What does the recent planned closure of four Starbucks’ Teavana tea bar concept outlets (three in NYC, one in Beverly Hills, CA and one in Seattle) and converting them to Starbucks say about the marketing efforts and style of Big Tea? Despite their avowed affirmation that this move does not change the company’s “commitment to tea,” is this an admission that they are not the right company to bring a reliable and rewarding tea experience in a sit-down environment, doing for tea what they did for coffee? (Whatever your opinion of the Teavana line of packaged teas, you will continue to be able to purchase them through 350 Teavana outlets.)
One could conjecture that enjoying a cup of tea at home on a regular basis or in your local Mom-and-Pop-owned-and-operated shop suits the quiet, contemplative spirit of tea and is totally at odds with imbibing in a corporate cookie-cutter environments such as Teavana’s, despite the couches and midcentury Modern fixtures. Sitting down with a cuppa in places with a soul in a unique, non-synthetic setting created in large part by an owner who presides over the business is a way to cement the bond between customer and owner, between tea enthusiast and tea connoisseur over the longer haul.
Brewing a good cup of tea takes focus and precision (in short, finesse) that is apt to be lacking in a large chain operation, an operation overseen by regional managers who in turn oversee the local, often impermanent operations team, with more or less success. And the comfort of interacting with the owner and same staff every time one frequents the spot cannot be underestimated. As consumers, we crave pleasantly predictable transactions—being served the same tea by the same tea brewer; a person-to-person interchange that translates into great service with the accent on true hospitality. Can you get that in a corporate store run from afar? Would love to hear your thoughts and experiences. But in the meantime, I hope you continue to patronize your local tea shops which fly the flag of independence and provide the simple but meaningful warmth and hospitality upon which this kind of entrepreneurship rests.