the coffee professional's guide to organizing a top-tier tea program

tea lists

A simple, uncluttered tea list is a non-negotiable component of an effective tea program.
It should be legible, accessible, and elegant. Strategic placement of your tea list is vital—either in front of your point-of-sale system or just outside of where the customer line forms (for those who need extra time to peruse the list).

Our branded design works, but should you wish to produce one of your own, we suggest inclusion of the following:


Request fresh copies as frequently as needed—we produce our laminated lists in-house and on demand.


Selecting the right tools for the job is fundamental to your shop's long-term success.
A sturdy arsenal of highly functional, beautiful wares equips your baristas with more effective tools (that are a joy to use), increases the aesthetic value of your shop, and better protects your bottom line from repair and replacement costs. Think "buy-it-for-life".

Hugo's Teapot BOLI—hand-crafted by our partner glassblower in Hangzhou—is idealized for café use. 3 or 4 teapots should suffice in a moderately busy café; more if customers are served the teapot on a tray and pouring the tea themselves tableside.
Other essential components of western tea service include:

- Precision scale. 
(accurate to .1 grams)
- Variable temperature kettle.
(for precision steeping)

Our closest associates in the coffee industry also manufacture the best wares money can buy 
(for not a lot of money):

- FAEMA (espresso machines)
- FELLOW (kettles)
- ACAIA (scales)
- SLOW POUR SUPPLY (pitchers)
- HASAMI (serving vessels)

The right lineup of wares may cost marginally more at the outset—the long-term savings and added value, though, make the investment worth it.

teapot boli


Pre-dosing teas ahead of time helps your baristas avoid hiccups and headaches behind bar.
A common time-saving practice behind bar, pre-dosing beans takes the guesswork out of preparing that next filter coffee—the same is true for tea. Because every tea has an individual gram requirement, pre-dosing 5 or 6 servings of each tea before opening is a great way to streamline your tea service.

Because tea has no dialing-in process, prepping the day's servings is as simple as weighing each dose (in a small, preferably air-tight / opaque container) on a scale and storing the pre-dosed teas neatly where your baristas can easily access them. Repeating this process at lulls in service can prevent hang-ups during the next rush.


Proper storage of your teas preserves their integrity.
Unless you're aging pu'er in your café (in which case, we'd like to speak with you!), light, heat, and humidity are the sworn enemies of tea. Though specialty tea is visually stunning, it's best kept in opaque containers (and inside the original packaging) away from those conditions. Matcha is especially vulnerable to degradation by light exposure, and should be kept in a cool, dark place (ideally under refrigeration, and away from any strong scents).

Proper storage doesn't have to be at the expense of efficiency or aesthetics, though—the right storage canisters will be sturdy (but lightweight), ergonomic,  and sized to suit limited shelf space.

Plus, arranged neatly within eyesight of customers, stored tea doubles as a beautiful design element in your café.

Hugo's new wholesale canisters will be available early next year, but any storage solution that checks the boxes listed above will suffice.


Steeping your teas—and preparing specialty tea drinks—should be executed to the same standard as fine specialty coffee.
While good quality teas can pick up some of the slack if not carefully prepared, an awe-inspiring cup is the result of attentive steeping guided by the importer's parameters (and barista's intuition). Pre-dosing tea provides the breathing room needed to spend extra time monitoring a tea's extraction. A well-trained coffee professional will be able to eyeball the visual and aromatic cues that suggest a tea is finished. 

This holds true for tea-based signature beverages, too. The ubiquitous matcha latte is a notoriously difficult pour (the secret lies in achieving a frothed matcha "paste" with the same consistency as espresso). Building specialty tea prep into staff training equips your baristas with valuable, transferable skills and ensures your beverage program is top-notch.

Ask your tea provider to lead a cupping and training with your team at regular intervals—there's no substitute for hands-on training with the people who hand-selected your teas at origin. Your team should be encouraged to hold their tea in the same high regard as their coffee—a shop serving the best matcha latte or cleanest cup of sencha green tea is going to win the non-coffee drinking crowd who still want a place to get their caffeine fix and camp out with WiFi.


How your tea is served matters.
There are 3 ways that tea is primarily served in western coffee shops. Each carries pros and cons—figuring out which style best suits your café goes a long way toward building a consistently effective tea program. 

 1 | Prepared and served to completion on bar.
This method sees the barista steeping, pouring, and serving a finished tea without customer intervention, and is the most popular method in third-wave cafés. The finished tea can be brought to where the customer is seated, or retrieved from the bar by the customer themselves. This style offers the best opportunity to serve beautiful, intentional drinks.

 2 | Partially prepared and served mid-steep.
In this scenario, the tea is dosed, hot water is applied, and the unfinished tea is served to the customer (usually on a tray with a mug) to complete themselves at their table. This method is popular in some busy shops, and relieves baristas of time-intensive tea making—but also leaves the most room for error, especially if customers are not properly instructed as to how long their tea should steep

3 | Sachets to-go.
Customers taking tea to-go are best served with roomy, high-quality tea sachets that are served steeping in hot water. Ideally, a tea is prepared loose and served finished in a to-go cup (preferably in a reusable vessel, either provided by the café or the customer), but in some settings (think drive-thru window), sachets are most practical.

In any case, putting more time into making the tea you're serving both tasty and tasteful yields dividends.


Thoughtful presentation can make or break a tea drinking experience.
In western tea culture, presentation tends to take a backseat. This is a boon to the modern coffee shop that puts a little more planning and attention to detail toward their tea program. Holding your shop to a high standard of presentation is a simple way to gratify your customer base and, not to mention, makes producing high-grade social media content that much easier.

On the most fundamental level, selecting the right wares and mastering the basics of tea preparation will put your tea program ahead of the pack. With just a few additional tweaks, every tea served will be posed in front of your customers' cameras.

Each of our teas and tisanes on the site offer serving concepts in their descriptions, but all are based on fundamental concepts of flavor compatibility and clean, subdued aesthetics.

A few general guiding principles:

1 | Cleanly filter finished tea to avoid tea particles & residue in the cup.
Take time to produce a vibrant tea liquor with no broken leaves—ensure your wares are up to snuff for best results.

2 | Garnish signature drinks with complementary flavors & colors.
A fine dusting of cinnamon atop 1/3 your chai lattes, coarse honeycomb alongside chamomile tea—tasteful, repeatable accoutrements elevate tea programs. 

3 | Keep it simple.
Anything that impedes the workflow of your baristas is not worth it—focus on the basics of masterful tea service.

Intentionality of detail is key to making a lasting impression—and, more importantly, produces flat-out better tea.


Disposal of spent tea leaves should be green.
Tea leaves make an excellent addition to compost. They're nitrogen-rich, and provide an acidic foil to more common carbon-heavy organic matter. Don't let your used product rot in a landfill—contact a local organization that collects compostable material or the neighborhood community garden (or your city's sanitation department) and arrange a weekly pickup.

Collect spent tea in a clean bucket during service, and at close, transfer the contents to a sealed composting container in a back room or walk-in. Making this practice second-nature is an easy way to reduce your shop's carbon footprint.

While tea is certifiably compostable, not all tisanes are—chai spices, for instance, may be too acidic for most soils. It's always a good idea to check with your compost collector.


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