Let’s Talk About Milk Tea

Photo credit: The Drink Station, LLC

If you live on planet Earth like I do, you’ve no doubt noticed that the tea industry has been exploding in recent years. Local grocers have gone from carrying nothing more than boxes of iced tea blends to stocking gourmet loose leaf in the aisles and multiple varieties of tea-based RTDs in the refrigerated section. But what about your tea shop? What has changed?

While the selection of loose leaf and bagged teas has grown exponentially, the apprehension that surrounds many of these specialty items still persists with the general consumer. The mention of the words “tea shop” still conjures up images of high tea or complicated rituals with hot tea of some sort at the center of the experience. And this is not too far from the truth. What many traditional tea shop owners will admit, too, is that serving tea alone is not enough to survive. Food, then, often enters the picture and can take the focus away from the tea, which is where our true passion lies. It can be very frustrating at times to find a way to make tea your focus while still hitting decent margins and attracting trendy consumers.

Let’s talk about milk tea. Milk tea, and its family of bubble teas, has been around for decades in various forms. The most popular style of milk tea originated in Taiwan back in the 1980s and is a simple blend of black tea, creamer and sugar. Since then, however, this once simple drink has turned into a revolutionary tea canvas that has allowed tea lovers to pair their favorite teas with a myriad of creamers, flavors and sweeteners. But that is not even the best part. It’s also incredibly popular and provides phenomenal profit margins for tea retailers.

The average bubble tea shop will sell between 150 and 300 drinks per day, according to some industry reports. The drink attracts many different demographics and allows tea shop owners to make tea their focus once again. I’ve often been heard calling milk tea a “gateway tea.” It’s an easy way to introduce customers to the world of specialty teas by way of a popular, fun and intriguing beverage thath can be served hot or iced.

Once customers get hooked on one style of milk tea, you can begin to introduce them to other styles, which might open them up to different tea bases, too. So, expand your menu to include milk teas. They’re a great addition to any tea shop as a way to better use existing stock, attract new customers and increase profits.

At World Tea Expo:
Adrian Hernandez, the author of this piece and owner of The Drink Station, presented the origins and recipes for various milk teas in 2017.