I love visiting other tea shops and other bookstores, especially shops that carve out their own niche. When visiting other people’s shops, I get great ideas for our own tea bar, learn new things, taste new teas, and get an opportunity to chat with other people who share my obsessions. I’ve heard a lot about Teavana, and I was quite looking forward to visiting one on our trip to California last weekend.
I found their selection of teaware impressive. The overwhelming majority of it was oriental, but they had some nice new avante-garde items and a few English teapots. At first glance, their selection of tea is impressive, too. They had 117 varieties of loose-leaf tea in big tins behind the counter. First impression: positive. Then it began falling apart.
I knew what I wanted. I was in the mood for a cup of pu-erh while I browsed. Unfortunately, there were two employees there — one behind the bar and one roaming the shop — and the roamer really wanted me to try all the free samples and look at all the pots. I didn’twant to try the samples. It was an effort to get past him and order a cup of tea.
Next problem: They don’t have any unflavored pu-erh. Every single blend they had contained fruits or flowers or something. No vintage aged pu-erh bricks. Not even a generic blend. Ditto on rooibos. No unflavored red or green. Every single one was blended with other stuff.
Okay, clearly this place isn’t for purists. Let’s switch to chai. The fellow behind the counter found me an oolong-based chai, which (aside from too much cinnamon, in my humble opinion) was pretty tasty. Generally, I don’t put milk in my tea, but chai is an exception. I don’t like it as sweet as most Indians do, but I like some milk and a touch of honey.
The Teavana shop had no milk. None. Only some non-dairy creamers. As I said, I don’t put milk in my own tea, but our tea bar has nonfat, 2%, whole milk, half-and-half, and soy milk. I want to make sure I have whatever the customers want. Teavana doesn’t appear to think that way.
Then my wife came up and pointed out another problem. They had six different teas available for tasting that day. Every single one was pre-sweetened — and not one was pure tea (they were all fruity or herbal blends). If you want to sell me your product, let me taste the tea, not the sugar. And what would a diabetic have done in there?
Overall, I found myself thoroughly unimpressed. When I want a really nice cast-iron teapot, I may check out a Teavana. For the tea itself, I’m going back to looking for independent tea rooms and shops when I’m on the road.