Tea in the Experience Economy. Sometimes You Can Work with Tea Like with Wine and Coffee

Tangya White Tea Special Grade (Hubei, China)

In the previous article (Reasons Why You Mustn’t Work with Tea Like with Wine or Coffee), we came to the conclusion that tea cannot be treated like wine or coffee. Tea is too complicated to work according to the wine scheme — it needs to be brewed and the result of this brewing is unstable. It is very difficult to promote by wine methods a product that with each consumption can have different consumer characteristics. To work according to the coffee scheme, tea is too simple — its preparation does not require special (and expensive) equipment or special skills and can be easily done at home. When any consumer can make tea on their own, the issue of paying another person for brewing tea raises questions.

But what if we tried to simplify and complicate tea? Maybe then it would be possible to work with it like with wine and like with coffee?

Simplification is very simple. See how the RTD tea market has evolved both quantitatively and qualitatively over the past few years. Two luxury segments to which wine methods can be applied are already clearly distinguished in this market. These are expensive bottled kombucha and unsweetened bottled tea like Japanese Royal Blue Tea, Marumago or English Fortnum’s Sparkling Tea. There are still very few such products on the market, but if the dynamics of RTD tea development and interest in unsweetened products pursue, then in a few years they will both gain a wider spread and become cheaper. So, if you are inspired by the examples of Robert Parker, Oz Clark and Vivino, you may start writing reviews of RTD teas, come up with rating systems and develop related online services.

Another possible way to simplify the preparation of tea is tea machines (for home use, first of all). Of course, tea machines do not guarantee an absolutely stable result when brewing one tea in the same way (for example, due to different water), but they can easily be made into a special network with the ability to exchange impressions and recipes, to organize contests and other things that will make the promotion of tea through information activity effective. In short, although currently wine promotion methods are not suitable for tea in general, for certain segments of the tea market they may become relevant in the very near future.

With the complication of tea making and its promotion by coffee (service) methods, everything is also quite simple. Just to remind you: the service method of promotion is based on the consumer’s confidence that they cannot independently receive such a product or service as in the place where professionals work. With tea brewing, especially in countries with a developed tea culture, this approach does not work — it is very difficult to build a demanded and high-margin service by pouring hot water over dry tea leaves. However, it is enough to shift the emphasis from brewing tea to serving it — and everything changes at once.

When guests look at the coffee card and see the words Cappuccino, Americano or Ristretto there, they get a clear picture of what will be prepared for them and can evaluate the drink in a cup at least at the level of comparing it with similar offers in other coffee shops. What do guests understand when they see the words Huang Shan Bai Mu Dan White Tea or Darjeeling Puttabong First Flush 2021 in the tea menu?.. Most likely, that someone is trying to deceive them. And after tasting the tea, they are convinced of this. That is why it makes sense to offer tea in public catering not by the names of teas, but by the formats of their serving.

It is curious that the format approach in tea has long been used in national and regional tea traditions — English, Turkish, etc. Their only problem is that they exist in archaic and local aesthetics and are monotonous in each specific place. Well, that is, in Turkey, they offer Turkish tea everywhere, and in England — English tea. Now imagine a modern teahouse that offers guests Russian-style tea, English-style tea, Japanese-style tea, Frisian tea, and so on.

Such servings will be better remembered by guests, they are more expensive, set interesting tasks for tea specialists (for example, which tea is best suited for Russian serving) and make professional tea education for public catering fully meaningful — people can be taught the best-selling markers of the main tea traditions. And in general, if tea is offered in formats, and not in the names of teas, the tea culture will have a chance to develop also according to the coffee (service) version — especially if the format approach is used on a more or less massive scale.

Thus, the coffee and wine methods are not very suitable for tea in general, but for some segments of the tea market they can be quite effective. Only for segments. But what we want to find is a purely tea approach that will be effective for tea as a whole, regardless of the place of its preparation and the form in which it reaches the consumer.

So, now is the time to return to the experience economy, with which we started this whole conversation and the essence of which is to sell a performance using products as decorations and specialists as actors. It is quite possible that this approach will allow the development of tea culture in its own and absolutely tea way.

We will talk about possible forms of such a development in the following articles.

Olga Nikandrova & Denis Shumakov. Teatips.info. 2021