An Intense Experience. I Hated It.

Lady Devotea and I recently spent a couple of days with @jackie and @peter from Tea Trade.

It was almost a 100% perfect experience.  It was good company and good tea, plenty of both. It was amazingly hospitable hosts, a lovely and very novel part of America for us and  it was quite relaxing after New York.

We loved New York, which was 100% walking and talking all the time. In Virginia, the talking did not abate but the walking scaled back. A wooden table with a pot and cups became conversation central.

Although we did stare down certain death when we faced off against a huge black and white grizzly bear that wanted us for dinner. The locals refer to them as ‘raccoons’ but we know the truth. If not for immense bravery and the fact that it was outside and we were inside, this blog might never have been.

So, given the title above, you might wonder why it seems at odds with the general bon vivantry of this post.

Our hosts took us to many places during our short stay, and at one point Jackie said: “I suppose you’ll want to see a Teavana while you’re here.”

We jumped at the chance.

Now previously and on basic evidence, I have compared Teavana to a company called T2 in Australia. That was based on the superficial similarities in the way both companies have been described many times on-line: selling from samples on the retail floor, masses of teaware for sale (overpriced) and masses of tea for sale (overpriced). I must say, those similarities are there. But Teavana is far inferior to T2.

SIDEBAR: Technically, The Devotea tea brand is a competitor to both companies, and so my comments are general. It’s really not polite to, for example, talk about subjective measures of tea quality.

Let’s start by what I like about T2. In their home town of Melbourne, they have so successfully infiltrated the market that you cannot find two adjacent cafes that still offer the plain wrap/supermarket/Liptons teab*g experience. They simply can’t afford to.

This is tempered by the fact that in addition to loose leaf, T2 do have a range of those plastic  teab*gs masquerading as silk, so whilst they are a cut above, it’s not really good enough.

By comparing half a dozen T2’s I’ve been in to 1 Teavana, there’s always a risk I’ve not got something right. But it’s clear that in Australia, Teavana would face the same issues that caused their parent company Starbucks to be such a crashing failure in the Aussie market: Australians dislike places that claim to be wonderful, whilst selling an inferior product.

Startbucks coffee is cheap and nasty by the high standards of the well-entrenched coffee culture in Australia, and flashy stores and the fact that the logo is on every episode of NCIS was never going to be enough. Starbucks got what they deserved and had to close virtually all of their Australian Stores.

So, Teavana had a few issues. One is the tasting. For reasons I can only speculate on; they served mixtures of their own teas. I may be getting the names a tad wrong, but if Bobo The Clown’s Raspberry Jockstrap and Sweeeeeet Papayalicious Mangoburst Mulberry Cake are so good, why are they being served mixed together? It’s just plain weird.

I decided to try one and asked the server to confirm there was no lemon in it because of my allergies. She did, and served me a cup that had lemon fumes virtually wafting off of it. FAIL!

OK, so let’s look at their range of black teas. Four. FOUR? But there’s a gazillion teas up there! There must have been a hundred herbal pseudo-teas with names like “Bilberry De-tox Chocolate Cheese Steak” but hardly any actual straight teas.

The four blacks were all Chinese.

What’s this? The wall has a slogan painted on it: “the best loose leaf teas in the world”.

Really? That’s the claim?

Leaving behind their various other claims like that (a) a tea is slimful and (b) ‘slimful’ is even a word, they are claiming that four black teas from China are the best in the world. No Darjeeling. No Assam. No Lover’s Leap. Just 4 black teas. And a few greens, but not really high end ones. And a few dozen herbal mixtures.

‘Best’ is clearly not an exact science. For example, their standards might be “If we want to buy our tea for 5c or less per pound, then what is the best we can get?”

But that’s not what their wall implies.

We bought a little scoop. Nice but overpriced. I inhaled some of their black teas from the enormous tins. I admired a $50 teapot that had a $129 price tag on it.

And left.

 

 

Robert Godden

Certified Tea Nutter. Blender. Author of "The Infusiast" and Tea "Stories"

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7 thoughts on “An Intense Experience. I Hated It.

  1. David’s Tea is the Canadian equivalent of Teavana and has much the same problems. Our local independent tea store unfortunately is not very good, either. Good thing the internet exists and can be used for commercial purposes in tandem with shipping companies.

  2. Well, I love that little tea scoop – and I”m holding on to it, so there. And thank you again, it’s a nice reminder of – well not so much our trip to Teavana but of our whole day out.
    As to the mixtures, I couldn’t agree more. One actually tasted quite nice, if you don’t think of it as tea, but more as a sweet, cold drink. Very fruity. If it had not been a mixture, we maybe, maybe, might have purchased it. But a mix? What’s up with that? I’m not buying two packets to try and replicate the experience. I think that’s a fail.
    The limited number of black teas, is also a problem. A big problem for me because that’s predominantly what I drink.
    As to the slogan “The best loose leaf teas in the world.” Well, they didn’t say that they were right there to be had in the store. It’s probably more to be seen as a vague, general comment, to be completed with the words “…are somewhere but not here.”
    What’s nice is, that the sales staff really wasn’t terribly pushy. A nice girl from some former East block country I think, was just the right amount of helpful. She might have been on a summer work program or something like that.
    Lovely seeing you both,
    J.

  3. Seems like Teavana’s world is either extremely small or I should start importing their teas. I’m afraid it is the first. So not the place to look for the best teas of the world it is then.

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