How to source, stock and sell tea

22 September 2023, 07:00 AM
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How to source, stock and sell tea

How much thought have you given your tea sales? Whether you stock a few traditional favourites, or your shelves are brimming with loose leaf varieties, understanding what’s motivating customers to make their tea purchases is essential if you want to boost sales.

“Tea consumers may be more discerning or willing to experiment than coffee consumers,” states recent industry research from consumer intelligence group NIQ. So why not try something new?

Do you know your black tea from your oolong? Are you thinking about getting into the herbal tea game? Would a tea tasting be right for your shop? Let’s dive in.

A brief introduction to tea

While there are countless different blends and brands, there are only six categories of tea, Candice Mason of Mother Cuppa Tea tells Speciality Food. “The most common is black tea. We then have green tea, white tea, yellow tea, oolong tea and puerh or dark tea. Herbal tea is a mix of blended herbal ingredients.” Herbal teas include ayurvedic varieties that use adaptogens, which are herbs and roots that naturally reduce stress levels, like ashwagandha or ginseng, as well as infusions from berries, flower, bark, leaves and more.

The type from Candice’s list that retailers are least likely to be familiar with is puerh, a fermented tea. It “will fetch the highest prices in the world depending on the length of fermentation and region,” Candice says. “I have seen it sold in auction for tens of thousands!”

Generally, however, tea has mass appeal. Next to water, it’s the most popular beverage, with 3.5 billion cups consumed a day, according to Sarah Taylor of Taylor & Moor. Many parallels can be drawn to wine

“Similar to wine and grapes that produce the wine, there are signature flavour profiles that define certain teas,” Sarah says. Candice adds that teas tend to be named after the region in which they are grown. “For example, Darjeeling tea is grown in India, whereas Assam tea is grown in China. The terroir will determine much of its flavour,” she says. 

Did you know each category of tea has a specific brewing temperature and timeframe? “I’ve regularly witnessed an afternoon tea ruined by over-stewing for too long in water that is too hot,” Candice says. “Filtered water will also make a huge difference to the flavour of the tea.”

Sarah stresses that a good cup of tea stems from a good product. “Even a novice tea drinker will appreciate an establishment going the extra mile to feature unique tea selections. Good tea usually has a good story about its origin. Good tea service means an experience will be remembered. People rarely forget good stories or good service,” she says.

What’s trending in tea?

“Tea is big business, and even more so since the pandemic,” Candice says. “The trend towards herbal wellness teas has grown significantly.” Through her business, which blends a range of teas focused on women’s hormone health, she’s seen a rising interest in medicinal plants to support wellness. 

“Huge opportunities exist to create a buzz about serving tea as a healthy beverage option,” Sarah adds.

With health in the spotlight, tea sales grew 8.8% over the last year, according to NIQ’s data, in large part thanks to the popularity of herbal teas. Consumers are also looking to tea for functional health benefits, the group’s research showed, with some of the most popular functional teas being turmeric tea and green tea. 

Antioxidant-rich matcha tea, which also fits the bill for ‘functional’, has seen a big rise in popularity in recent years, NIQ found, both for at-home consumption and in cafés and coffee shops.

Retailers should be familiar with loose leaf tea, and while it remains a growing trend, especially as an affordable luxury, other formats are becoming available too. “Cold brews are becoming increasingly popular,” Candice says. “You can get really creative with tea. Think about the audience you have and what they might be looking for. If you’re a venue with a sober-curious audience, try cold brews and kombucha. If you’re a traditional afternoon setting, consider the quality of the Earl Grey and Darjeeling teas you offer and focus on the brewing experience.”

What to know about ethical teas

A whopping 92% of consumers say sustainability is important when choosing a brand today, according to NIQ, and the tea industry faces a several sustainability challenges, so it’s important to look into the ethics of the brands you stock.

One is the biggest issues is the use of plastics in tea bags. “One tea bag can contain up to 11.6 billion microplastics and 3.1 billion nano plastics! 96% of British tea is consumed in tea bags, and 36 billion cups of tea are drunk per year in the UK,” Candice highlights. Add these numbers up and you can see why brands are beginning to make a change towards compostable options.

As well as individual brands, the wider tea supply chain has historically faced numerous ethical question marks. “The industry doesn’t have a fantastic reputation for caring for their workers, however many sign up to schemes that support them with this, but it is something to be mindful of,” Candice says. “When purchasing your tea, check where they source their tea from, their ethical considerations and their sustainability. A good tea supplier will openly talk about this on their website.”

Should I host a tea tasting?

Whether you’re looking to introduce a new range of teas or simply want to engage more with your customers, why not hold a tea tasting with a qualified tea sommelier, or tea master, to help you? “We all love talking about tea and sharing our knowledge,” Candice says.

As well as an opportunity to boost your customers’ knowledge, you can also consider it an upskilling opportunity for staff. If you want to position your shop as the go-to spot for quality tea, you can take this even further. “The UK Tea Academy in London also hosts a wealth of training sessions which are really special, and you’ll gain a lot through this. If you want to start with the basics, get some good qualify tea and play with the brewing process, tasting the difference between a green tea brewed for three minutes with boiling water and compare it to the same tea brewed at 80 degrees for 1.5 minutes, for example,” Candice says.

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