This morning I read an article by Jacob Jeber, son of Phil Jeber of Philz Coffee.  If you haven’t heard of Philz yet, you probably will very soon. They just received a huge infusion of venture capital from people who normally invest only in technology, people like top executives in companies such as Yahoo.  These folks are based in the Silicon Valley/Bay Area, but now, with pockets full of growth money, are planning to expand across the country.philz brothers

In this article, Jacob talked about what is referred to as the waves of coffee.  The first wave he mentioned was the Folgers and Maxwell House generation wave, then the Starbucks and Peets wave, and now the third wave . . . small artisan, hand-crafted roasters and coffee houses, in which Philz is often included.  He differentiated Philz by pointing out several unique selling propositions they have: paying after you order from a personal barista; not offering any espresso or espresso drinks (many told Phil he was an idiot when he told them his intention to leave out espresso);  and one or two more, such as not allowing customers to add their own condiments, but rather having the baristas pour in the real, heavy, (some guess high-fat)  “manufacturing cream” and adding the brown – yes, brown – sugar and letting the customer taste it to make sure it meets their specifications.

It made me think about the waves of tea.  For this, I would include companies like Lipton and Tetley in the first wave, Celestial Seasonings and Yogi’s for the second, and the third wave would be tea brands like Teavana, Argo, and Adagio which combine a store and/or cafe concept in a contemporary environment, unlike traditional tea-houses.   

In the last few years, tea brewing technology has made possible what may become yet another wave, wherein the method of brewing tea will play a large part in future concepts, even though some already have commercial by-the-cup brewers in a test store or a few selected stores.

So, what will distinguish one from another as more and more tea-houses open across the country and the world?   What will be the next truly revolutionary (not a simple copycat of what’s hip) concept, the one people really do get excited, emotional, loyal, and fanatic about?  What innovation will bring to tea the likes of Philz Phanatics?

Charles Cain said here years ago that the Starbucks of Tea would be Starbucks, and, as usual, Charles was right.  Starbucks bought Teavana and they are adding the cafe concept to some test stores and plan to roll it out. But where is the next concept that will be absolutely new, fresh, and unique?  What will set it apart from the rest?  Who will take a centuries-old beverage and turn their brand into a cult following, be it one store that’s talked about nation-wide, or an international roll-out?  What will be the one the foodies blog about, the one the others in the business come to get a peek at, and ideas from?

Philz has figured that out, or stumbled on it.  Of course, that’s after decades of tweaking and experimenting.  Great things just don’t happen overnight.   Phil, once an immigrant grocer, is about to become a national coffee icon.  If you can figure that out with tea, you have found the pot of gold every tea company is looking for.  I don’t think it’s happened yet.  But I believe it will.

Images courtesy of the contributor.