Guiding guests to artisan tea

2016-07-21 14:55    

No other beverage pleases in as many ways as tea. It is an iced refresher, a comforting wakeup call, a cheerful social medium, a flavoring for cuisine and cocktails and for some aficionados, a sip as complex and expressive as fine wine.

The latter niche — known variously as specialty, artisan or fine tea — is a big opportunity for restaurant operators. It is made up of fresh, expertly processed, high-end teas from noteworthy origins, along with premium herbal teas and fruit infusions, either in loose-leaf form or packed in sachets.

Specialty tea, growing by 8 percent to 10 percent annually, “continues to be the star” in the tea market, declares the State of the U.S. Tea Industry Report 2015 by the Tea Association of the U.S.A. The wholesale value of the specialty tea segment was estimated to reach $2.09 billion last year, up from $270 million in 1990.

Those higher-end teas are part of an overall foodservice tea market pegged at $20 billion and growing by a Packaged Facts report in January. The market research firm predicts that although coffee will continue to drive restaurant industry sales, tea “likely will have the edge in future growth momentum,” with sales increasing through 2018 and beyond.

Around the foodservice industry, some establishments are leveraging the growing interest in tea. Take L’Espalier, the upscale New England-French cuisine destination in Boston. “Many guests are open to, and even excited about, learning and being introduced to fine artisanal teas,” says Cynthia Gold, L’Espalier tea sommelier.

Gold curates L’Espalier’s 20-item tea collection of standout offerings, including signature house blends, single-estate teas and rare teas. She also has lent her stock in trade to the bar, where the Green Tea Gimlet is the best-selling cocktail. At weekend brunches, tea flights are an option. Moreover, tea is the focus of special food-and-tea-pairing dinners and tea-blending parties for bridal showers.

Tea is in style at Eataly Chicago, celebrity