One of the savviest restaurant servers I’ve ever had was the fabulous woman who, after hearing us nix our young daughter’s request for soda, charmed our daughter by asking if she instead wanted “H2O on the rocks.”
Wow, would she ever! Our daughter was absolutely thrilled, especially when the iced water arrived in a fancy glass, garnished with speared cherry!
It’s all about presentation, right?
Both in how something is offered to the customer and then in how it’s served.
There is a move in fine restaurants or teashops to treat tea as we would fine wine. This involves educating both the staff and the customers. And such a shift is long overdue.
Consider wine. We may start drinking inexpensive wine, but as our finances and taste develop, we move to better wines. We attend tastings, read about wine, and buy wines new to us, thus broadening our experience and appreciation. In a restaurant, wine is treated with a level of respect; the bottle is generally opened with some pomp and the wine is poured with flair into appropriate glasses.
Now think about tea. Although you may be offered a selection presented in a wooden chest or pretty basket, you nearly always get teabag tea, even at “nice” restaurants and tea houses. And want a second cup? Be prepared to use that same teabag. As for teacup, many if not most restaurants use the same cups for coffee and tea.
But the world of tea encompasses a staggering range of teas, from inexpensive to extremely expensive. Like wine, the flavor and quality of tea reflect plant cultivar, terroir, production. Like wine, tea depends on both science and art, with knowledge passed down over generations. Like wine, tea benefits from being made and served in appropriate tea ware.
Suggestions for elevating tea’s status in restaurants was one of the foci of this year’s World Tea Conference + Expo, which means that all of us may eventually see some changes in how we’re offered tea in our favorite restaurant. With the coronavirus still wreaking havoc on our bars and restaurants, with many of them struggling to survive, this may not seem the ideal time to think about tea. It’s certainly a minor aspect of the industry.
Still, during the past months, restaurant owners have already been in constant reassessment of their business, whether figuring out how to simplify menus, hang on to staff, or determining what they want their business to look like post-pandemic. For the latter, rethinking the role of tea could well be a part of their decision-making.
Offering high-quality loose tea to customers can certainly be done, with some consideration given to tea choices. A bustling kitchen simply cannot worry about correct brewing of delicate leaves. Yet there are many teas that are quite forgiving of water temperature and brewing time.
Here are some other suggestions by those in the tea industry, many of them relatively simple to implement:
- Train staff about tea so that they can offer guidance to customers, including pairing tea to food
- Incorporate tea into the wine/mixed drinks menu or have an actual tea menu
- Offer carbonated tea and tea cocktails, presented in appropriate glassware
- Serve tea—that’s been properly brewed using loose leaves—in nice tea ware
- Have a local tea sommelier blend a signature tea for the restaurant
- Offer flights of tea
- Suggest dessert teas, especially if customers don’t want to buy an actual dessert
As consumers, we need to encourage and support efforts by our local restaurants to elevate tea. Appreciating a really great cup of tea in a restaurant is a start, but we can also let the restaurant staff know how much we enjoyed having quality tea and we can post reviews and use social media to spread the word.
Making restaurant owners aware of tea’s possibilities and suggesting how they may elevate tea’s stature in their establishments is only part of the issue; we as consumers need to reward their efforts.
Eventually, we may have an entire restaurant menu devoted to tea, including tea cocktails and mocktails, all properly prepared and beautifully presented!