At London's Café Spice Namaste the tea is a bit special. Indian chai tea is brewed fresh in the kitchen with cardamom, ginger, crushed peppercorns and milk all added to the pan and brought to the boil - and that's just for the staff. While it's also available to customers, sadly they usually opt for the more mainstream English breakfast or an afternoon tea.
Chef patron Cyrus Todiwala is something of a tea fan. "I would prefer tea to become the main choice for customers over coffee," he says. "For centuries tea has been known to aid digestion if drunk with food, but coffee has become the fashionable choice in the UK. We offer about five different teas, but still most customers ask for an espresso or cappuccino." Besides the home brew, the restaurant also offers Earl Grey, Darjeeling and a camomile tea on a regular basis, all supplied by Twinings in tea-bag form. "Tea bags make life much easier, particularly with demand still fairly small," Todiwala says.
Research from Twinings suggests that consumers have low expectations of tea in catering establishments. "They feel that often the tea they're served isn't as good as the tea they would make at home," Twinings' senior product manager Ellie Marshall says. "Many caterers don't think it takes any skill to serve tea. Consumers and caterers are talking a very different language." The company offers training manuals for staff, aimed at various channels, including hotels and restaurants, and can also provide someone to carry out training on premises.
Marshall adds that caterers need to focus more on how they present and serve tea. "It doesn't necessarily have to be served in a cup with a saucer; this depends entirely on the outlet and its customer base," she says. "It might be that in a trendy bar a brightly coloured mug is the right way to present it. The important thing is to make it a personal experience for the customer."
Creating the perfect cup of tea means understanding the product right back to the picking stage, according to Christine Collins of hospitality tea supplier Ronnefeldt, who trains catering staff in how to produce and serve the perfect cuppa. Collins explains that there are two types of tea: orthodox tea carefully picked from the plant by pickers limited to just 1kg a day, and CTC (crush, tear and curl) tea torn away from the bush and mass-produced. CTC doesn't make a great cup of tea, Collins claims. It also gives up its colour very quickly, tricking staff into thinking the tea is brewed, when it isn't.
A quality product is the starting point for Marco Olmi, director of Drury Tea and Coffee, who also believes that increasing caterers' knowledge of how to make a good cup of tea is vital. "The first thing you need is a decent tea," he says. "The best results are achieved with leaf tea, brewed in a pot. Old-school caf‚s will warm the pot, make the brew, then add an extra spoonful of tea and top it up with more hot water."
But many outlets lag behind when it comes to appreciating the many varieties of tea available. "Caterers should know, for example, that most flavoured teas, apart from Earl Grey, shouldn't be served with milk. Top grade Darjeeling's character can be ruined by milk," Olmi says.
A greater knowledge of the product is also advocated by Bruce Ginsberg, founder of Dragonfly Teas supplier Wistbray, who suggests that tea should be considered a food accompaniment. "It should enhance food," he says. "With fresh ingredients and fusions of flavours expanding all of our taste banks, tea's freshness and subtlety is now increasingly seen as the perfect partner for contemporary food menus rather than just to finish a meal."
Wistbray suggests serving smoky black teas such as Lapsang Souchong with strongly flavoured or highly spiced food and red meats. Try Assam with rich poultry such as duck or goose, and Darjeeling or Earl Grey with more delicate poultry or fish, he suggests.
‘BIG UP' THE BRANDS
Many suppliers suggest caterers highlight the brands they're using in order to tempt customers to try their tea offering. "Big brands mean big business and recent research showed that consumers are disappointed when their favourite branded drink is not available when they're out of the home," says Andrew Gaunt, marketing controller at Premier Foods, the supplier behind Typhoo.
"Branded beverages are the way forward and are ideal to satisfy both the consumer and operators' profit margins."
Laurence Smith, senior brand manager for tea at UBF Foodsolutions, whose tea brands include PG Tips, Scottish Blend and Lipton, also believes in promoting brands. "We've seen that caterers are trading up from one-cup tea bags to tagged and enveloped products to reassure consumers of the brand they're serving and raising the quality standard of their tea offering to the consumer," he says. "These products also give consumers more control over brewing."
TIPS FOR A TOP CUPPA
The key thing to remember when brewing a pot of "English" tea, according to Tetley, is to make sure you boil fresh water to more than 98.5°C, as only temperatures in excess of this can efficiently extract flavour from the leaf. Water should be fresh and not previously boiled to maximise the oxygen content. And despite a common misconception which dates back to when we all used tea leaves brewed in pots, milk should be added after the tea bag has brewed, otherwise it will lower the temperature from the optimum level and affect the brewing process.
Research by Tetley shows that the most important features when a customer is judging the quality of a cup of tea in a catering outlet are temperature, use of fresh milk, a good colour and the type and condition of the cup or mug.
Drury Tea and Coffee Company 020 7740 1100
Twinings 01264 348681
Tetley 020 8578 2345
UBF Foodsolutions 0800 783 3728
Wistbray/Dragonfly Teas 01635 278648
Premier Foods 0800 783 2196
Ronnefeldt 0118 934 9424