Tea and the Art of Dunking

In case you haven’t heard—although it’s hard to imagine a circumstance where you hadn’t—tea-drinkers are prone to have a bit of a snack with their afternoon drink, usually in the form of a cookie…or to use British parlance, a biscuit.

There’s something about the act of dunking a biscuit into a steaming cuppa that elicits the same level of comfort in the drinker as, say, curling up in front of a roaring fire with a warm blanket on a cold day: the end result is wonderful, but the act itself is cathartic all on its own.

There’s something almost instinctive that leads you to dunk a biscuit, which makes it hard to believe that humans have only embraced this rite comparatively recently. How did it start? Like many good things, it came about because of adversity.

Naval life in the 1500s was about as far away from a Carnival Cruise as one can get. No multiple restaurants on every level and free open bar: sailor’s existed on hard tack, simple flour-and-water crackers that bakers allegedly made as hard as possible to ensure they would last for long periods—years, in some cases—on the high seas.

Now, while that sounds good (or at least practical) on paper, one also has to consider the state of dentistry that existed at the time … or oral hygiene in general. Hard tack wasn’t nicknamed “molar breakers” for nothing. To save their enamel, sailors took to dunking their hardtack in brine or coffee to soften things up. And the world was never the same.

The Art of Dunking

There’s more to dunking than just, you know, dunking. There are a few important points to consider if you wish to ensure the perfect dunk. Do you have the right sized receptacle? Is the beverage at the optimum temperature? And most importantly, which is the best type of biscuit to dunk?

This is quite the serious matter for some folks. You’ll find people in the US who agree on abstract things like the effectiveness of government or the loss of personal information; ask 100 tea drinkers what to have with their tea, however, and you’re likely to come up with a hundred different answers.

Admittedly there’s very little in life more heartbreaking than a biscuit that crumbles and falls into your mug, ruining both the snack and the tea. We get that. That’s why we’ve rounded up our a few of our favorite treats and put them to the test. Here are a few good suggestions for the potential dunker:

Fortnum & Mason Piccadilly Salted Caramel

This wondrous butter biscuit is packed with salted caramel pieces and offers a satisfying salty aftertaste. The ultimate afternoon indulgence, these biscuits are sweetly smooth with an indescribable lingering taste. Best of all, after repeated dunks, it showed no signs of breaking. Dissolving, maybe, but not breaking.

Selfridges Oat and Honey Biscuit

Crisp and flavorful, these honey and toasted oats biscuits make for a delicious tea-break treat. Nutty toasted oats and high-quality honey combine to create a hearty, wholesome biscuit that is more than up to the task of dunking. Showing only minimal signs of crumbling after many (MANY) dunks, the honey made for a sweet accent to the taste of the tea.

Choco Leibniz

Choco Leibniz is really a cult biscuit that prides itself on its unique construction: essentially, Leibniz biscuits are dropped into molds filled chocolate just as that chocolate starts to set. These biscuits dunk surprisingly well, considering their thinness. Obviously, chocolate-coated biscuits have a slight advantage in terms of withstanding warm drinks.

Custard Cream

The traditional custard cream, a creamy custard-flavored center sandwiched between two flat biscuit layers, is undeniably delicious … but maybe not the best dunker. It doesn’t hold up well, and after just a half-dozen dunks you have custard cream debris floating in your cup. A more traditional ladyfinger might be a better choice.

Shortbread

Face it: when it comes to biscuits-and-tea, you just can’t go wrong with a traditional Scottish shortbread biscuit. The simplicity of the recipe—usually one part white sugar, two parts butter, and three parts oat flour—makes it both robust enough for dunking and just sweet enough to offset the tang of your tea.

 

9 Types of Tea Drinkers

There are tea drinkers, and there are non-tea drinkers, and never the twain shall understand each other. In a coffee-powered world, tea-drinkers are often seen as quaint and old-lady-ish. To be fair, there are some drinkers like that, but it’s hardly the only stereotypical tea-lover.

We all have our own ways of appreciating and interpreting the fine art of tea making In fact, those of us who enjoy our daily cuppa note our own various stereotypes within our ranks … such as:

The Strongs

These folks take an already robust tea with a lot of body and a bit of a bite, steep it for ten minutes or more, and add just barely enough milk to make it less cola-colored. This is normally considered a “breakfast tea,” but the Strong drinkers prefer it this way all the time.

The Weaks

The Weak drinkers are the ones for whom tea is practically a dairy product. They start with barely-steeped water and add a couple cows’ worth of milk. This is sometimes (inaccurately) referred to as a “light tea” due to the absence of anything that would give it a darker color. Like tea.

The Straight Blacks

This has nothing to do with racial or sexual profiling. We’re talking about those who take their tea black, straight out of the pot. This is for those whose sense of machismo demands that they drink one step above the Strongs. It’s also for people like students who can’t actually afford milk …

The Sweets

Three spoons of sugar in your tea? Hah! Amateur! These drinkers pour sugar right out of the bowl. For them, tea isn’t tea if you actually have to taste the tea. To each his own, I suppose, but it does raise a question: at what point does it stop being tea and start being stucco?

The Snobs

The drinkers who must have their tea Just. So. Using a clean, dry teaspoon, place exactly 2.5g of tea in a clean, pre-heated teapot. Gently pour 220ml of fresh, once-boiled water onto the tea leaves and leave for 2.24 minutes. Drink only from genuine Stoke-on-Trent porcelain mugs.

The Whatevers

These easygoing tea drinkers have no tea preference whatsoever: whatever you have is fine. Milk? Sugar? Either way. These drinkers can be very accommodating, but one has to wonder about their dedication: being able to go beyond a favorite is polite. Not HAVING a favorite seems sketchy …

The Biscuit-eaters

For this crowd, tea is first and foremost an excuse to snack. None of that finger-sandwich nonsense, either: if you’re not hauling out the biscuit tin, well then nevermind. Lavender honey cupcakes or a white chocolate toffee scone would work nicely, but they’ll settle for shortbread.

The Fancies

Only for the adventure-minded (or easily bored), selections for these drinkers can range from Lapsang Souchong or Taiwanese Formosa Red to any one of the million or so Celestial Seasonings flavors. Some of them might be quite tasty, but at some point ya gotta, you know, pick a freakin’ lane …

The Keurigs

The purists in the crowd just gave a collective gasp: Using a Keurig for TEA? Blasphemy! Well, maybe, but it happens. As one expert says, tech isn’t inherently good or evil: it’s simply a tool. While few people would suggest K-cups make the best tea, some busy people consider it a matter of necessity.

And then, as we said at the beginning, you’ve got those oddities that don’t care to drink tea at all. Tea drinkers have a tendency to ask what’s wrong with them, but I’ve always felt that wasn’t the question: It’s not a matter of “What’s wrong with you that you don’t drink tea?” but rather “You don’t drink tea: THAT’s what’s wrong with you.”

Of course, I may be biased …

The Priciest Tea You’ll Ever Drink

If you’re not a world traveler, chances are good that you’ve never heard of the Beijing Tea House Scam. If you do ever journey to The Forbidden City, however, be on your guard: this notorious fraud attempt could cost you thousands.

A High-Level Scam

Well beyond the tricks of your average pickpocket or street-corner hustler, the typical Beijing Tea House Scam starts with a friendly face: a fellow tourist or likeable local who strikes up a conversation with you, the intended victim. The bait-scammer is often an attractive-yet-innocent-looking young woman, for obvious reasons: women feel safer talking to another woman, and men? Well, men have a hard time saying no to a pretty face.

But your new friend isn’t all she appears to be. Her actual job is to ferret out unsuspecting tourists to the area, establish a rapport, and entice them into a local tea house: an Oriental version of “Can I buy you a drink?”

Inside the café are private rooms where you and your brand-new BFF can chat about the area, the history…pretty much about anything BUT the price of tea in China: all mentions of cost are deliberately omitted from the conversation. Before you get a chance to become restless, a hostess will provide light snacks and a variety of teas to sample. Oh, how pleasant…

… at least until it’s time to leave.

At that point, you realize that friendliness had nothing to do with the whole set-up: the proprietors expect to paid, and the prices are so high they make airport pricing look like chump change. The cost of your visit will commonly run into the hundreds of dollars … a “steep” price for even very good tea (and it probably won’t be).

It gets worse, too: whip out a credit card to pay, the hostess ducks in the back and guess what? Now they have your card number … who knows how much you’ll end up owing by the time the receipt is actually sent to the bank? One added zero squeezed onto a line, and you end up owing 10 times what you actually signed for (which was already likely 10 times more than the tea was worth).

What Now?

It’s not a stretch to say that tea-lovers like us are prime marks for scams like this. We love tea, and that often leads to conversations during and about tea. What could be better than authentic local tea in an authentic local tea house with an authentic local? We’ve got one foot in the door before the bait-scammer even shows up!

Afterwards, of course, we’re rethinking our position. Your best bet here is to contact the bank that issued your credit card and file a chargeback, which gives the bank permission to check into the situation. Sometimes they will simply take the money back and return it to your account. Sometimes the actual card network (Visa or Mastercard, for example) will get involved, and the tea house could lose their ability to accept credit cards.

In some cases, you may not be able to get the charge removed on your own, and will need to contact a lawyer or a chargeback expert. The odds are good you can get your money back, but it could take days, weeks, or longer.

Of course, an ounce of prevention is a far better remedy here. Be leery of strangers who seem overly friendly for no good reason. If you do follow someone into a tea house, avoid private rooms. Don’t partake of anything without a price discussion (although this has limited effectiveness, as the scammer could charge you just for being there). Never use a debit card, and if you feel you must (for personal safety) sign a receipt, take a phone pic of it before and after you sign—evidence for a later court case.

Putting the “Tea” in “Teamwork”

Teamwork is the silver bullet, the secret sauce, the thing that “makes the dream work,” right? Even a casual internet search will return over 100 million posts, from building teamwork in the office to actual college courses to Oh. So. Many. Memes

If teamwork is such a great idea everywhere else (and we’re certainly not saying it isn’t), why not with tea?

Mastering the subtle art of teaming (or more properly, “pairing”) the right tea with food is no different than knowing whether to go with a safe Riesling or a light Pinot Grigio for a delicious meal, or even knowing whether to add basil or cut back on the rosemary when cooking.

Picking the right tea to go with your meal can turn an ordinary dinner into a unique culinary experience; you don’t have to be a sommelier to tell the difference – all you need are your taste buds.

Having said that, however, if you’re just starting to discover tea pairing, it’s easy to feel whelmed by the sheer volume of aromas and flavors that you can choose from: picking the wrong type of tea to go with a specific food can end up being like serving tartar sauce with biscuits instead of gravy. So we decided to put together a (very) basic guide to get you started creating your ideal team-ups.

Pairing with Black Teas

Black tea tends to have the strongest and hardiest flavor, which means it can hold its own when paired with other full-flavored foods. Think spicy dishes or meats. The more rustic, natural blacks, for example, are natural complements to blackened meat, jerk chicken, or other robust dishes; the same holds true for more smoky black teas. On the other hand, a few fruity black teas pair nicely with desserts, particularly less sugary ones.

Pairing with Green Teas

Greens already have a slightly vegetable-like taste, making them an excellent choice for pairing with mild-flavored dishes, like chicken, fish, or salads. A fresh melon-based salad goes great with a green tea, as does rice. Just as the black teas, however, there is a range of green tea base flavors, and some pair better than others. Some offer a more grassy zing (perfect for seafood), while others are more fruity and therefore taste really well alongside chicken dishes, sandwiches, or fruit salads. Most greens, however, have that underlying tinge of smoke that can stand up to the taste and flavor of potatoes, light stir-frys or even deep-fried or greasy meat recipes.

Pairing with Oolong Teas

Oolong teas range from darker, more robust flavors that pair well with stronger foods, like grilled salmon or trout, smoked meat, or even heavy sweets (anything maple-flavored is yum). At the other end of the spectrum are the lighter oolongs, with a heavier floral taste that can be brought out by foods like scallops, rich seafood, or lobster. That sweet fragrant flavor also works well with saltier dishes or salted nuts or crackers. You can even try potato chips with oolong, because why not?

Pairing with Pu-erh

Pu-erh teas have a robust, earthy flavor that goes well with a chicken or stir-fry dish. They can neutralize the oily and greasy tastes that go with deep-fried foods as well. The silky smooth swallow of Pu-erh helps soften heavier tastes like dim sum oils, cleansing the palate without taking away from the tastes of the meal. And because Pu-erh teas offer digestive benefits, they’re a great finish to a large meal.

Pairing with White Teas

Last but not least, the delicate nature of white teas mean they don’t pair well with many foods. A light vegetable dish, lightly flavored fish, or even an undressed salad are about as much as you can do without losing the taste of the tea. Anything with a strong aroma tends to overwhelm the subtle sweetness of the tea. Think of whites as more of an aperitif, a little something before the meal to get the taste buds excited.

Finding the teas that best complement your own meals has to go beyond theory. Feel free to experiment until you find those marvelous combinations that can turn dining into a serious TEAm event.

Tea Shop Chargebacks and Return Policies

Let’s say you own a small online tea business. You buy bulk teas, mix unique combinations, and sell them at boutique prices. You have a good holiday season, bringing in enough profit to start thinking about expanding in the new year … that is, until you open your bank statement for February and realize that a huge chunk of money is simply … gone.

At first you think there must be some kind of mistake. An hour on the phone with your bank, however, and you realize that everything is according to Hoyle. The bank itself actually took the money out of your account to cover chargebacks.

Chargeba-who-what now?

A chargeback is when a customer asks their credit card issuer (the bank whose name is on their credit card) to reverse a transaction that has already cleared—sometimes months earlier. This is different from a refund in that the credits are returned to customers regardless of whether the cardholder returned a purchase … and sometimes, regardless of whether the reason for the return is legitimate.

Also, there’s usually a time limit on returns; most merchants want returns to happen in 15 to 60 days. There are time limits on chargebacks, too, but they are often much more flexible: banks are primarily concerned with keeping their customers happy, so they’re likely to work around their own rules. That makes chargebacks even more insidious, since you as a merchant can’t count on them to be consistent

While having the same percentage of returns would certainly not be welcome, merchants pay far more for chargebacks. As we mentioned, in a chargeback situation, the customer keeps the merchandise and the refund, including any shipping costs: those come straight from the merchant’s till. And to add insult to injury, the bank also charges the merchant certain fees to cover the administration costs of a chargeback.

So why would a customer call the bank instead of calling the merchant? Well, chargebacks happen for a variety of reasons. Some of them are valid customer concerns, such as an item not matching the description, errors in processing the transaction, the buyer never receiving the item paid for, or an unauthorized payment made with the buyer’s card (identity theft).

In these types of situations, it’s highly possible that the cardholder is innocent of intent; sometimes, they mistakenly think of a chargeback as being synonymous with a return. In other cases, they may’ve simply called the bank because they didn’t recognize a charge on a statement, and the bank took it from there.

Of course, there is also an increasing number of people who engage in what is known as “friendly fraud,” where consumers request chargebacks without legitimate reason … or in some cases, make a purchase with the specific intent of initiating a chargeback. Think of it as “cyber shoplifting.” There’s not much merchants can do to combat that until the chargeback is actually filed (by which point you’re stuck with the fees, regardless). While they can be challenged by the merchant, such cases are complicated and hard to win: again, banks are more likely to side with consumers.

In the case of consumer misinformation, however, it’s far better for the merchant to work to prevent chargebacks from happening by engaging customers. One of the best ways to do this, believe it or not, is to have an easy, effective return policy.

For example, check out the return policy of global retailer illy:

We offer a 30-day satisfaction guarantee. If for any reason you are not happy with your purchase, you may return the products(s) within 30 days of receiving the order for a full refund of the merchandise cost.

Immediately below that, you’ll find simple, step-by-step instructions on how to claim your refund. This type of clear, concise, no-nonsense policy on returns can go a long ways toward mitigating the risk of chargebacks: if customers feel you are ready to work with them, they may not be as quick to turn to the bank for satisfaction.

Here’s another example, from teacollection.com:

You can return any Tea product purchased on TeaCollection.com at any time for any reason. Sale items, too.

Not much to misunderstand there.

Having a no-hassle return policy increases customer confidence. But simply having the policy is hardly effective if no one knows it exists. Make sure your policy is easy to find on your website, on brochures, in emails and invoices, and even on your packaging, if possible. The more customers see it, the more they’ll remember it. And the more likely the are to work with you, the fewer chargebacks you’re likely to see in the future.

A Look at Tea Subscription Services

Not so very long ago, the word “subscription” referred almost exclusively to some form of communication media: you signed up for a magazine or newsletter, or you joined a book or record club, and automatically received some item on a regular basis. Accounts were settled at regular intervals, and the process started all over again.

Today, subscription services can bring a wide range of diverse products to your door, from intangibles like access to internet or software…to razors, pet supplies, and even wine. So it makes perfect sense that a number of companies now allow you to subscribe to receive tea. Is one of them right for you?

What Am I Subscribing to?

Subscription services have come a long way, to the point where it’s considered a legitimate business model. In the case of more tangible consumables like tea, subscribers are signing up for a recurring delivery of actual product. Accounts are still settled regularly–almost always on a monthly basis–but now involves a credit card: the card is charged every month for the product shipment, which offers convenience to the customer and a steady cash flow for the merchant. Nothing wrong with that, but it can cause problems, as we’ll see.

Tea for Me

Tea subscription services send hand-picked, high-quality brews to tea lovers every month. Instead of making trek to your local grocery or café, you’ll enjoy high quality teas in the relaxing atmosphere of your home.

What kind of tea? Well, most services give you plenty of options. The prices for these services start under $10, and go as high as $40 or more monthly. What you get for that money varies, of course, but most boxes will include a sampling of teas and some sort of extras. Shipping is often but not always free; be sure to check.

Subscription Tea Options

Some services, such as Teabox, offer a tiered price plan where you can get anywhere from 12 to 150 cups worth of tea every month. They work closely with farms across India and Nepal, so you’re assured of the best and freshest teas. You don’t have a lot of say-so in what you receive, however: new subscribers take a short online quiz, then Teabox creates a set of teas for your particular tastes.

Teas-selected-by-quiz is also the model of Sips By, an Austin-based company founded by a small group of tea lovers who “want discovering tea to be fun, personalized, and affordable.” You’ll create a free tea profile, including a quiz that will help them determine the types of teas you’re interested in.

Simple Loose Leaf, as the name implies, brings you a nice selection of loose leaf teas from around the globe each month. As one of the more cost-effective services, this company will typically send a box filled with a tea from different categories (black, green, etc.). This is a good option for subscription novices…as long as you’re ok with loose leaf!

If cost is a serious consideration, take a look at Hello Tea Club, which actually lets you subscribe for free. Each month’s box will include teas, prices, and samplers. You’ll have 10 days to try the sampler for each tea; if you don’t love it, simply send back that tea. Naturally, you’ll only charged for the teas you keep.

A Great Idea…but…

Overall, tea subscription boxes are a wondrous idea for tea lovers. There are a few things to watch out for, however.

For one thing, make sure you read the fine print before you sign up for the service. Pay special attention to policies concerning shipping and returning, including the cost and who covers it.

Also, you need to keep in mind that the subscription service will go on indefinitely, automatically renewing until you cancel it. If you’re out of town one month, the shipment still comes. If you forgot to return a box, you still get billed. And if you decide to cancel on the day after the automatic payments went out, you’ll most likely still see the charge on your credit card statement.

The good news here is that any company that has been around at least a couple of years with good reviews is NOT trying to scam you. You can almost always get a refund for that first honest mistake. Merchants don’t want you calling your credit card to complain: if the credit card decides to credit you directly, the merchant will still be out the money, plus they’ll be hit with hefty chargeback fees. If you do encounter any push-back from the merchant, usually just threatening to call the bank and demand a chargeback will get you results.

Ready, Set, TEA!

In our fast-paced, non-stop world, it can sometimes seem impossible to squeeze in enough “me-time” to read a book, hit the gym, or take a nap. But a 10-minute tea break could be just what the doctor ordered…and signing up for a tea subscription box is a simple way to sneak a little self-care into your daily routine.

A Beginner’s Guide to Appreciating Tea

OK, coffee, you’ve had your day: now it’s tea’s turn. More and more, even diehard coffee aficionados are finding themselves talking and learning about high-end teas. We’re talking straight loose-leaf tea: none of those little paper bags or premixed concoctions that smell more like potpourri than anything you would want to drink. These are folks who take their tea as seriously as they took their coffee.

It makes a certain amount of sense: tea, after all, has been enjoyed the world over for thousands of years in the making: that’s long time to learn how to get it right. It offers its own culture and history matched only by wine. And just like wine, there are people who live and breathe tea in a way that borders on obsession.

You think coffee can get complex? Tea is all that and then some. We’re not throwing shade at coffee–seriously, we understand that it can be an art form–but tea offers a vast range of flavors, aromas, and characteristics that makes the magic bean look like a one-trick pony. Not to mention the fact that the caffeine in tea is absorbed more slowly, so the kick is much smoother.

And have you ever heard of being coffee-drunk? “Tea-drunk” is an actual thing.

We’re not saying there’s anything wrong with coffee. Only that it seems unfair that here in the US, you mention tea and people start thinking of the Nestea Plunge. Anywhere else in the world, if someone asks what type of tea you want, they’re asking if you want it hot or cold. People in America asking that question want to know if you want sweet or unsweet.

In an effort to level the coffee/tea playing field, we’re here to offer a quick rundown on appreciating all that tea has to offer.

  • Skip the Prepackaged Stuff. You grind your own coffee beans? Same logic applies here. Buying loose-leaf teas generally means you’ll get a higher quality product. In addition, bigger leaves tend to have a fuller body and more balanced flavor, if properly prepared.
  • Flavored vs. Flavorful. To serious tea-drinkers, flavored teas are a little like barely-alcoholic drinks with cute paper umbrellas. Nothing wrong with trying out flavored tea, but it’s not the best place to start: drinking flavored tea by default is like trying to appreciate coffee by drinking white chocolate mochas. Tea doesn’t need a flavor; tea IS a flavor.
  • Understand What You’re Getting. Tea grows all over, from sunny lowlands to rocky crags to misty mountaintops. And just like coffee, a tea’s soil, environment, and growing conditions impact its ultimate taste. The minute the leaf is plucked, it starts to oxidize–a process which impacts the tea’s flavor more than where or how it’s grown. To a large extent, this can be controlled by applying heat; green and white teas, for example, are barely oxidized, while Oolong and black teas are allowed more time.
  • OK, the Brewing. When it comes time to brew your loose leaf tea, there are all sorts of detailed methods to try and specialized tools you can buy. Our advice: skip all that for now. Novice tea drinkers make the mistake of focusing too much on whether they’re brewing the “correct” way; go too far down that road, and start wondering if it’s worth making at all. On the other hand, truly good tea can give you different subtleties with different styles of brewing–all of them delicious. Instead of fretting technique at this stage, just start drinking. There’s always time to experiment later.
  • It takes some time to train your palate to pick up on a tea’s peculiarities. That’s why–like wine–you don’t guzzle fine tea. Take time to sniff. Appreciate the bouquet. Take a sip and let it sit in your mouth. As you keep tasting, you’ll start to differentiate between fruity and woodsy tinges, between a light taste on the tongue and a creamy robust body.

The bottom line is, you can’t pick up a bottle of green tea from a convenience store and really say you’ve experienced tea drinking. Schedule a little time in your hectic schedule (experts say that’s a good idea, just on general principle) to educate yourself and experiment. Like any fine food, it takes time and patience to learn to pick out all the nuances of tea. But the end result is worth the effort.

Starting Your Own Mobile Tea Business, Part 3: Equipment

You’ve done your research, made your decision, figured out financing, and all your paperwork is in place. In the last post of our 3-part series, we’re going to look at how to equip your “mobile command center” and get it on the road.

Step One: What’s on the Menu?

What equipment you need is going to depend on what you offer on your menu. Menus are dynamic–they may need to change based on season, or locale, or just the evolution of customer preferences–but you’ve got to start somewhere. By creating a sample menu, you’ll have a better idea of what you actually need: ingredients you’ll use, which side items (sweeteners, creamers) you’ll offer, what sorts of serving products (cups, napkins, spoons) you’ll require–and yes, what equipment you’ll be using. Your local health department will likely want to see a menu, as well, so you need to get it down on paper.

Step Two: Product Prep and Serving

You know there are certain things you’ll offer–coffees, teas, packaged drinks–so we can start there. Even if you focus on tea, plain, black coffee will account for as much as 30 percent of your store’s sales, so you’ll need a high-quality automatic drip coffee maker–more than one if you intend to serve different blends. A coffee grinder will help, too.

You’ll also need a hard-working espresso machine for specialty drinks. This one isn’t quite as obvious a choice as the coffee maker, since there are so many machines available across a wide range of types and price points. Research will be required, but to get you started, check out this guide on selecting the best espresso machine for your needs.

The equipment for actual tea preparation is more standard: stove of some type, cooler/freezer, sink (and ideally, dishwasher), and hot water dispenser. The beauty here is that these items will also help in preparing tea sandwiches, bagels, scones, and other sorts of ancillary products. Also helpful would be a microwave oven, toaster or toaster oven, and mixer/blender (or food processor). Finally, you’ll need customary kitchen utensils and things like knives, pots, pans, baking sheets, and mixing bowls.

We’ve already established that you’ll need plates, cups, plastic flatware, and such; you’ll also need some way to offer these and other items: bins or baskets for sugar and sweeteners, thermos cream dispensers, tea baskets, honey dispensers, teapots, saucers, and strainers. Napkin dispensers and some type of rack for flatware and stirrers are also must-haves, as is a trash receptacle: if there is not an obvious place for trash, it will end up on the ground or some other place where YOU will be responsible for cleaning it up.

Step Three: Supplies

OK, it goes without saying that you’ll need tea: an assortment of blacks, greens, oolongs, flavors, blends, chai, and tisanes–plus containers for them. An assortment of tea bags should be available, as well as containers to dispense them, such as tea boxes. You’ll have to stock coffee in various blends, including decaf, plus bottled water, canned juices or sodas, and the like, plus whatever foodstuffs you plan to offer.

Then there are the serving supplies. Remember those bins, racks, and baskets from Step Two? Now you’ll need to fill them with paper cups, bags, paper hot cups and lids, to-go boxes, plastic utensils, paper napkins or towels, and other disposable items that customers may need. Don’t underestimate these items: outside of product cost, those lids, straws, napkins, plates, and cups will be among your biggest month-to-month costs.

Step Four: Everything Else

This category is mostly for start-up equipment, costs that won’t continue month-over-month. You’ll need a cash register or Point of Sale (POS) machine, as well as a way to safely take credit cards (as an aside, you might also want to consider getting a credit card for your business, too). You’ll probably require some sort of shelving. Then there are the upkeep supplies such as cleaners, brooms or mops, buckets, trash bags, sponges, and other basic necessities. Depending on your size and where you intend to set up, portable tables and chairs may be an option, as well.

Finally, don’t neglect security. Restaurant security systems and safety procedures are essential to making sure you–and your customers stay safe. This restaurant security guide wasn’t written for mobile shops, but it’s a good place to start researching what you may need.

Conclusion: Ready Set GO!

Obviously, we’re only hitting the high points, but hopefully this series gives you a bit of an idea of what is involved in starting your own mobile coffee/tea business. Once you’ve got a great business plan, legal and health ascents, and the necessary equipment and supplies, you can start rolling … and bringing in profits. Good Luck!

Starting Your Own Mobile Tea Business, Part 2: Pre-flight

In our last post, we talked about some of the advantages and disadvantages of owning and operating a mobile tea/coffee business. Today we’ll go over some of the things you’ll need to take care of before you get going.

How Mobile Do You Want to Be?

Even within the label “mobile,” there is a lot of room for interpretation. A “mobile home,” for example, isn’t as easy to move as an RV. So the first thing you need to decide is what type of unit you’d like to operate from. For example:

  1. Pushcart The most mobile of set-ups would probably be a food cart, one that is small enough to be pushed and maneuvered by a single person. It can operate out of just about anywhere, but your offerings will have to be limited by necessity. Weather is a consideration, as well.
  2. Booth Another option would be an easily assembled tent, stall, or gazebo that you could operate at a local street fair or flea market. This can allow you more shelter from the elements, more counter space, and a wider variety of products. On the flip side, setting up will take longer, and you may have to lug your stuff from a vehicle to your station.
  3. Trailer Having your business in a towable trailer opens up a lot of options in terms of storage space and room to operate. Depending on the size of the trailer, you can stock a wide variety of teas and coffees and perhaps even some food items. You can even have head and air conditioning. The downside is that you’ll need a truck to pull it … and you’ll need to learn how to drive with a trailer (including backing it into spaces). Depending on your location and the type/weight of the trailer, you may even need a special license.
  4. Truck A drivable vehicle seems to offer the best of all worlds: comfort, space, ease of set-up, and more. Set out some folding chairs and small tables, and you’ve got an open-air café. Quitting time? Throw everything in the back and drive home. It’s perfect … but perfection will cost you: purchasing even a used vehicle is your most expensive option, as far as startup costs.

Legal and Protected

So you have your operating unit. Now all you need is the actual product, and you’re in business, right?

Well, not quite. There are a few other things you’ll need to acquire before you actually start serving.

  1. License When you provide food for others there are rules to follow, and one of the first is getting a license to operate. Every state, every county, every town–each will probably share at least some of the same licensing requirements, but specifics can differ based on any number of variables. You’ll need to register your company. (Hint: if you’re the sole owner you’ll pay less in registration fees by setting up a sole proprietorship instead of an LLC.) And as we mentioned, every location could be different, so you might need to apply for local business licenses, as well.
  1. Insurance Don’t even THINK about trying to get by without insurance. In many places, it’s illegal, but in any situation it may be your most important expense. First off, you’ll need liability insurance. Our society has gone lawsuit-crazy, so be sure that you (and any employees) are covered if someone gets injured in your space. With the right liability insurance policies in place, you’ll be covered for the costs of damage correction, medical fees for injuries, legal representation, and other related expenses. Beyond that, you’ll need to insure your unit or vehicle–plus all the equipment–against loss, theft, or accidental damage, including acts of God. This is typically straight-forward, but there are some policies specifically designed to insure caterers. 
  1. Other stuff You’ll need a separate bank account, of course, and a separate credit card that you use just for the business is a good idea. If you’re going to take credit cards and/or mobile payments, you’ll need to set up with a processor–your bank can probably help there, as well.

It’s a hassle and an expense, but trying to skip the necessary paperwork will cause way more trouble than it’s worth. Short cuts in this area could put you out of business–and worst case scenarios, land you in serious legal trouble.

In part 3, we’ll start looking at the equipment you’ll need.

Starting Your Own Mobile Tea Business, Part 1: Why Not?

Selling tea. It sounds like a wonderful idea: would could be better than making a living doing what you love? But opening a tea room is a risky business venture, with a lot of upfront costs. OK, fine … so what about just selling tea online, right from your own kitchen? It could work, but … well, face it: working from home has its perks, but it’s a pretty lonely existence. For most of us, much of the appeal of opening a tea room is being able to share with other tea lovers.

If you were thinking of opening a tea or coffee shop but are scared by the commitment and the set up costs, here’s an alternative idea: why not open a mobile tea room? A mobile coffee/tea business sells the same types of products sold by storefront shops; the big difference is, you’re working from a vehicle fitted with equipment for brewing and steeping. You’ll be able to mingle with your customers, like you would in a static tea room, but you’ll have a fraction of the investment.

In the first post of this multiple-part series, we’ll be looking at the advantages–and disadvantages–of operating your own mobile tea room business.

Advantages

As we’ve already mentioned, one of the main advantages of going mobile is the low start-up costs. You can go into the mobile coffee/tea business with very little upfront. There are plug-and-play packages that can be had for as little as $10,000, or franchises that include monthly support payments. Other advantage include:

  1. High Profits – The tea and coffee business is growing. Specialty stores like Starbucks have conditioned customers to demand higher quality products, and teas can offer gross profit margins over 75%. Having a mobile shop means you control the location, and that location can change based on conditions.
  2. Non-seasonal Products – Some products–Halloween supplies, or plant nurseries, for example–are very seasonal; the demand for coffee and tea goes year-round. If you operate in an area with dramatic season changes, you may need to change your offerings from time to time, but the market will still be there.
  3. Flexibility – Many people choose to run a mobile business, because it can fit around their lifestyle. You can have a daily route or a specific location on days of the week, or only open at flea markets, concerts, or other events. The minimal investment makes it easier to operate part time, if that’s what you need.

Disadvantages

The big disadvantage here is that this is not a new idea. While more people are willing to spend more money on tea or coffee, there’s also a good deal of competition for that business. Your product will either have to be competitively priced, of a higher quality, or operate in an under-served location. Even at exclusive events, you could see issues: you may have the sole coffee concession at a show, but that doesn’t stop the burger van next to you from selling instant coffee or generic teabags at half your price. A few other disadvantages:

  1. Skill Level – It takes skill to make a consistently good cup of coffee or brew an excellent tea. And if you’re running the concession, YOU are the barista. You’ll need to do a lot of research and get in a lot of practice before you open. Your level of skill and understanding of your products are key to ensuring that your business is successful.
  2. Limited Sales Times – Even in our coffee-crazy world, the vast majority of coffee and tea sales take place in the mornings. Sure, there’s a growing acceptance of “afternoon tea,” but there is still an element of formality to those occasions–something not easily supplied by a mobile unit. This means to be profitable, you’ll need to start early and keep regular morning house so your customers can get their morning fix on their way into work or shortly thereafter.
  3. Many Hats to Wear – Not only will you need to be a top-notch barista, you’ll also be the driver AND the sales rep AND the buyer AND the bookkeeper … you get the idea. That means you’re in charge of acquiring licenses, purchasing supplies, and doing all the financial work, from applying for loans to dealing with customer chargebacks. It’s a lot to consider.

Owning and running a mobile tea shop business can be great, but it can also be very difficult. Our job here is to make sure you don’t go into it blind. In our next post, we’ll take a look at the various components you’ll need to get started.