thanks to L-theanine and other goodies found in tea), and stimulate you (caffeine).  While there are very promising studies done on the effects of tea on influenza (see Sandy Bushberg’s excellent post on this), we try to keep it short and simple and offer references where they can learn more.

3. What would be a good alternative to coffee?

What this tells us: Many people are becoming more aware of their habits, and I often hear that once they notice they’re becoming addicted to something (coffee, diet soft drinks), they want to quit, which often, in their mind, necessitates finding an alternative.  Accompanying this request is often the explanation that their doctor told them to cut back, or that they’re starting to pay attention to the advice of their own doctors or that of well-known doctors like Dr. Weil and Dr. Oz.  In case you’re wondering how we handle this, we usually try to find a deep, full-flavored/bodied black or pu-erh, or even a chai for our coffee-loving friends, hoping they’ll come to appreciate and love the gentle buzz of tea as much as we do.

4. How do I make green tea taste good?

What this tells us: Thanks to continued well-publicized studies on green tea, beginning tea drinkers overwhelmingly think that they should be drinking green tea because it must be far better for them than black.  Not necessarily so!  This offers a great opportunity to offer instruction on how to make a proper cup of green tea, and let guests try samples.  If they still don’t like greens, we tell them to not fret: black, oolong, and white are from the same leaf as green, and offer very similar benefits!

5. What’s YOUR favorite tea?

What this tells us: A doctor (even one on TV), friend, co-worker, personal trainer, or perhaps a relative has helped pique this guest’s interest in our favorite leaf, and they’re open and willing to learn more.  This is one of the best types of questions because it says that more and more people want to try tea!

I want to thank you for reading this blog, and for for offering us the opportunity to muse about tea.  I wish you all a healthy, joyful new year filled with lots of love and great tea!