Posted: 08/11/2019

Fancy a brew?

All Brits love a cup of tea, but expanding your selection with high-end loose leaf varieties could set you apart from the high street chains. Lauren Phillips speaks to Jon Cooper of PekoeTea.

THE CUP OF TEA IS a staple in British tradition, but don’t let it be an afterthought when it comes to your deli-café menu. 

Ditching mass-produced pyramid teabags for speciality loose leaf teas can be a real point of difference on the high street, says Jon Cooper, founder of tea importer and retailer PekoeTea. 

He recommends deli-cafés include six to 10 loose teas on their menus and build a good knowledge of them. A typical list includes English Breakfast, Early Grey, a plain or flavoured Green Tea, Peppermint, lemongrass, ginger, a Rooibos an Assam or Darjeeling and a caffeine-free option. 

“People tend to lump tea and coffee together because they are hot drinks,” says Cooper. “You can drink coffee on the go but tea is a slow drink. Something you ponder and take your time over.” 

While it might seem like a faff and something which your customers might not understand right away, it makes financial sense to do this [see boxout] and offers you an opportunity to add some theatre when serving it.

Cooper uses traditional tea ware like side-handle teapots for Japanese teas and Gongfu-style clay teapots for Chinese Oolongs, but even a teapot and cup presented on a small tray will add a nice touch to individual servings. Zero Japan teapots have an infuser already inside and removable lid (and are dishwasher safe).

Average infusion time is 3 minutes, and a small tea timer (which is turned as soon as the water is applied) can be served alongside to add to the experience. Customers might complain about having to wait for their tea to steep so it’s best to gauge the situation and communicate the process to them. Keep an eye out for disappearing timers, though. 

“Correct crockery and tea ware is the ideal way to serve loose leaf tea,” says Cooper. “But it’s fundamental to get your water quality, temperature and infusion time right and communicating this to the customer so they get the best experience.”

Cooper says the water temperature should be 70-80°C for Green Tea, 90-95°C for Oolong and 95-100°C for all other teas. Some Japanese teas can go as low as 50°C .

“You can’t scald tea,” he adds, “but the higher temperature means you’re extracting the bitterness in the leaf that you don’t want.”

Using hot water directly from coffee machines for tea can leave a metallic flat flavour from being boiled repeatedly inside the copper tank. A separate water boiler avoids this and Cooper says there are new models now which allow businesses to instantly access water at the right temperature. A temperature-controlled kettle will work, too.  

Is it time for a cuppa?

Bag vs loose

• Teabags might offer a quicker turnaround but the numbers stack up when it comes to loose leaf teas.

• In foodservice, an English Breakfast teabag costs on average around 15p per serving, while it’s only 5p per serving for loose leaf. 

• Selling a large amount of teabags could get the cost down to 12.5p per serving, still giving you a 6/7p difference with loose leaf. 

• So, even a £2.20-2.50 cup of loose tea can offer a decent margin. Although, the service cost will be higher, too. 

This story appeared in the October-November issue of Fine Food Digest. You can read more on the digital edition here.

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