My husband and I were reading a foodservice survey done about a major coffee chain which concluded that consumers valued taste, cleanliness, and convenience almost equally. So, if you have the cleanliness and taste, but not the convenience . . . problem.
As anyone in retailing knows, it’s all about location. Cleanliness doesn’t cost a thing but some elbow grease. I think location has been one of the problems in getting loose tea concepts going for the average, unfunded proprietor. Most have had to settle for ‘B’ or worse locations simply because of the cost.
There’s convenience in location and then there’s convenience as in ‘fast.’ Loose tea is many things, but most consumers don’t see it as convenient, aka “fast.” There aren’t drive-through windows and pots and ceramic cups handed out through the opening.
Why even bring all this up? Because I read a discussion on a professional industry board the other day, where the question was asked – it seemed almost hopefully or longingly: “Is there a good future for loose tea?” where even specialty tea industry professionals were talking about convenience. Lately, I have seen companies I never thought would go “pyramid bag” do so because they want and/or need to get foodservice business. And, I’ve read the controversy that the nylon in praymid bags doesn’t degrade for decades – maybe not in our lifetimes – which makes the bags not eco-friendly. But they sell.
On the large scale, what appears to be happening is that the coffee chains are bringing in more loose tea, but are batching it, and sugar-ing it up, and doing it mainly as specialty beverages because “tea is hot” (but not really – it’s iced). 85% of the tea sold in the U.S. is, indeed iced and black.
Panda Express is doing a new tea bar concept with boba and specialty blended tea drinks, Dunkin’ Donuts was seen looking around World Tea Expo, and all of foodservice is hopping on the “specialty tea” bandwagon. So what are tea purists who want to start a pure loose tea business to do?
There are always niche possibilities, but for the foreseeable future, and it almost hurts me to say this because I’ve been such a heels-drilled-into-the-ground-loose-tea purist: we have to accept that a few may do very well in certain urban or trendy areas with loose tea businesses, but even some of the established and “purist” loose tea wholesalers are heading in the direction of convenience.
More on this in a future installment, but I’d love to hear comments from tea business owners. We are in the process of expanding our vision to sync with the trend. How about you? What is your experience, your observations? I know there are loose tea brewing appliances and we are about to introduce ours (“about” meaning having taken a long time and not until we believe it’s completely ready and the time is right). Talk to me, my tea industry friends. Talk to me. Are your heels drilled in, are you refusing to budge, are you determined that we will show people the light on loose leaf? Tell me you are and why. Or tell me how your vision is changing, if it is.