Here are a few ways I have observed over the years to make that tearoom experience truly memorable for the customer:
Tea Menu. Tea menus come in many forms: from a one-line sentence listing the teas to a menu above the counter to several pages of teas described in a way that is not wholly dissimilar to a wine menu. I look forward to the day when tea menus in all cafés and restaurants are written in a clear, concise, and inviting way that excites customers as they look through them. However teas are presented on a menu, though, it is the ordering experience that can really make a difference.
Ordering Tea at the Counter. It is very refreshing when a staff member at the counter explains to me the types of teas they have with a glint in her eye and a smile on her face. I remember once when a member of staff explained that he had an English and an Irish breakfast tea. He went on to say that the Irish breakfast tea was really robust in the cup compared to the English. I was so excited that I ordered the Irish. What I was presented with was a famous brand bagged tea however, although that didn’t detract from the staff’s knowledge and enthusiasm. The experience I had was tea-riffic (shame about the tea though).
Ordering Tea at the Table. If the tea menus are on the table, is the staff member tea educated enough to talk about the range of teas if the customer wants to try something new? What is their best-selling tea? What tea does the customer like? What kind of tea is the customer in a mood for? If the customer has ordered a black tea, would he like milk and sugar to be brought to the table? These little questions can really help to engage customers and make their tea-drinking experience a little bit more special.
Tea Preparation. Truly memorable moments for me include seeing the teas being prepared in front of me. Tea bars / salons are a fabulous way to engage the customers without talking to them as they become enthralled with the tea sommelier showing care, love, and attention in making the perfect cup of tea. The Gong Fu Tea ceremony is another way of preparing tea and engaging the customer.
Presentation of the Tea. The presentation of tea can come in many forms and I have shared plenty of tea pictures to illustrate how this might be done; how tea is presented can really enhance the whole tea experience as well as the customer service, if done properly. If the tea comes with an infuser or in a teapot with an infuser, is there something that the infuser can be placed on once the tea has been infused? Does the staff member infuse the tea for the customer? Does the staff member inform the customer how long to steep the tea? Does the tea come with a tea timer? There is no right or wrong way, just in case you’re wondering, as long as it is done well.
It’s All in the Tea Leaf. Finally, the real testament to excellent customer service comes in the cup itself. There is nothing more disappointing than sitting down to a cup of tea that isn’t steeped enough, has been oversteeped, or doesn’t have much flavor.
What other aspects of the tearoom visit do you think are important when it comes to making that tea experience truly memorable?
Everything comes into play for me when I’m looking for a tea experience at a tea shop. The ambiance when I walk in begins the show. I tend to appreciate an Asian theme the most, rather than a fussy British one. I too enjoy a terrific tea menu which helps me to select something new that I hadn’t considered before. The expertise of the staff is also important although if the shop is very busy, I find that this can be a problem. Next I enjoy the serving implements, which can bring another level of pleasure to my experience. Ultimately, it is the taste of the tea that is the ultimate pleasure. All too often a timer isn’t brought to the table, leaving me unsure how long the brewing has already been going on and forcing me to use my small wrist watch to assess the seconds. All of these attentions to detail can make or break my experience. In China, at the tea shops I’ve frequented, the tea preparation has been done at the table. I so enjoy watching an experienced tea server perform a delightful yet simple tea ceremony for me.
Thank you for your comment Michelle. Looks like we’re both on the same page here. Yes, that extra special touch is when the staff informs you how long the tea has already been steeped and I hope one day this will become the norm, the world over. For right now though, I will have to rely on the powers of observation and aroma and try to judge for myself whether the tea has been steeped just right. Thank you for sharing.
hey May King, all good points. I agree a lot with Michelle, – it starts for me the minute I walk through the door. I as well, prefer the woody asian theme to the lacy English parlours.
One of the things I have been advocating for some time is to prepare the tea properly at the tea bar and then deliver it to the table ready to drink. If you serve the tea in clear glass pots, this can have a very pleasing affect on the customer, and the cup of tea will be impeccably prepared. The explanation of how the tea was made can be relayed to the customer at the table, it’s a great opp to make a connection as well.
When a teahouse do hese 3 things well:
1) Provide an attractive and inviting ambiance
2) Serve an impeccable cup of tea
3) Make a connection with the customer
their success is pretty much in the bag.
Hope your loving the land down under MK!
I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with your 3 points, Brendan. Thank you for sharing. Life down under is really good. Attempting to change people’s perceptions about tea here, cup by cup and relishing in the challenge, thanks for asking. Hope all is well with your camellia sinensis nursery? :oD
What really makes the difference for me, is the addition of tea menus and the tea implements. Any little extra touches that help separate our tea houses from the local Starbucks are ok in my book!
Like Michelle and Brendan, I have a soft spot for the Asian ambiance as well. I especially enjoy the aroma cups provided. The ability to enjoy the aroma of a fine pu’erh, long after my teacup is empty, simply makes my day.
As Michelle mentioned, I think a lot of people go to tea houses for the atmosphere rather than to simply plunk down and work. This is why I am somewhat opposed to the addition of Wi-Fi to tea houses in my area…
Very insightful article MK, thank you. :)
Thank you for your kind words, Paula. As long as all the tea businesses rise to the challenge to continue their good work in raising awareness about tea, other cafés and restaurants will follow suit. Raising a cup of tea to your success, Paula and thanks again for your comments.