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

menu building

Choosing which tea to carry can be stifling for a specialty café.
The world of tea is highly varied; there are thousands of types of tea, all distinct from one another.

We believe less is more. Tea programs should be focused and exceptional. 

We suggest 4-6 core teas with room for a few rotating or seasonal options if desired. 

Your core selection should cover the major categories of tea: white, oolong, green, etc., with a non-caffeinated tisane to round out the lineup.

In addition to your traditional tea set, matcha and masala chai are critical to specialty drink making in modern shops.

tea lists

A printed tea list is fundamental to an effective tea program.
It should be legible, accessible, and elegant. Placement of your tea list is vital—either in front of your point-of-sale system or where the customer line forms.

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.


The best tea programs are built around the right tools for the job.
Elevated tea service relies on a sturdy arsenal of first-rate wares. Great tea gear will improve quality control and equip your baristas with more effective tools (that are a joy to use).

Hugo's Teapot BOLI—designed in-house and hand-crafted in Hangzhou—is ideal for café use. 5 or 6 teapots should suffice in a moderately busy shop.

Other essential components of western tea service include:

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

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 tea helps streamline service and maintain consistency.
Because every tea has an individual gram requirement, pre-dosing 5 or 6 servings of all teas before opening each day is a good way to accelerate your tea service.

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 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 provides baristas with valuable skills and ensures your beverage program is top-notch.

Ask your tea provider to lead a cupping with your team at regular intervals—there's no substitute for hands-on training with the people who selected your teas at origin


How your tea is served matters.
There are 3 ways that tea is primarily served in modern coffee shops. Figuring out which style best suits your café goes a long way toward building a consistently effective tea program. 

1 | Prepared 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 specialty coffee. The finished tea can be brought to where the customer is seated, or retrieved from the bar by the customer themselves.

 2 | Partially prepared and served mid-steep.
Here, 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 pour 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 if customers are not given steeping instructions.

3 | Sachets to-go.
Ideally, tea is prepared loose and served finished in a to-go cup, but in some settings (think drive-thru window), customers are best served with roomy, high-quality tea sachets served steeping in hot water.


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.

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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