cup of teaI just got back from a vacation in Chicago and something that I’ve been thinking about for quite a while solidified. As a tea lover, you might have had similar feelings on this. I went to a tea shop, a quite reputable one in fact. In addition to purchasing some teas, I also purchased a cup of tea. Consider my dismay when I simply couldn’t finish the cup – it was that bad. Which brings me to my question: Why is it so hard to get a proper cup of tea?

Now, I don’t want to go into a long gripe session or debate as to whether it’s possible to find a good cup of tea. I’m sure all of us make a mean brew at home and there are certainly a number of establishments where you can get something quite decent. My point is that you can get tea almost anywhere, from cafes where tea is an afterthought to tea gardens to hotels that offer five-year-old tea bags of Lipton in their rooms. Most of it is rubbish. But why, in a country where coffee has gone from a fifty-cent cup of mud to a mochachinolatte on every corner, is it so hard to get good tea?

Well of course, an easy answer is money. The reason why you can find a coffee establishment on every block is because they make money. Many people who go to these places – or most restaurants for that matter – end up having a bad cup of tea, and decide that they don’t like tea. Therefore, there is less demand for better tea. It’s gotten to the point that my girlfriend often suggests that I pass up ordering tea so as not to upset myself.

I think the real answer is education and understanding. All of the specialty tea stores out there are slowly winning converts to the cause. One by one. Person by person they are winning over the masses. Heck, by the time I’m 100, we’ll really be getting somewhere. But there are two parts of the equation. I’ve talked to my fair share of restaurant and hotel managers and asked them about their tea selections and have always gotten the same answer, “We don’t get any complaints.” From a business perspective, if you’re making a decent profit off a product and everyone seems to be satisfied, why rock the boat?

So, this is what I’m asking: For every great tea shop, there are hundreds, maybe thousands of die-hard tea fans. For every tea blog and website and every specialty tea brand, there are legions of followers. I simply ask that the next time you fill out a comment card, you honestly tell the management what you thought about their tea selection. I’m not asking you to make a scene or demand your money back. I’m not suggesting that you boycott cafes with bad tea or start bringing your own tea when you go out for a meal. Nothing drastic. Just fill out those comment cards when you’re signing that credit card slip or checking out of a hotel. If you had a great cup of tea, let them know. But if you expect better from them, tell them.