NEW YORK – Starbucks is trying to make tea trendy, starting with its first New York City tea bar where people can order drinks and small dishes in a cafe-style setting.
The Seattle-based company is launching Teavana Fine Teas + Teavana Tea Bar today, serving sweets, flatbreads, salads and other food for about $3 to $15. Drinks will range from $3 to $6 and will include novelties such as a spiced Mandarin oolong tea and carbonated teas.
The menu of food and freshly made drinks is a switch for Teavana, a retail chain of about 300 stores that sells boxed and loose tea and accessories.
Starbucks bought Teavana last year. The company has said it plans to use the acquisition to make tea a bigger part of American culture, as it has with coffee.
Teavana stores are mainly in shopping malls, but Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said he plans to expand the footprint to include more locations in urban areas. He also plans to transform Teavana stores to make them more like Starbucks cafes and the tea bar opening today.
Starbucks Corp., which has about 12,000 U.S. locations, has been on a strong financial run even in the weak economy, boosting its profits by raising prices, revamping food offerings and adding items such as pricey bottled juices.
In its latest quarter, it said sales rose 9 percent at cafes open at least a year.
Schultz said Starbucks executives noticed that tea orders were among the fastest-growing drinks at their cafes. People are also more likely to order food when they buy iced tea, he said.
Schultz said he expects the average purchase at the Teavana shop to be higher than at a Starbucks cafe, although it probably wont get as many customers. The store is also expected to do more business throughout the day, compared with the early morning rush at Starbucks stores.
Starbucks opened a similar tea shop last year near its headquarters under its Tazo brand. Next month, that store will be converted into a Teavana tea bar as well.
The idea of a tea shop isnt new, of course. Jenny Ko, a part owner of the Culture Tea Bar in New Yorks Harlem neighborhood, notes that theyre more prevalent on the West Coast but that theyve been popping up on the East Coast recently as well.
Ko said she welcomes Starbucks push into tea shops, even though the company has put many smaller coffee chains out of business.
She said she thinks her tea shop has enough unique offerings to withstand the competition. Besides, she said Starbucks push should lead to greater awareness about teas in general.
Thats how everyone got into coffee, after Starbucks opened, Ko said.
She noted that people already are more knowledgeable about tea, with customers increasingly familiar with varieties such as oolong and Darjeeling.