Thursday, April 14, 2016

Iced Tea at a Coffee Shop

Picture Credit: Starbucks
I had a tea review ready to post of a new tea by a new company, however apparently the shop closed before it even had a chance to be found. That makes me sad. So instead I am going to use this moment to vent just a wee bit.

Recently my wife and I were out doing our weekly grocery shopping. As usual we stopped in Starbucks for tea. OK, it's a coffee shop but it is the only place in town to buy tea - unless Lipton in a bag is your thing.

I ordered an Iced Earl Grey with one Splenda. I have learned from past experience to tell them to steep only 3 minutes. If you don't do this the tea will be steeped for 5 or sometimes 7 minutes. That is too long in a tiny cup. I don't want my tea tasting like their coffee.

What I received was a plastic 'glass' of iced lightly colored sweet water with just a hint of Earl Grey. The barista had filled the cup with ice and poured what little fresh brewed hot tea he could into the cup. The rest of the tea that didn't fit he planned to throw out. I said, "Are you kidding me? Can I have the rest of the tea?" He politely capped the paper cup and handed it over. sigh.

On the previous visit (different barista) I had ordered the same Iced Earl Grey. What I received was a London Fog which is an Earl Grey with vanilla syrup and milk. It was really good so I didn't mind until I realized I just paid for a much more expensive drink.  sigh (again)

I have ordered this maybe 6 times. The first couple times I did not realize how long they steeped the tea unless told otherwise. It was pretty strong and bitter. One was warm because the small amount of iced used all melted. So out of 6 times 2 of them were well done and tasty. 3 if you want to include the London Fog.

Yes, I am certain they would have made it right had I said something. So I take a good portion of the blame. However, my point is coffee shops that sell tea really don't get tea. If it comes out of a concentrate container like my wife's favorite Passion Tango, it will be right every time. If they have to steep it, most just haven't been adequately trained - or the training didn't stick because they use it so infrequently.

I do try to educate them when they aren't too busy (rarely) but the turnover is apparently pretty high as I seldom get a repeat barista. I'm beginning to think my only solution is to order a hot Earl Grey and a larger glass of ice so I can complete the task myself.

I do want to finish by saying I am not just singling out Starbucks here. I imagine this will apply to coffee shops selling tea in small towns everywhere. By the way, I am completely addicted to Starbucks Green Tea Frappuccino. I also really liked the London Fog, and when they get it right the Iced Earl Grey is a refreshing treat.

My point is, when Starbucks bought Teavana many of us tea drinkers raised our hopes that this move would do for tea what Starbucks did for coffee. I am not really seeing that happen locally. I hope things are better where you live. I want tea to become so trendy that even our little town can support a shop dedicated just to tea.


  1. I’ve actually had the exact opposite experience with our local Starbucks. They tend to be fairly consistent as far as quality, whether it’s coffee or tea. I wouldn’t hesitate to have them remake your drink if you’re not happy, they’re really great about listening to customer feedback about bad drinks/service and doing something about it. I will say that I’m not really a fan of their Earl Grey, unless you steep if for 3 minutes or less it tends to be really strong and bitter, so even though that’s one of my favorite teas I stick to something else while I'm there—they just don’t do a good Earl Grey.

    Small town coffee shops that sell tea, now those can really bit hit or miss. I have one within walking distance of our house that does great coffee, but miserable tea—for the exact reasons you’ve mentioned. But if I drive into the city we have a number of shops that sell good quality tea, generally Rishi since they’re local-ish, and they know how to steep it properly. I feel like the problem is that tea has become just trendy enough that shops want to offer it to their customers as a way to increase sales, yet they don’t always take the time to do it right.

    1. Thanks for the reply. It is interesting to me that your experience with the Earl Grey steep time is very similar to mine even if your overall perception is different. I almost didn't publish this post as it may be unfair but I wanted to hear another opinion. Maybe its time I had a cup of tea with the manager and offer the opinion of an opinionated tea drinker. I'd love to see some good unflavored teas on the list - like golden monkey - or even a nice scented one like jasmine pearls.

  2. Come to Laurens South Carolina and I will personally make your iced tea. The right way. The Coffee Roost.