Today I read an very good post by Diane Walden over at T Ching all about how much the specialty tea business is growing here in the United States. She sites the success big players like Argo, Adagio, and Teavana. Ms. Walden furthers her argument by also writing about other small -but successful- specialty stores that can be found in growing numbers all over the country.
Reading this post got me to thinking. I’m going to try to explain my thoughts here…
I remembered watching films from the 1970s (my favorite decade when it comes to films), and noticing that whenever characters are drinking coffee, nine times out of ten they are drinking it from a mug. The remainder of the time, the characters are drinking their coffee out of a generic to-go cup.
So this: The now ever-present Starbucks logo was totally absent. Ms. Walden talks about Starbucks in her post, and she states that they did not really find their mojo until the 1980s. If my own memory serves correctly, the specialty / gourmet coffee craze did not really get moving until the 1990s, the era of grunge music, both of which happened to come from the crazed city of Seattle.
I think of coffee in the United States in the following terms…
- Before Starbucks
- After Starbucks
Is it possible that something similar could happen to tea? Could a tea version of Starbucks arise, or will a company like Starbucks or McDonald’s take over one of the growing and successful emerging tea retailers?
Ms. Walden writes,
Chicago has been a hotbed/center of successful U.S. retail loose-leaf tea store concepts, including TeaGschwendner‘s, Argo‘s, and, most recently, large online retailer Adagio‘s. New York has seen the Argo chain come to town and TeaGschwendner recently moved into a tiny space in Rockefeller Center. What concepts are working best in terms of potential growth into the kind of dominance that a few coffee chains hold in their niche?
For whatever it’s worth I hope tea will not suffer (I use that word suffer very deliberately) the same fate as the coffee. I say suffer because even though chains like Starbucks, Caribou, and Second Cup have really taken off in the coffee market, it has been at the cost of so many small -and unique- Ma & Pa coffee shops.
Currently there are very few small Tea Houses near where I live, but there are a few, and those few are all unique. I like the uniqueness of those places. I don’t want there to be a Baltar’s Tea House (or whatever) near every Starbucks. I’d rather have the variety of many different small tea houses.
Ms. Walden writes regularly for T Ching, and her opinions on the tea industry are all worth a read. In addition to writing about tea, she has started two tea businesses, one of which is a specialty tea house called The California Tea & Coffee Brewery. You can also follow her on Twitter @CA_Tea.