For us, summertime usually means a fairly significant slowdown in guest visits, as many of our teahouse friends go on vacation and engage in other activities. We’ve also had to face the perception that (high-end) tea doesn’t really translate to a summery, cooling beverage, despite the fact that we offer summer menus and drinks. Of course, it’s nice to see all our friends back in the fall and winter, but this summer we’ve resolved to find new ways to keep in touch with our friends outside the normal newsletter-Facebook-occasional paid tasting route.

We recently hosted a standing-room-only, free iced tea tasting. Up until this point, our tastings have always had a ticket price of between $15-20 because they’re so expensive to produce (labor, meal, prep, and cleanup). The tasting was jam-packed, and a surprising success, especially given the fact that I tossed everything / every way I’ve been doing tastings the past seven years out the window:

  • No long-winded seminar: Folks were ready to jump in and drink, so I tried to keep it concise and useful: just a quick primer on iced teas, how to make them, and some tips and short recipes for simple syrups.
  • No food: Thus, all we had were tasting glasses to clean up (we also prepacked some summer dishes and snacks for those who wanted to purchase a bite to eat).
  • No servers: We made the iced teas in advance and placed them on various tables.
  • No dealing with tickets or reservations: In fact, it was more of a standing-moving-interacting tasting where folks went from table to table tasting teas and various syrups and sparkling wines I placed next to the recommended teas. I think this was fun for guests because it was so interactive and social.

Although offering a large free tasting (that incurs extra cost) during lean times might seem unwise, this was a win-win for us and for our guests on many levels. We truly do appreciate our guests and value their friendship, and this was a nice way to show it. Also, outside the usual benefits of strengthening relationships with our guests and sales, the coolest thing for us was to see so many people with an interest in tea visit us. It was energizing and encouraging. This also gave us a chance to talk about upcoming seminars, learn what people liked the most, and introduce new teas in new ways.

Much like a wine merchant or jewelry dealer, we will also be offering invite-only tastings to engaged teahouse guests this summer, segmenting groups based in their known interests and preferences. This has already generated quite a bit of interest, because these groups will be the first in town to try this year’s best shinchas, darjeelings, and other select teas.

In addition to these events, we’ll continue to be involved in large offsite sponsorships, host healthy dinners / seminars with great guest chefs, and underwrite public radio spots. Hopefully we’ll be able to sustain some momentum generated in the winter and spring, and not fall into that pre-fall torpor that has so often plagued us in the past!