3 Experts Offer Tips for Growing Tea at Foodservice

A server serving tea. Photo credit: GettyImages.com

Moving tea service at restaurants forward remains an industry challenge. Three World Tea Expo speakers gave their insights on how to create positive change.

Max Falkowitz, an editor at Saveur and Serious Eats and a World Tea Expo speaker, said there is room for improvement in how tea is presented in foodservice.

“It’s an interesting time because we’re seeing more tea in restaurants than before,” he said, “but we’re also at a time when most of that product is either poorly prepared or not marketed for what it actually does.”

Ergo, tea has greater visibility, but in many cases it is low quality and effective communication with customers is lacking.

AJ Singh, Michigan State University professor and World Tea Expo speaker, expressed an age-old issue. “In U.S. hotels, tea does not have the same exposure as wine and coffee, which seem to be a lot more mature in terms of their marketing and awareness.”

He said, the challenge for tea purveyors is figuring out how to create an interesting story with which to promote tea in various types of foodservice, whether it is at fine dining, bars, banquets, etc.

“Tea has started to gain an entry point, but it’s not quite [where it could be],” he said

One way to figure out this marketing story is to match tea’s many positive attributes with customers’ needs.

Iced matcha green tea. Photo credit: GettyImages.com

Omarly Alcina, founder and manager of Kepen Corp. and a World Tea Expo speaker, said a current trend in foodservice is for beverages that offer more than just good flavor but also contain health benefits, and this demand creates a space for tea to fill. The growth in popularity of green teas and herbal blends in the United States reflect this demand.

Alcina said, “More customers could be drinking tea. They would enjoy it, based on their drinking habits and what they expect from a drink.”

Singh, Alcina and Falkowitz emphasized the importance of understanding customers’ current level of awareness of tea and other beverages so restaurateurs can increase tea appreciation through education. This entails teaching staff, who can then share a variety of teas and their special characteristics with customers.

Singh said, “The tea industry will be well-served to really train the servers because if they’re comfortable with tea, they’ll certainly be able to promote it.”

There is hope for restaurateurs in every market segment who want to make tea more familiar to coffee-drinking Americans. In 2007, Alcina opened Kepen Tea and Salads café in Venezuela, a primarily coffee consuming country like the United States. Alcina spoke of how Kepen’s tea was so well-liked that other restaurants and coffee shops followed suit and added tea to their menus. At the height of Kepen’s market penetration in 2014, its 30 Venezuelan outlets sold 100,000 cups of tea per month. Hence, customers respond positively to a good product.

Singh pointed out how tea can help a business’s bottom line. He suggested tea companies demonstrate—to food and beverage managers and tea buyers—the potential profit that each cup of tea can generate and incorporate this data into a marketing plan.

“I think, right now, tea is still viewed as sort of an afterthought … but a good tea program can be beneficial,” Singh said.

Tea companies are making efforts to broaden the tea drinking market and include more families and young people, he noted. Examples of this include making tea an ingredient in entrees and desserts as well as adding it to cocktails. Consumers can also be involved in blending tea.

Singh and Falkowitz stressed the significance of creating an enjoyable and memorable experience around tea service.

Falkowitz said, “Tea should be something that you have fun with, not something that you have to be afraid of.”

To learn more about tea’s role in culinary, hospitality and foodservice, attend these World Tea Expo sessions: