At this year’s World Tea Expo, tea educator and writer Lisa Boalt Richardson tackled the challenging topic of “How to Get Coffee Drinkers to Enjoy Tea.”
First the why. Why are veteran coffee drinkers turning their attention to tea? Richardson cited health and caffeine concerns as two common reasons. Sometimes a physician might ask a patient to abstain from coffee. Others see tea as something hip or a “new thing” to explore. Richardson is particularly interested in the millennials who are embracing tea, both men and women, as she has noticed that they don’t just drink it, but they are also diving in to learning as much as they can about the subject.
Like many tea educators and enthusiasts, she had long assumed that someone making the switch from coffee to tea would want a bold, dark brew that reflects many of the same characteristics as coffee. Then she was faced with a big dose of reality from an editor named Bill LeBlond.
LeBlond was Richardson’s editor at Chronicle Books for the book “Modern Tea.” (He is now retired.) She was set to pitch him for the first time on this book project at the annual International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) meeting. She ran through her book pitch, delivering her well-practiced elevator talk. Then there was silence. Really long silence. LeBlond announced, “I hate tea.” Richardson thought she was done for, but managed to say, “I think there is a tea for everyone. I really believe that. I think there is something you could find.” He said, “I’ve tried them all.”
Fortunately while LeBlond did not like tea, he was aware that tea was an up and coming trend. Five months later Richardson signed her contract with Chronicle. Seven months after that, she was running a tea tour of New York for ten people attending the IACP conference, and saw LeBlond’s name on the list.
The whole day was dedicated to trying a wide range of teas. She was still thinking about “mirroring” coffee with a strong bold tea. Suddenly LeBlond informed her that he loved the silver needle tea most. He noticed that people had always tried to give him teas with bold, malty flavors. That’s not what he wanted. He liked that this tea didn’t have the astringency of a bold black. He wanted his tea to have its own distinct profile, not just be “coffee-like.” It made Richardson rethink about how we help coffee drinkers appreciate tea.
In her educational session she noted that each of us experiences flavors differently. She demonstrated the point by having everyone put tasting strips in their mouths. Some participants tasted a bitterness immediately, while others were slow to recognize it and some never tasted it at all. She believes it is important to recognize that “different tasters” may enjoy different drinks.
Richardson then developed different categories of teas that could be presented to coffee drinkers. There were “Tea Suggestions for Roasty/Nutty Taste & Aroma but Lower in Caffeine,” “Tea Suggestions for Dark Roasted and Smooth,” “Tea Suggestions for Robust and Bold and Also for Coffee Drinkers that Like Milk and Sugar,” and finally “Tea Drinkers for the Dark Horse,” an extra bold tea that has little fussiness and allows very, very long steeping times. She recommended that tea educators consider the many different preferences of tea and coffee drinkers and to listen carefully to their ideas, not being afraid to think outside the usual recommendations.