In London, there are now more coffee shops than people. The rise of the coffee shop has been very good for coffee drinkers of course, and every effort is made to cater to their whims and desires. There are now 237 different ways of introducing beans to hot (not boiling) water, all of them requiring different equipment and all of them tasting exactly the same. It’s now trendy to complain about the coffee in well-known chains; the same coffee that a couple of years ago was being hailed as a vast improvement on the instant coffee and vending machine coffee that most people were used to. Now, apparently, good coffee can only be found in independent coffee shops, not in chains. It’s as though the coffee in one place instantly goes bad as soon as another shop with the same name opens somewhere else.
For the tea drinker though, the rise of the coffee shop has been a bit of a mixed bag. We tea drinkers still get to sneak out of the office, returning triumphantly, clutching our branded paper cup (if you keep the lid on, no-one will know what’s in there). And we still get to ostentatiously use our MacBooks in public. But it can feel like you’re a second class citizen when you order tea in a specialist coffee shop. And the same fetishization has not happened for tea as it has for coffee.
This is probably a good thing. We tea drinkers are simple folk. We would rather sit down and relax with our tea, rather than neck our espressos and do another 12 hours of work before running off for our spin class. The world of the coffee drinker seems too fast paced, too hectic. And the process of choosing exactly what kind of coffee you want seems fraught with complex choices and possibilities.
Still, we tea drinkers do care about the way our drinks are made. It may be too much to expect there to be proper teapots, tea leaves and strainers appearing anytime soon in your average coffee shop. And I know it’s going to be difficult to have the water actually boiling, so we’re going have to settle for the hot (not boiling) water that coffee purists prefer. But a perfectly good cup of tea can still be made with the teabag-in-mug-of-hot-water method. And so I humbly offer this collection of simple tips to coffee shops to improve the tea drinker’s experience:
- Serve tea. I know you think you’re running the hippest independent coffee shop in town, catering only to the espresso swigging elite, but you should still serve tea. Clearly your regular customers don’t mind, but I might be there for a meeting and you’re going to make an extra £1.90 profit this week if you sell me a teabag that cost you 10p and dunk it in some hot water.
- List the teas you have available, on the board, in writing large enough to be read. Lots of places require binoculars to read the tiny, tiny list of teas on the board, squashed in below the vast list of coffees. Or it just says “a selection of teas” and I have to have an actual conversation to find out what you’ve got.
- Train your staff on the teas you serve. I’m a herbal tea drinker, and there have been times when I’ve had to direct the person taking my order to where you keep the teabags. I’ve also had people put milk in green tea for me. Yuck. There is going to be major confusion if they ever introduce white tea.
- Put the teabag in the water. I know, it sounds obvious. But there’s one chain in particular that places a teabag on a saucer, next to a pot of hot water. Perhaps they think I might opt to nibble the dry teabag separately, then wash it down with a delicious cup of hot water?
- Give me a saucer. Five minutes is plenty of brewing time, then I want to whip that teabag out of there and I want somewhere to put it. If it stays in the mug I get a lovely slap in the face with a cold, wet teabag as I tip the last mouthful in.
- Debate still rages about whether milk should be in the cup when brewed tea is added, or if the milk should be added last. But what I think we can all agree on is that you should never, ever present a mug containing teabag, hot water and milk.
One day, perhaps, the tea drinkers of the world will unite and usher in a new era of tea shoppes on every corner. But until that day, be nice to us. Then we may spare you a scalding with our boiling (not hot) water when the revolution comes.