The first thing I did when I woke this morning was to reach for my phone and within a few clicks- metaphorically speaking, who doesn’t use a touchscreen-I was at Twitter.
No kidding? Starbucks acquired Teavana for $620 million??
For the longest time everyone has been using the expression ‘The Starbucks of Tea’ and lo-and-behold it turns out to be Teavana?
Because I am in the tea industry- notwithstanding the minuteness of my impact- I had to delete a couple of my initial responses and snide comments.
Initial shock aside, this is actually a good thing for the industry- with a couple of caveats.
If anything, Starbucks has a proven business model. They can carve out a new market that didn’t exist. Specialty coffee in the States, cafes in China, so if nothing else they can bring tea, loose leaf tea, to the mainstream, to a wider audience. As a tea lover, there shouldn’t be much to complain about, is there?
I can envisage a lot of people would beg to differ on that.
But let’s just look at the positives.
All those who ‘know’ coffee say that Starbucks isn’t real coffee. And all that.
Well, to me it’s good enough. Of course this comes with the caveat that I’m not all that picky about my coffee, to me coffee is largely functional, get me my caffeine kick when it’s too early for tea or when I can’t get access to good tea.
It’s not coffee that’s to die for like some of those indie cafes sprouting up or frankly the good ol’ Nanyang style kopi in Bedok Central but Starbucks coffee is something I might conceivably drink.
Now this sounds like a backhanded compliment but consider this: I don’t order tea when I’m outside 95% of the time unless it’s a shortlist of outlets and the times that I try anyway, I wish I ordered coffee, leaving behind 90% of the tea unconsumed.
In a sense, that’s what Starbucks has done for us, it introduced ‘Specialty coffee’ to cultures accustomed to paying a fraction of the price and made coffee more than just coffee but a way of life.
Once upon a time, before it was cool to diss Starbucks, it was cool to be at Starbucks. For many people, Starbucks was their introduction to ‘real coffee’ and what it entails.
Now imagine Starbucks doing that for tea.
I will reserve my comments on the present quality of Teavana or Tazo teas except that I order coffee when I’m at Starbucks.
Starbucks has the ability to introduce tea to masses that only thought of tea as a “time of the day”, “milk and sugar”, “pass me the sugar syrup” and “I would like green tea, what do you mean which kind?”
Hopefully with its reach, clout and if it raises its tea standard to make it in line with its coffee standard, Starbucks can add a jolt to the tea industry, making it mainstream.
Just as we used to be satisfied with instant coffee, Starbucks shook us out of that and Expresso machines eventually became a staple of many a household.
Perhaps if Starbucks stuck to some traditional sensibilities- gongfu brewing perhaps- we might see every other household owning a tea tray and gaiwan.
Just so long as they raise their standard of tea, not necessarily to ‘premium tea’ levels but at least one that is respectable.
Though I own a business from which you can buy tea online the notion that Star Nirvana would consider me a competitor is laughable at best