Wednesday, August 28, 2013

There's always one... (a Teavana rant blog.)

A trip to the Boca Raton Town Center Mall in West Palm Beach has a lot of treats for the upper class shoppers.  It seems that every indulgence needs a brand name that says you've made it when you treat yourself.  For a while, this mall only offered two main options for these people: Godiva for the chocolate lovers, and Starbucks for the coffee drinkers.  But what of tea drinkers?

Tea is a tradition.  It's a piece of history.  Something connecting us to a Feudal Japan and Queen Elizabeth I and many others before those points in history.  Tea leaves have been grown over a span of generations all over the world, bringing us a variety of tea leaves and completely different tea experiences.  Starbucks sold a tea, and still do, while they wait for a transition to occur.  A transition to serve their newest company buyout: Teavana.  The company that Starbucks currently sells is Tazo, a company that was founded in 1994 and sold to Starbucks in 1999.  They make an acceptable Earl Grey... and that's about it.  But this newer tea company (founded in just 1997) has been creating quite a buzz lately in a country that prided itself in throwing tea overboard as a middle-finger protest to the Brits back in our revolting days against the motherland.  I've just noticed a few issues with this company and its patrons.

At the entry way of the store are two sampling opportunities.  Sometimes one hot and one iced, sometimes both hot.  And for me - always disappointing.  I'm a purist of sorts when it comes to tea.  I don't like a whole lot of flimflam.  Just give me a proper cuppa and I'm a happy bunny.  I like my black tea black, my green tea green, and so on, with slight variants allowed to spice things up every now and then.  Teavana, though, insists on adding fruits to some of my favorite brews.  I'm not a huge fruit tea fan.  Something about it just seems amiss.  Which leads me to my first observation.  A large majority of the patrons I've talked to didn't like tea prior to Teavana and seem to not like any proper cuppas that can't be found outside of this little tea boutique.  Their target market are people who are not only new to tea, but alien to loose tea and it's preparation.  These people enter this store that seems like an initiation into the steadily growing sea of tea drinkers and come out $100+ poorer with their new tea prepping gear and teas.

And yes, tea drinking is steadily growing.  In an America where people are realizing the things that they are putting into their mouths - especially where drinks like soda are concerned - and the highly caffeinated coffees keeping them from resembling zombies throughout the day, Americans have been steadily turning on to drinking tea.  With a wide variety of caffeine free teas and the health benefits flooding day time shows where Doctors tell you what to do/eat/drink every morning it's no wonder why Starbucks saw this opportunity and took it.  Even they know that their expensive coffees are going to be met with a challenge as coffee declines and tea inclines.  I'm not saying the tea sales are going to ever even come close to matching coffee sales in America, just that people will be demanding the healthier option of tea and passing up on that cup-a-joe.  So they picked the priciest tea that has been their competition.

Teavana, as you'd expect, isn't without their faults outside of fruiting up most of their teas.  They've been judged for doubling the amount of tea they recommend you brewing for their in-store samples.  They don't tell you this in the store though which is why some angry customers have gone home to steep their new tea only for it to taste much weaker than what they just had in the store.  The employees argue that this doubling for samples is to ensure that the customer really gets a taste of the tea.  Some customers have also complained how when they purchase a tea and request one amount, the clerk over-pours past the weight they've ordered.  This is a matter of up-selling.  Much like when you order cold cuts and it goes over a little bit - only this tea is much pricier than most meats and cheeses found in even the Boar's Head part of the deli counter.  Among their pricey teas are equally pricey merchandise; like tumblers, tea sets, and kettles.  There was a recall on a particular tumbler whose glass will shatter and send scalding tea all over you.  Fun!

So things may seem fine-and-dandy for the future of Teavana, but they still have their challenges.  When broken down, the stats for tea in America are as follows:

Iced tea makes up 85% of tea consumed in America.
Of the tea brewed in America, 65% is bagged, 25% are pre-brewed (like canned iced teas), and only 10% are loose leaf.

The reason is that while Americans want to enjoy tea and all the benefits of it, we are still living in a fast paced country and they find loose leaf teas to be too time consuming when you can just throw a tea bag in a mug with some boiling water and be on your way without having to measure things out.  This Starbucks venture will presumably do all the measuring for you when you order so this will increase the client-base for Teavana by exposing their product to the Starbucks customers who will give it a go.  If I can order a basic Earl Grey by them at Starbucks, I may change my views.  But for now, I'll just stick with my Prince Vlad by Kusmi, Earl Grey Supreme by Harney & Sons, and my trusty old Twinings.  Because when it comes to a good brew, you don't always have to drain your bank account.  Cheers!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Lapsang Souchong

If you have ever wanted to know what a punch in the face feels like, then this is the tea for you!  The key word in the flavor description is "smokey" and that is the very reason why I was compelled to venture into this tea.  Usually, I can smell a tea through the box and I know what to expect.  Somehow, this tea was undetected by my nose... until I opened it.  That, my dear readers, is when the Kraken was unleashed.  It smelled of burning wood.  It smelled STRONGLY of burning wood.  That's where the punch in the face comes in - minus all the pesky blood and secret Fight Club lifestyle.  The usual beautiful aromas that you associate with a nice cuppa like the comforting and mouth-watering aroma of the bergamot in Earl Grey are replaced by Smokey the Bear's nightmares.  It gains this when the tea leaves are smoked in a bamboo basket above burning wood.  I really didn't know what to expect at this point and was certain that I was about to meet the elusive "tea I don't like" that I never thought actually existed.  I brewed it, and dove in.  Hand to Goddess, this tea wasn't nearly as strong and smokey as it smelled, which was a huge relief.  It does have a very distinct smokiness but it isn't nearly as strong as the smell is.  I also find that the taste and the smell are actually very different.  It smells like burning wood but tastes just slightly smokey and woodsy.  You can only find this one at specialty stores and online.  This was another one of my local British shoppe finds.  When I purchased it, the shoppe owner asked if I heard about it on Oprah because apparently she mentioned it and then he sold out in a week.  Being a former Barnes & Noble employee and seeing how books she mentioned flew off the shelves, I understood exactly what he was talking about.

A little warning about this tea:  It makes things in it's surrounding smell like it does.  I put one in my handbag and everything smelled like it.  I put it in my tea cupboard, and the teas near it started tasting like it.  I have since placed the little tea bags in a ziploc and put them back in the box they came in.  You can still smell it when you handle the box, but it doesn't spread like the plague anymore.

I definitely recommend this to anyone who has never had a smokey tea before.  I can actually say that I do enjoy this tea... as scary as it may smell.  Cheers!