For me, the Thanksgiving holiday included an incredible day of driving along the Coast Highway in Southern California from Oceanside and down through the little towns that hug the Pacific Ocean at some of its’ most beautiful coastline like Carlsbad, Cardiff, Leucadia, Encinitas, Solana Beach, Del Mar and La Jolla. Where retail shops almost meet sand, there is a line-up of eateries and ‘drinkaries’ for miles.
Driving along that strip, it seemed every few blocks I saw the coffee signs with various creative names on each shop. Everyone was packed inside and out onto the patio, where it was almost 80F and absolutely perfect sunshiny weather.
I’m assuming that in each of these places, espresso shots and specialty drinks were a good part of the orders, made by electrical machines. I’m also assuming that most had modern coffee brewing equipment including grinders and brewers, with pour-overs taking a minor role, if any. Could this explain why we see few to no ‘tea’ signs as we drive along this hip, current, trendy area? At our first store with partners, pre-technology, it was common to hear ‘how much longer until my drink is ready?”
Coffee drinkers don’t seem to scorn technology, they ‘drink it up’, so to speak. Hardcore coffee fanatics are willing to try anything that might make their beloved bean even better, or get it to them quicker. They don’t seem afraid the coffee or coffee culture will be ‘contaminated’ if technology is involved as long as it tastes good.
One thing people do want with coffee is fast. Whether they plan to nurse one cup for five hours at a laptop or sit outside on a patio until they may be finally asked to leave, or order something else – when they place that order, they want it now. Is this what has kept tea from bursting forth onto the American retail scene? Even in major tea consuming countries like China and India, coffee has made a huge impact in a relatively short amount of time from its retail café concept ‘to go’ introduction.
Having worked tea retailing as almost an educational experience, learning everything we could by watching, asking, and listening to consumers for about half a decade in our own suburban shop until 2013, we have ideas on the subject. We offered both tea and coffee and one thing is for sure…there is a difference between the coffee-centric and tea-centric consumer.
On brewing itself, neither consumer cared about the ‘how’ of brewing. Our tea customers never asked us to be sure and brew the tea traditionally. They weren’t insulted that we were testing /developing a technology (and could never tell them how it worked) that brewed in one minute. All they cared about was the result. More health conscious than coffee drinkers, tea consumers tend to be more interested in the subject of tea than the average coffee drinker is in the subject of coffee and they tended to buy loose tea for home brewing more than the coffee customer did beans – even though we had award-winning coffee in our area ‘hotlists’.
As an entrepreneur, the possibilities that exist in the specialty tea retailing and brewing technology areas still excite me…and apparently also excite Howard Schultz, founder of Starbucks, who was quoted in a magazine article: “Globally, tea is a larger opportunity than coffee. It’s ripe for innovation.”
Tea brewing hasn’t changed for thousands of years and tea retailing is still in its’ infancy…put those two together and fireworks go off for me. I truly hope we will get the chance to partner with someone who has the vision and means to make our dream a reality because…we are ready.