These specialty teas are taking over cafes and restaurants

Tea is a popular drink and ingredient that continues to inspire enjoyment in its fans.

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March 20, 2018 4 min read

The days of nearly all restaurants simply offering coffee and tea on their menus with no other qualifiers are over. While some eateries don’t put much importance on the the types of hot, caffeinated beverages they offer, many have recognized broad consumer trends for more choices and information about these drinks. Student chefs pursing an online culinary arts certificate should keep the desires of their customers in mind as they start creating their own dishes and menus.

Woman drinking tea.Tea lovers enjoy a variety of different preparations.

Tea on the rise

Although tea has traditionally been in a firm second place when compared to coffee in the U.S., opinions about the beverage are slowly changing. World Tea News, which covers the business aspects of the specialty tea trade, said millennials have a greater fondness for tea overall. When that shift is viewed in conjunction with other developments, such as increasing loose-leaf tea sales and a move toward more specialty non-alcoholic beverages in restaurant and cafe settings, it’s clear tea has a growing, appreciative market.

Part of adapting to the desires of an increasing number of diners is simply providing a pleasing, varied selection of different types of tea. In many situations, it’s no longer enough to just offer one or two kinds of tea, especially if they’re industrially produced, common varieties. Finding a few whole-leaf options produced through traditional cultivation can help your restaurant tap into fans of higher-grade teas, while less-expensive choices help you meet the needs of patrons who aren’t quite as involved in the tea scene. Just remember that every restaurant is different, and a strong understanding of clientele and location will help you make the right choices for the teas you stock.

The growth of tea is partially due to its use in other formulations besides hot and cold drinks. Similar to how coffee is used to flavor a variety of sweet and savory dishes – from marinades to chocolate cakes – tea can be a powerful ingredient. From using black tea as a substitute stock for beef and mushroom-based soups to cooking rice and vegetables in tea and incorporating chai into cookies, there are plenty of options. Although the market is still primarily focused on tea leaves and ready-to-drink preparations, chefs need to widen their horizons when it comes to using tea.

Cold brew and other trends

One of the fastest-developing segments of the overall tea market is the ready-to-drink section, the pre-bottled types seen at convenience stores, take-out restaurants and a variety of other locations. This includes a variety of cold-brewed options and kombucha, the fermented tea that is beloved by certain tea aficionados. Although some restaurants offer a variety of bottled drinks, many don’t emphasize this market segment, instead using their bar to create fresh beverages.

Tapping into the ready-to-drink portion of the market can be as simple as offering these options in fresh, house-made presentations. Cold brew, kombucha and more exotic whole-leaf teas are relatively simple, if sometimes time-consuming, to prepare. If the demand exists, it shouldn’t be too difficult to set aside a little space in the prep room and let the tea steep, ferment or otherwise complete its brewing process.

The environmental impact of where and how tea is farmed is another consideration that’s increasingly important for many consumers. Consider highlighting the sources of your teas, as appropriate, to help diners understand they’re making an environmentally and socially conscious purchase.

Tea is far more than a single beverage, it comes in a variety of forms – even as an ingredient in foods – and has a growing number of fans. Make sure your restaurant serves a mix of options your customers will enjoy.

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