Cafes Mixing Tea Brands or Suppliers – Velvet Sky Bakery And Other Examples

 - by Alex Zorach

Today I’m writing from Velvet Sky Bakery and Cafe in Jenkintown, PA. Velvet Sky has been open as a bakery (specializing in cakes and cupcakes) for some time, but it only opened up its cafe this summer. I absolutely love the cafe, which is located in the heart of downtown Jenkintown.

They seem to have just about everything pinned down.  It’s cute, comfy, has delightful baked goods, and, unlike most cafes, they serve fantastic loose-leaf tea.  There is also free and reliable Wi-Fi.  And the employees and owners are super nice.

The counter at Velvet Sky's Cafe

The counter at Velvet Sky’s Cafe

I’m super excited to see any cafe serving high-quality loose-leaf tea.  One thing that particularly stands out to me is that this company has decided to mix up their suppliers.  For one, the tea and coffee are totally separate–they serve Counter Culture Coffee, a company that doesn’t deal in tea at all.  Most of their teas are supplied by Octavia Tea, but they also currently have a decaf tea from Republic of Tea, and they use Adagio Tea’s Ingenuitea infuser to brew their teas.  They also recently placed an order with Rishi Tea at my recommendation.

The way tea is served here allows customers to control the steeping time if they want, and it also allows you to make multiple infusions of your tea leaf.

Adagio's IngenuiTEA infuser, in use at Velvet Sky

Adagio’s IngenuiTEA infuser, in use at Velvet Sky

Mixing and Matching Brands of Tea and Suppliers

I have noticed that a majority of restaurants and cafes stick with a single brand or supplier of tea, but I don’t think this necessary makes sense as a business decision.  It makes sense in terms of simplifying things, to a degree, but I also think that it limits your choices.

Having sampled hundreds of teas now, I can say with great confidence that different tea companies have different strengths.  If you find a tea company that excels at one particular type of tea, it’s likely that there are other teas your customers might enjoy that that company does not excel at.  I especially think this is true of companies that specialize in coffee–a lot of coffee shops use the same supplier for tea and coffee, and this is rarely a good idea, as the companies that are best at tea are usually not the companies best at coffee.

If you want to be the best you can be, as a restaurant or cafe serving tea, and you want to have more than a small, specialized selection, you may wish to consider buying from different companies or brands–especially separating your coffee and tea, but perhaps even using more than one source of tea.

Some suppliers may provide a mild pressure for you to buy everything from them.  I recommend resisting this sort of pressure; just because a company does an outstanding job in one area doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best choice to supply all your needs.  If a company offers tea, you can always ask to sample it and then sample a bunch of other options too, and then make your choice.

Another Example of More Than One Tea Brand: Cafe Clave in West Philadelpia

Velvet Sky is hardly the only example of a cafe using more than one tea supplier; one of my old favorite cafes in West Philly, Cafe Clave, which unfortunately closed due to reasons unrelated to the businesses’ success, also combined brands.  Cafe Clave primarily sold Novus Tea in tea bags, but for their chai, they made a house blend which was a secret proprietary blend of loose-leaf Ahmad Tea and Caykur-brand Turkish Tea.  You can read about their masala chai in this post on my old tea blog; it was a delightful blend that went heavy on the anise and cardamom, giving it a unique signature that, unfortunately, I may never be able to replicate again.

A Customer’s Perspective

I’m hardly a typical customer, due to my connections to the tea industry through my work on RateTea, but I do fill the role of customer in a cafe more than an insider.  I can’t speak for everyone, but I will say that when I see a company that shows evidence of an intelligent mixing-and-matching of brands.

For example, the now-closed Phoenix Coffee shop in Lakewood, Ohio, used to use two separate suppliers for their true teas and for their herbal teas.  The true teas were sold by a company that did coffee and tea, but the herbal teas were provided by a local woman who mixed her own herbal blends, many of which contained locally-grown ingredients.  The herbal teas were fantastic!

Phoenix Coffee in Cleveland; I miss these folks and this cafe, which sold loose-leaf teas and herbal teas from two different suppliers.

Phoenix Coffee in Cleveland; I miss these folks and this cafe, which sold loose-leaf teas and herbal teas from two different suppliers.

A company can take it too far though; there’s one cafe in center city Philadelphia that has so many different brands of boxed tea bags that I can’t even count them, and they don’t seem to be selected for quality.  I’d rather a coffee shop or cafe stick with a single, high-quality brand of tea, rather than including variety for its own sake.

What do you think?

  • What do you think of the idea of mixing and matching brands or suppliers of tea for a cafe or other business?  How far would you take it?  At what point do the costs or inconveniences start outweighing the benefits?
  • Do you know of any brands or suppliers of tea and coffee that truly do an outstanding job of both?
  • If you live anywhere near Jenkintown, do you know of Velvet Sky?  Have you ever been there?
  • How do you perceive the mixing and matching of brands of tea when you are a customer in a cafe?  Where do you draw the line between an unprofessional-looking mishmash, and a carefully-chosen combination?

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