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!