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Any restaurant or café owner worth their pink Himalayan salt knows that to make your menu stand out from the crowd, you have to pay attention to the details. ‘Standard’ offerings don’t hit the mark anymore if you want to be noticed by taste-savvy consumers, and one of the most traditional menu mainstays that is beginning to fall by the wayside is tea in its ubiquitous teabag.

Instead, we’re seeing the rise of tea in loose leaf form, and in a tantalising variety of delicious, healthful blends that are tempting even the most devoted English Breakfast drinkers. Much like how customers now expect to receive a coffee that’s freshly brewed from whole beans rather than made with instant granules, there’s an increasing expectation that good quality loose leaf tea will be served in restaurants and cafés, rather than the customary brand-name teabag dunked in scorching hot water.


And that’s because loose leaf tea is more than just tea leaves without a bag. It’s believed that loose tea offers greater health benefits as the leaves are larger, allowing them to retain more of the antioxidants and plant polyphenols that are lost when the leaves are finely cut. Larger leaves also have more natural oils, which offer a more intense flavour and aroma when they are brewed.

Then there’s the immense variety of loose leaf teas available. While there are four main types of tea, black, white, green and oolong, countless varieties and blends are available that you don’t typically see on supermarket shelves. When you add dried fruits, spices, petals and other natural flavours into the mixes, there is a cornucopia of possibilities with which you can tempt your customers into trying something new.

Brewing up awareness

To find out just how people’s attitudes to tea are changing and why loose leaf tea should make it onto your drinks menu, Lockhart Catering spoke to Rebecca English, co-founder of the Sheffield-based loose leaf tea specialist, Birdhouse Tea Company. As an advocate for both the benefits and enjoyment of loose leaf tea, Rebecca has seen a definite evolution in customer awareness around the product.

“Customer expectations are increasing as loose leaf tea consumption continues to follow a similar path to other beverages, such as wine and coffee”, Rebecca says. “Most people have only ever considered tea as a single offering - black, in a teabag ready to take milk and sugar - yet as a nation we are open to and consumers of hundreds of combinations of coffee. But awareness of loose leaf tea is starting to make a break through.”


Rebecca also says that it’s not just the traditional black teas that are being more openly embraced by customers. More exotic teas and tea blends are being better appreciated and understood not only as nourishing drinks, but as delicious and enjoyable alternatives to ‘regular’ tea and coffee.

“Green tea for example is beginning to lose the stigma of 'nasty and bitter, but I drink it because it’s healthy'; instead loose leaf green tea that is 'sweet and mellow with soft notes of apricot, with the additional bonus of great health benefits' is becoming more commonplace.”

And like freshly brewed coffee, customers find loose leaf tea appealing because it’s not necessarily something they have every day. “They are experiencing something more special than they can prepare at home,” Rebecca explains, “and therefore feel they are getting more value for their money.”

Make loose leaf tea a ‘saucer’ profit for your restaurant

Should you decide to re-vamp your establishment’s tea offering, there are several things you should do in order to make loose leaf tea a success with your customers.

Source from a loose leaf tea specialist


Add a key point of difference to the loose leaf tea you serve by purchasing it from a specialist company. “Often many tea companies will offer their products both loose and in bags, so may not be as passionate about loose leaf tea as companies who have chosen to always work without teabags”, explains Rebecca. Work with an artisan tea company and they should even provide specialist training to help you understand their products, and in turn make them easier to sell to your customers.

Be knowledgeable about the tea you serve


“As consumers become more savvy, they will begin ordering tea by region, type and maybe even leaf grade”, Rebecca says, so brush up on the heritage of your teas and what makes them different from other varieties. You should also know how to properly serve the tea too, as “awareness of water temperature and the importance of brewing times, methods and accessories are creating a whole new experience for customers”, which they may not be able to replicate in their own kitchens.

Make tea a highlight, not an afterthought


Rebecca believes that it’s time to put tea front and centre, rather than just on the very back of your menu. She recommends dedicating an entire section of your menu to loose leaf tea; putting the jars of loose leaf tea clearly on display in your restaurant or café so that customers can see the colourful varieties on offer, and even open them up and smell them if they wish; and having a specials board featuring a 'Tea of the Week' to promote your new beverages.

However it’s also important to consider that loose leaf tea and herbal blends are still very much a novel concept to many customers, so have a tea type for all tastes.

“At Birdhouse Tea Company we also believe that it’s important to create a tea menu that will appeal to all. We recommend having at least a basic menu made up of a Breakfast Tea, which works very well if your tea company can offer the facility to create a custom House Blend for your restaurant or café, as well as an Earl Grey, a green tea, a herbal tea option, a fruity option and a spiced tea like Chai - with an option of a Chai Latte, which are very easy to make using steamed milk and vanilla syrup.”

Choose your brewing and serving equipment carefully


As loose leaf teas require a little more care with brewing and serving, make sure that your restaurant or café is properly equipped. To speed up service invest in a water boiler if you don’t already have one, as well as infusing teapots or baskets that fit over the rims of cups that enable the leaves to be removed when the tea is brewed.

For the presentation of the tea itself, Rebecca has noticed that many establishments choose to serve their loose leaf tea in vintage-style china teapots and with cups with saucers, paying homage to its traditional feel, but also that more places are embracing contemporary presentation with sleek clear glass mugs and modern teapots.

Say goodbye to teabags altogether


“It is important for establishments to make the 'full leap' to loose leaf;” says Rebecca. “Offering teabags as well as loose leaf is often confusing to the customer.”

Therefore when you choose to upgrade your tea menu, you should make the commitment to loose tea and ‘leaf’ teabags in the past. Do you serve loose leaf tea in your restaurant or café? How has it been received by your customers? We’d love to hear your opinions, so leave us a comment below or tweet at us @BunzlLockhart.

All photos of Birdhouse Tea Company by Ellie Grace Photography. Used with kind permission of Birdhouse Tea Company.


Lockhart Catering on 23 February 2015 10:45 AM

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