Problems are not the problem

I am sure this title puzzles you and furthermore, I can also say that there is a problem going on in the tea world or I could say that there is a big one.

You can relax since the first rule of dumb if you want to be read is that you need to begin with something dramatic to catch the eye and the attention of the reader-to-be. So allow me to use this artifice for a couple of lines in order to get your attention.

Now that I have it, I can begin with the « problem » that I have identified or should I say the problems as I have identified two of them but feel free to add more of them in the comments and I will see if I can add them to my list or write about them later on.

And no, don’t worry, they are far less dramatic than the climate change (that might turn into a real problem for the tea world by reshuffling the cards about the production places) or anything big like this but more with things from our everyday life, things that everyone has probably experienced one day or another.

The first one is linked to the way we buy our hot drinks. As you might have noticed, you pay more for a tea than for a coffee. Since there is not much labour involved or any device to pour tea into your cup (and since there is more labour and device involved in coffee-making, the only difference I see to explain it is that the price is based on the quantity of hot water they put into the cup they serve you.

The next step is logical as we all think that we want the right amount of good for the price we paid. This is when we, as customers, face our biggest challenge (and this holds true for tea bags or tea in leaves): the amount of tea in our cup/pot… because of the idea I just explained, we usually drink a bitter tea.

However apart from what economical wisdom says, I still think (like I once wrote) that the main basis for this lies in the lack of education from the people owning and operating tea rooms, restaurants.. and from those drinking tea. There are 3 things that matter for a good tea (apart from the water and the type of tea you have): the water temperature, the amount of tea and the time you leave it into the water.

Usually those that put too much leaves or bags in tea are also leaving it too long and/or at higher temperature, leaving something that is bitter (hence sometimes the sweeteners like milk or sugar but this is something that happens with coffee too).

I think that to enhance customer experience and therefore their likeness to come back and consume more, waiters should be tea educated. It is in the interest of everyone to do so and it could be a good move for the companies providing teas to bars and restaurants, allowing them to :

  1. improve the quality of their products,

  2. decrease the amount of tea per cup.

Both ideas would allow for an increase in quality and either in margin or prices; a win-win situation, no?

The second problem is a trend that comes from the USA, is spreading slowly in Europe and is a bit antonymous with the way people thinks tea should be drunk.

To be clearer, usually, tea is seen as something that needs time, to prepare it and to drink it because it is a social event. However, today, people are more and more in a hurry, always trying to make the most of their time (because time is money) and end up taking hot drinks either in plastic or paper cups and drinking them on the move almost mechanically without giving any thoughts to what is being drunk or to the people around them (and tea is all about sharing with people).

This leads to a certain unity in the way these hot drinks are made and usually not for the better as they are made quickly for use in these disposable cups by people that only have time to burn themselves if they drink too quickly or to taste a cold beverage because they waited too long in the bus or train before they could have the needed space to drink.

With such a predictable use, why would most people want to make a quality product? Since competition is based on price and margins, the answer is simple: no one. Price being more or less the same between the different tea “to go” places, the only way to stay into the business is to make something drinkable, something that will let people feel they have something for the money they paid (see my previous point) and something that doesn’t cost that much so that the margins and profits can be good enough to pay for all these places in urban settings, where the renting prices are usually quite high.

To break away from this infernal spiral, the solution is not unique but in a mix of different small measures:

  1. see above as the quality and training are always a premium for food-stuff and tea is a kind of it,

  2. improve the recyclable aspect of these cups and communicate about these new and better cups,

  3. find a solution to improve the quality of the recipient: use glass since it can be used forever, china bone, 3D printing to make lighter cups that keep things warm while doesn’t changing the taste,

  4. change the layout of the stores to encourage people to talk to each other and to stay a little longer in stores.

This is a move towards a different experience, one that might make people eager to spend 5-10 minutes in the stores rather than hitting the road again. After all, I am sure they/we all have these 5-10 minutes to spare to enjoy a good cup of tea on our way; the question is whether or not we are ready to take them.

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