SpontaneiTea

A casual tea blog by Alex Zorach

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

October 17th, 2013 · 4 Comments · Uncategorized

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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4 Comments so far ↓

  • Avatar of thedevotea thedevotea

    One problem is minimum order qty’s from tea companies. We allow mix and match and have quite a low minimum wholesale order, but it still means a lot of tea if you buy 3 or 4 tea companies minimum orders.

    • Avatar of cazort cazort

      That makes sense. I’d imagine that would be a much bigger constraint though for a company reselling the tea itself, than for a cafe or coffee shop.

      Cafes are in a position that they can buy in small quantities because they can buy from retailers at retail prices, because, even with high end tea, the cost of the tea itself is still only a small portion of the price charged–cafes pay more for the fixed costs of having the cafe open, and to some degree for the employee time involved in tea preparation, rather than the price of tea itself.

      For example, at Velvet Sky the tea is $3 a cup (and I think well worth it), and at Saxby’s, a place I frequent in Delaware, their tea (which is good, but not loose-leaf) is just under $2 a cup.

      Cafe Clave would order their tea from Novus Tea wholesale, but would pick up their loose tea (by the pound) at a retail outlet–a local middle-eastern store that sells tea at prices lower than some wholesalers…it’s where I buy my Ahmad Tea for around $7 a pound, and their Caykur tea is even cheaper than that.

  • Avatar of xavier xavier

    Really interesting post that got me thinking.

    I know companies selling both coffee and tea but I am not sure that they can do a good job at both as they are two different things with two different ways of being prepared.

    Regarding buying from different companies, you are right about the pros and cons of each company teas and this move allowing the customer to experiment the best of the best (which is also a matter of personal taste) or allowing it to taste something different (as each one of them has also unique teas/blends) but @thedevotea is right about most companies requesting a minimal quantity for each delivery and sale (and I didn´t speak yet of those who request exclusivity).
    There is also another problem: the tea shop/cafe image. Usually most brands have a peculiar universe and unless you change what they send you and put it into your own boxes/bags…, you might end up with a patchwork of forms/colours/classifications… that might be surprising and disturbing for your customer.

    I don´t have a definitive answer to your questions but it is a really interesting topic.

    And before I forget thanks for allowing me to discover InginuiTea.

    • Avatar of cazort cazort

      Oh wow, you hadn’t discovered IngenuiTea yet? I had known about them for some time but this was my first experience actually brewing tea in them. They work quite well…although they’re a little unintuitive at first, because of the “pour out the bottom” feature.

      I had thought of the image / aesthetic consideration. You can always remedy that by putting them in your own tins. Another option is by taking the shaped tins from one company and then putting the label of a different company on top of them–that allows you to keep the same shape of tin.

      Another option, which is what Phoenix coffee did, is to have separate displays or shelfs for the loose teas from the two companies–in their case the locally-blended herbs, and the true teas.

      And yet another option is to keep some of the teas behind the counter and out of sight. That’s what Cafe Clave did with the ingredients for their Masala Chai, although they kept the Novus Tea boxes in the open.

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