Tanner said

Starting a Tea Lounge?

Still a bit early in the thought process, but I’ve got a relatively cool idea to start a tea lounge in town. There’s currently nothing like a tea lounge (or cafe, or whatever you prefer to call it) within miles and miles of my local town and my idea is more than just a place to get tea and sit down.

But I’m curious if anyone has pursued the idea or has any input into what it would take (and if you think it would be worth it) to start a local tea lounge.

ANY opinions, insight, links, or banter on the subject are welcome. :)

29 Replies

I think that is pretty cool thing. Good surrounding, people can sit, relax, talk, read, surf on internet. Now these places are becoming more and more popular in GZ.

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This is something near and dear to my heart. I wanted to start a tea cafe or shop, but I didn’t have that kind of time or money so I started a tea blog instead.

This is such an amazingly broad subject – something that I have spent a lot of time on. I’ve even written an entire business plan and researched various retail aspects (including things like which way the different genders turn when they walk into a store – there is real science behind that!). I’ve looked at colors, even architecture are well. I have a floor plan, design and layout schematics.

That said, there is a lot to be learned from our friends across the pond in Europe about selling tea. TeaGschwendner is a good example though they are doing things here in the states with their shops that they don’t do in Germany. Over there, they are simply tea shops, clean and bright. Very modern with a typical up-to-date and stylish German feel to it. They don’t do food. The shops they are opening here are doing food – this is because tea is not enough for American consumers and they are approaching it as each location is a flagship store in a major market (as opposed to what they are doing in Germany by saturating with many, many stores, even in smaller markets).

There is so much advice out there about opening up a cafe that it literally becomes unbearable as you do your research. You certainly can overplan it. Get some advice from the Small Business Administration. They have a local office in your area, you can schedule a meet with some very talented businessmen and woman for free. I did this in the early stages of my planning and discovered something interesting. Don’t do food. Food prep requires a lot more money that simply drink prep. If you even make sandwiches onsite you are going to require a commercial kitchen along with food handlers permits. But expense. Huge expense even and it changes the whole nature of your enterprise.

Sourcing food from local commercial kitchens is a better option (this is how SBux does it). Speaking of Starbucks – see if you can get a job at one for 6 months or a year. They didn’t get great by being bad at the cafe business. There is a lot they do well, and also a lot that can be improved on by a small business owner. You would have flexibility that they cannot. Really look them, stand in the store and look at where things are placed, how they sound, and how they smell. There are no accidents in there, they have the money to do the best marketing research into cafe culture – learn from what they present.

Either way, step one is to schedule an appointment with your local SBA folks. The advice they give is free and you will learn tons. You would have access to business school information at no charge at all.

Pete
leafboxtea.com

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Tbarteas.com is local to me, and has expressed interest in finding other people to continue the brand, they do comfy chairs and snacks and delicious tea prepared or available to take home (bagged or tins) and might be willing to help you start up if you brand yourself Tbar….and there may be similar cafes like that

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Quote Leafbox Tea – “This is something near and dear to my heart. I wanted to start a tea cafe or shop, but I didn’t have that kind of time or money so I started a tea blog instead.”

I feel exactly the same!

But I feel opening a tea lounge is a tough job. I wouldn’t want to have an expensive one for rich people only. I would love to target on college students, artists, and hippies. But for an inexpensive store, traffic is extremely important. It’s not as easy to drive tea traffic as coffee traffic.

I once saw a little, crowded coffee/tea shop in Prescott, AZ, filled by college students and town dwellers. It was a few years ago, and their black teas were labeled as specific as “dian hong” and “keemum”. I loved that place and they seem to have good business.

There is a lovely, inexpensive tea shop in Toronto, across street from a Tim Horton. I like the shop very much and visit it when I stay in Toronto. They have simple and comfortable rooms. But often it’s very empty. In contrast, the Tim Horton across street is busy all the time. I sometimes feel a little worried how they sustain if there aren’t many customers. But maybe they do wholesale too, or have other business income. Besides, I believe tea business is growing rapidly now, and there will be more and more tea drinkers.

TeaParT said

Sounds like you like to check out the tea spots when you travel. Hope we can coax you to place a few reviews in the Places section.

I will try :D The Prescott one I don’t even remember its name, but I will look up my travelogue :D

I spent 3 years in Prescott and never saw such a place…any idea what street it was on? :)

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Solution I see happening at the few tea lounges in my area (suburban Twin Cities): you’re going to get more traffic if you offer blended milk teas and bubble teas on your menu aside from the usual loose-leaf. 90% of the business that walks into the one (and yes I mean one and only) tea lounge within reasonable driving distance of my town gets bubble tea and “smoothies.”. Could be a regional thing, could be more universal, but it’s what gets the younger crowd in the door. They have regular teas, tisanes, and specialise in japanese greens, but it’s the sugary/fruit/milk drinks they sell the most of. I suspect many people figure they’re happy with bagged tea prepped at home and only stop in because they hear of the “exotic” offerings they couldn’t do themselves, but see the hardware and the loose leaf varieties on the shelves and have their horizons broadened.
They also offer a ‘tatami mat’ seating area, authentically austere and next to windows with lots of natural light, signs to remind people to take off their shoes. That attracts a large number of people as well.
They’re in a hard-to-find strip mall, but they still get great foot traffic, and they also sell just about all of their stock teas and their (surprisingly varied) tea wares online.

You may have to prepare to do both (full-service online catalog and the lounge) to cover your bases.

Bubble tea is basically a dessert, not tea. Personally I would rather go bankruptcy than selling bubble or fruit tea in a tea lounge – well probably that explains why some nice tea shops closed up :-p

Actually I love bubble tea very much and I make delicious fruit tea at home. Just can’t sell it as tea, can’t do it!

da.u.de said

@Gingko I know what you mean about Boba teas. I love it actually. I have it almost everyday. But I can see why true tea aficionados would discourage this because honestly, the black pearl (and the syrup in it) screws up the true taste of the tea. However, I think @latteteadah is right, it attracts a different kind of drinker and could possibly be an opportunity to recruit them to the real tea world. ;)

I would still love to sell bubble tea if I open a bubble tea store :D Actually most of the bubble or fruit teas I make at home don’t have a tea content except for green tea powder (hmm… now I think of adding some other tea next time!)

Yeah it will help a lot to have something seducing people to tea world.

da.u.de said

Yeah girl.. the tea house near me is genius.. she uses all her teas for the boba stuff. I especially love things like Pumpkin Chai Latte with boba pearl or even any of the chocolate tea blends nowadays with some soy milk and boba. It’s insanely addicting.

slygirl said

You can serve boba with tea. The tea cafe that I go to often in my area only makes bubble tea with their loose leaf tea, especially Thai. That being said, most businesses that don’t specialize in bubble tea don’t make the boba well—either they’re over or undercooked (e.g. Teaism in the DC area has great milky tea but disgusting boba). That turns off the boba aficionados, which is a shame, because the tea could be very good.

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Miss Sweet said

I wish someone would open a tea lounge in my town – though I am in the process of planning either a tea retail store or a tea lounge of sorts.
Theres one in Auckland that has an extensive range of loose-leaf teas to purchase bulk, and you can also sit in and enjoy a pot. They sell a few snacks (bars/biscuits), making them just fully dedicated to tea instead of a cafe + tea shop. I assume they’re doing well (or well enough) because they’ve been around for several years now!

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Tanner said

Wow, a lot of great responses to this! Thank you all for your thoughts, opinions, and insights.

It seems to me that tea is becoming more and more popular, which makes it surprising that there aren’t more tea lounge-type places through-out the US. Thought I wonder if the reason there aren’t many lounges is because the demand isn’t high, or because nobody has really thought to try it out in a creative way?

Tanner ………check out DISTINCTLY TEA , they are franchising .They are a very distinguished company.They also wholesale ,so if you do go forward might be a great place for you to check into for pricing!!.Good luck on your venture ……..love to be updated !!! Cheers

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Good afternoon,

I opened the TeaGschwendner shops in the US and am now working on Adagio’s first tea shop. I’ve opened both a tea lounge and a tea retail shop and describe some of my experience in this article (http://www.tearetailer.com/article_19.html) and others at www.TeaRetailer.com. Hope it’s helpful. ;)

I second Charles… his articles are very informative. Do your research and be prepared for a substantial financial investment. As the saying goes “you have to spend money to make money”.

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Connecting with other tea business people will certainly be useful. The Yahoo Group “TEAOnline” is a discussion group for tea entrepreneurs. Info here:
http://www.teaguide.net/tearoom_resources.html

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Garrett said

I’ve always hoped to one day start up a tea lounge.

It’s not that tea demand isn’t high. Even though tea is becoming more and more popular, it just really depends on where you live and the demographics of the place (assuming that is where you will be starting up the lounge). Plus you need to think of the clientele you are trying to cater to.

Connecting with other tea retailers or business people will be good. Networking is definitely one huge part of starting up a business or company.

Good luck with your tea venture!

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