After traveling and drinking tea in Asia for the better part of a year, New York City proved to be a disappointment.
It’s true that the North American specialty tea market is growing fast, and over the past few years several new tea shops have opened in New York. However, most of these shops are branches of large chains that clearly focus on volume over quality, and their market strategy is to differentiate and add value by blending and flavoring teas.
A few weeks ago I walked by one of these chain stores (which happens to be owned by a “star” in the coffee industry whose beverages will set you back a few “bucks” or more), and the strong, sweet aroma of berries wafted out of the shop. I’ve walked into stores owned by a few other chains, and similarly, they were offering fresh brewed samples of various teas flavored with berries, chocolate, ginger, etc. In one store when I asked if they had “just plain tea,” the sales clerk had to think a moment before sending me in the right direction.
I’ve nothing against flavored teas (I’ve enjoyed jasmine, lotus and Earl Grey tea in the past), but I’ve come to learn that if the tea is of high quality then it can stand on its own, without even milk and sugar. Flavoring a good tea would be like flavoring Champagne.
In North America there certainly is a market for flavored teas and that coffee company referenced above is no dummy when it comes to marketing. But I was glad to find a few stores in New York that focused on traditional Chinese teas and other single origin teas from India, Sri Lanka and Japan.