Teavana ‘Teaologist’ Explains the Renewed Passion for Tea in North America

Tea is the second most popular beverage in the world, after water, but most Americans are used to drinking it with ice.

“I’m not sure what I should try,” said Julie Denova as she studies the titles of loose-leaf teas in an inviting, cozy Teavana® store.

Denova, a school teacher, sees nearly 100 different choices on the Teavana® famous “Wall of Tea.” She glances at shiny silver containers with colorful labels and exotic-sounding names – Emperor’s Clouds and Mist® , Moroccan Mint, Caribbean Calypso, and Samurai Chai® to name a few.

A regular coffee drinker in the morning, she doesn’t know “how to begin with tea,” but she likes “citrus or herbal tastes more than spicy ones.” A Teavana partner (employee) recommends the Youthberry® White Tea.

She gently takes a sip, pauses and then smiles. “It tastes like apples with a hint of pineapple too. This is more refreshing than I thought tea would be,” Denova said after a few more sips. “I could get used to this.”

With more than 350 Teavana® stores in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and the Middle East, that customer’s experience is repeated thousands of times every day as more people discover high-quality tea. Starbucks welcomed Teavana into the company in 2012 with the intention of enhancing the consumer tea experience in the U.S.

“Other countries appreciate tea from a more mature perspective,” said Naoko Tsunoda, Teavana’s tea authority and director of tea development. “In Japan the tea culture is more than 400 years old and in China there is a 4,000 year history.”

China is considered to have the earliest records of tea consumption dating back to the 10th century; although legend has it the Emperor of China discovered tea around 2737 BC. For several hundred years people drank tea because of its perceived herbal medicinal qualities. Around the year 600, Japanese priests studying in China brought tea back to their country. Tea arrived in England during the 17th century and later the Dutch brought it to North America.

Tsunoda developed her passion for tea beginning at the age of eight when her family moved from the U.S. to Japan. She fell in love with the ritual of tea drinking and gained an appreciation for loose-leaf tea.

“In some ways I think tea is more complex than coffee,” Tsunoda said. “There are so many varietals of tea and soil conditions, climate, weather and growers’ expertise all play a role in the quality of tea.”

Tea is grown in more than 40 countries around the world. As is the case with Starbucks coffee, Teavana only sources tea from a handful of countries because of its commitment to offering products of the highest quality.

Teavana’s grading system for tea “sets the bar high,” she says. “One bud, one leaf” is a common phrase in the tea business which refers to the ideal harvesting method.

“Only the top leaf and the undeveloped bud are plucked for the top grade of tea,” said Tsunoda. “It takes thousands of shoots to make a pound of finished tea. It’s quite a feat to have that quality commitment.”

Although the tea culture in the U.S. and Canada isn’t as established as other countries, Tsunoda believes the “American palate is becoming more sophisticated” in part because of Starbucks.

“Starbucks has helped consumers understand the art of growing, harvesting and roasting the finest coffee beans and then serving them in a hand-crafted manner,” she said. “I’m excited every day to help tea drinkers make those same discoveries.”

Starbucks has opened nearly 40 new mall-based stores and announced plans to open more than 20 additional stores through the rest of fiscal 2014. Starbucks also plans to expand the company’s reimagined Teavana® Fine Teas + Tea Bar concepts to Chicago, Los Angeles and additional locations in New York City later this year. The company opened two of the concepts last fall in New York and Seattle, featuring handcrafted tea beverages, premium loose leaf teas, tea-inspired food offerings and beautiful tea merchandise.