Tea in Cafes

The tea movement has moved on hugely in the last couple of years, and is still growing.

One of the most common questions we get asked is 'How many teas do we need to have on our menu?' - or put another way 'We are thinking of having 4 or 5 teas to start with'. Often it seems that cafes want to tick the box of serving tea,and that is all.

Our aim for Waterloo wholesale was to replicate what was achieved at the Teahouse. Essentially this was to offer tea in a cafe setting. For high quality leaf not to be left in the domain of fancy hotels, quaint tearooms and department stores. I see no reason why the cafe sector can't 'own' tea, in the same way as it owns coffee.  For this to happen the commitment to serving tea must be more than a token gesture.

If it is done well then the cafe can truly aim to be a place of excellence for tea. This makes sense from both an aspirational and business point of view. The economic angle is probably best described with reference to those places that we have all come across. You know the ones "We are just gonna serve coffee, and its gonna be the best coffee in the world". After a couple of weeks you will see the introduction of pastries (excellent ones), a few months down the line you will see some kick-ass lunches coming into effect. Tea is a another product that the public wants - so you may as well serve it well.

I am not arguing here against going niche. I do like niche. However - I think it is almost always a good idea to do so when you have made your money elsewhere and now want the quiet life. Or if you have a serious PR budget or an amazing (amazing, amazing) location. Cafes on the whole should be places of high turnover and many transactions. I know some will disagree - and feel that the cafe format should move on. I think the cafe format is what it is. You can certainly put good tea and coffee into other environments such as restaurants and hotels - but this is a separate discussion.

Creating a menu.



a) There is no question that English Breakfast tea is a popular blend. I would suggest offering a tea that is similar - but a step towards single origin/estate. Examples would be Blacks from Yunnan, Kemmun or Assam. Once people try something that sits just inside their comfort zone - you have gained their trust and they will follow you on your suggested journey. You can still hold the English Breakfast and suggest the single origin if you get an opportunity.

b) "Can I have a green tea please?" - "Yeah sure. Here you go". This answer should be replaced with "Sure, we've got a couple of interesting ones in right now.." The obvious choices to offer here are Chinese and Japanese greens. Both processed as greens - but in radically different ways. Also - a flavoured green probably wouldnt go amiss. Genmai and Jasmine are two historical blends that have a huge following.

c) Represent each of the processing methods. I am not going to try and convince you that each tea will sell equally. They won't. You may well sell 50 times as much of one tea as you will others. This disparity can be reduced by better engaging with customers - offering teas of the week, samples etc.

You should carry a white, an oolong and a puerh. Whites are most commonly divided into buds and leaves. Oolongs can be sub sectioned into open/closed, Dark/Light roast. Puerhs again can offer options in the way of raw/cooked, loose/cake.

I would definitely have one from each category and perhaps introduce specials to introduce a different version of that processing method. Tea does not have the same issues of volatility as coffee does. From harvest you will normally have between 9 - 20 months as  a shelf life, depending on the type of tea chosen.

d) Caffeine free infusions are an area to be covered also. Rooibos is hugely popular, and botanicals such as chamomile, peppermint, fennel, elderflower and hibiscus.


A good, generic tea menu would be:




Darjeeling (1st or 2nd Flush)

Earl Grey


Chinese Green

Japanese Green


White Peony/Silver Needle

Closed Oolong (Iron Goddess of Mercy)

Open Oolong (Oriental Beauty)

Raw loose Puerh/Cooked compressed Puerh


2 Botanicals


There are of course an unlimited number of flavoured teas that you could add to the menu - but with these beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. Just make sure you can provide full provenance for all of the ingredients used to make the blend.

At present I am a great fan of oolongs. If I walked into a place and they had 8 oolongs I could choose from, and little else, I would be happy. Im not sure if the general public would see it that way, but if you are passionate about a certain class of tea then represent it. Customers can often see your affection for the teas you love.

You will often come across an amazing tea that doesn't fit into a well known category. If you love it - then share it. Try them as a special first, and see if your customers agree with you.

Having a number of teas can cause issues with storage. An easy way around this is to have smaller caddies/containers to store the teas in, and top up more frequently from your store room.

Conveying a large number of teas on a wall menu or table top menu can also be tricky. However, the aim here is to be known as a destination place for tea - and this does require adequate representation/space on menus.


We have customers who represent 20 teas in cafe. We also supply cafes who continuously change their tea menu ("Send us what you think is good.."). You will no doubt create your menu to fit your personal tastes. Whichever way you do it - show that you have put some thought and passion into it.



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