What Makes a Great Tea Shop

Posted on May 31, 2013 in community, design process, experience design, Strategy

Recently, the tea shop up the street, the only tea shop of its kind in Austin, closed down its brick and mortar shop and is focusing its efforts online. I was surprised by my own mix of emotions: vexation and a lack of confidence in the owners’ commitment to running a successful tea shop and convert Austinite and visitors into customers. Sadness—this shop was one of the first nodes on my Could I move to Austin? customized google map. And relief that the shop is after all, not completely disappearing and I can still enjoy a hot cup of Jasmine Pearl tea at my favorite Elizabeth Street Cafe. I’ve been fortunate to inhabit great tea drinking cities with very successful tea shops and visit many more on holidays. Let’s reflect on what key factors make a great shop, a successful venture as I shamelessly hope that someone else will be brave and give Austin a second chance.

Location, Location, Location!

  • Be highly visible
  • Attract lots of local and tourist traffic
  • Situate yourself near businesses (so you get the morning crowd, people on breaks, lunch crowd, shoppers, etc.)

Online presence certainly helps, but an online shop is not mandatory. It is simply necessary for people to be able to find you, share your information with others and learn about the products you have to offer before or after they visit. This means, yes, be active on social media platforms!

Create House Specialties

  • Make your own blends
  • Make your own cakes and goodies with tea infusions

Create Lounge & Loiter Space

  • Set a table!
  • Mariage Frère has a renowned cafe upstairs where they serve up delectable tea-infused dishes
  • TeaBar in Amsterdam has seating with magazines and food books to browse

Be a Local Supplier

  • Hotels, restaurants, shops all love to serve great products
  • They will promote you, you will send people to them: win, win!

Find Local Champions

  • Find people who will promote you organically (or for hire)
  • Find businesses whose values align with tea culture (I hear yogis love tea)

Be Highly Interactive

  • Feature a great tasting station
  • Prepare teas for sampling sample
  • Make samples available upon request (Artedel Ricevere in Milan)
  • Set out tea leaves for self-guided aroma tours

Encourage visitors to experience the armoa! Tea is an aroma-rich experience–and research shows that olfactory cues play a significant roll in a person’s impressions and biases. It can also be a powerful branding opportunity. The best shops create an arena for discovery allowing visitors to touch, smell, imagine rather than waiting for or approaching the white-gloved tea guardian behind the counter. Sometimes the fear can be crippling: What if you pick one that doesn’t please you? What if there’s a line in front or behind you? What if you don’t pronounce it correctly? What if nothing appeals to you and you walk away empty handed? Bring the tins to the people!

Sell Merchandise (branded & otherwise)

  • Reusable shopping totes, infusers, pottery, etc.
  • Tea party sandwiches, cookies, jams, etc.

Design Great Packaging

  • Packaging to write home about (or post on Instagram)
  • Packaging for which people will pay a premium
  • Collaborations, specialty tins
  • Packaging that promotes longer lasting tea

Offer Flexible Pricing

I’d guess many people are unsure of how much tea to use per cup, how frequently they will want to drink it and therefore how long it will take them to consume it. Minimum quantities is a barrier for beginner, which is why free samples, smaller sizes and flexible pricing is very helpful. Whenever I’d buy a 2 oz. of tea from TeaBar, they would throw in a 2 or 3 cup sample of another blend. I would either love it and return to buy it or share it with friends (who might in turn seek it out).


Throw in a “Best Hits List”

Many tea shops keep a list of the top 10 picks of the month/season akin to clerks at bookstores who recommend reads and salespeople at music shops who select and recommend CDs. It helps build trust, community, and you invite people to pop in more frequently and see what’s new, what’s hot, what’s recommended for the season (and weather).


So that’s it…just 11 easy steps! Come on, who’s gonna give it a go?