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Clarity about business focus and operational strategy key for tea menu
Thursday, 16 May, 2019, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Sanjay K Gupta
Thinking of redesigning menu to include various exotic and healthy varieties of tea that have caught the attention of young as well as health-conscious society? Want to make your teas a differentiating factor for your business growth?

With hundreds of varieties to choose from, where do you start? How many teas should you be including in the menu? What teas should you be including in the menu?

People use different approaches to design/redesign their menu, ranging from analysing competitor’s menus to hiring F&B consultants. Interestingly, the consultants have not been able to keep pace with the fast changing landscape of tea variants!

Whatever approach you use to design your tea menu, it is important to understand the industry trends, customer behaviour and operational constraints:

A fine dine restaurant can afford to have specialised chef to include a wider varieties of teas in the menu. On the other hand, a chain of cafes with limited staff at each location would have difficulty in managing an elaborate menu, and ensuring consistency in brewing and serving.

Most of the café chains register more than 80% of the volume sale in the form of milk tea variants. It includes cafes in posh localities of metros too! They finally end up focussing more on food items, and end up compromising with original vision and brand name.

Food pairing is an important aspect. Teas without milk do not go well with traditional Indian cuisine rich in spices and oil.

People often design a menu including wide varieties of exotic and healthy teas. However, they lack strategy to make customers comfortable to try out these teas. The operational staff at the ground level do not put in extra effort in facilitating customers to transition from traditional teas to new varieties. After trying out for a couple of quarters, the teas with low sales volume are taken off the menu!

The acceptance of exotic tea variants is still low beyond metro cities. Having said so, trend setters would win in the long run.

QSRs cannot afford a detailed brewing process. Teabag-based approach works better for QSRs.

While designing your tea menu, you should have clarity about your business focus and operational strategy and constraints. If you have a chain of cafes, you may plan two or three different categories of menus depending upon the city/location, customer profile and café size. The number of teas, and varieties of teas would be different in each category of menu.

A menu targeting 20-25 teas should include the following teas:

1. Milk Tea Variants
Milk teas (CTC) are now available with special blends of herbs and spices to make traditional chai tastier, and healthier. In particular, milk tea causes gas and acidity. Therefore, choose herbal masala teas that reduce the issue of gas and acidity.

Traditional masala teas have black pepper, ginger, clove, bay leaf and so on which are ‘hot.’ Many people avoid ‘hot’ spices during summer. Therefore, choose a summer herbal masala tea which does not include ‘hot’ spices. Instead, it uses herbs like mint, rose petals, cardamom and fennel.

Depending upon the length of menu you prefer, you may like to choose a couple of variants that have cardamom and ginger dominated taste.

Some cafes keep 8-10 herbs/spices, and offer customer to make their own choice. However, this approach results in inconsistent and unbalanced taste. Therefore, you should go with pre-designed herbal mixes.

2. Basic Leaf Varieties
At a high level, tea is divided into two categories: milk and non-milk (Leaf teas). Leaf teas are further divided into four categories: black, green, oolong and white. A good menu should cover all these four varieties.

Black Tea: Darjeeling black teas are world famous for their aroma. Teas produced during March-April time-frame are called ‘first flush’ and have best aroma. Teas produced during May-June time-frame are called ‘second flush’ and have strong taste. You may like to include Darjeeling first flush black tea, or both first flush and second flush teas.

Assam black teas are famous for their strong taste. You may keep Assam black tea in your menu. Alternatively, you can have English breakfast tea which is a blend of Darjeeling and Assam/Sri Lanka black teas.

Green Tea: Just one variety of Darjeeling green tea is good enough in the menu.

Oolong Tea:
This is a premium tea, and is quite popular for its weight reduction properties. You should include Darjeeling oolong tea in your menu.

White Tea: Silver needle white tea is the most premium tea. It is famous for anti-skin ageing properties. A good menu is incomplete without white tea.

3. Fruit Flavoured Teas: These are black/green or oolong teas flavoured with fruit flavours e.g. peach, lemon, mango, strawberry, black currant, and apple. Earl grey is a popular tea in European region and many customers with international exposure may look for it in the menu. Overall, you should choose 2-3 fruit tea varieties.

Quality of flavours is an important aspect. Flavours are of three types: Artificial, nature-Identical and 100% natural. You should go with 100% natural flavours.

4. Flower Flavoured Teas:
Jasmine green and rose black/rose oolong teas is a common choice. One could also choose blue tea, lavender, rhododendron and so on.

5. Spice Flavoured Teas: Kahwa is a popular choice in this category. Some people also look for ‘Masala Tea’ without milk.  

6. Gourmet Teas: These teas combine fruit/flower flavours with other solid ingredients like fruit pieces, flower petals, herbs and spices. There is a wide range of such teas available in the market. You could choose 2-3 teas in this range.

7. Caffeine-Free Teas: There is a customer segment for caffeine-free teas that are made of pure herbs (no tea leaves). Some of the popular combinations are Tulsi-Rhododendron, Chamomile-Lemongrass, and Nettle-Lemongrass. You can choose a couple of varieties in this segment.

8. Herbal Teas with Health Themes: Herbal teas with health themes are catching a lot of customer attention. While choosing health teas, taste should not be compromised with.

Some of the popular teas are for detoxification, slimming, immunity system, digestion, refreshing and relaxation. These teas are based upon Ayurvedic formulations that are modified to improve taste. You can choose 2-4 varieties from this list.

9. Ice Teas:
This is a lucrative segment which is highly under leveraged due to long brewing process. Good quality of ice tea has a vast potential in replacing many unhealthy colas and sugar-rich drinks.

Ice teas are typically fruit and flower flavoured teas. It takes a long time to make proper ice tea. Firstly, hot tea is made with higher concentration. It is allowed to cool down to room temperature, before putting it in refrigerator. Ice and fruit flavours are typically added at the time of serving.

Best varieties of ice teas are made using real fruit pulp/fibre in place of flavour.  Seasonal citric fruits can be used to make ice teas.

If you choose 2-3 categories of menus depending upon your business strategy for multiple outlets, you can reduce or increase the number of teas in various categories mentioned above.

Promoting non-milk teas and taking customer through the transition process is an important aspect of running the café. You could plan a free sampler of one variety of tea for each day of the week for initial 3-6 months.

Each category of tea requires appropriate brewing temperature and time. Green tea tastes horrible if brewed as black tea! Staff training is important to ascertain the same.

If your focus is pre-dominantly on teas, you can also plan selling retail packs of teas to your customers.

Whatever is the business model and menu size you may choose, you need to ensure basic quality factors, e.g., whole leaf tea, organic production, top bud and two leaves and 100% natural flavours.

(The author is director, Budwhite Teas Pvt. Ltd, Delhi. He can be contacted at
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