Goodbye Teavana: Looking for tea alternatives

I never saw another customer in Teavana.

The employees often stood out front, usually wringing their hands and looking uncomfortable while people walked by. They didn’t really want to serve samples. They didn’t want to stand outside and harass people into trying them. They couldn’t tell me what ingredients were in the teas–problematic, when you have allergies. Most couldn’t even tell me which were decaf. So when I heard that all Teavana stores were supposed to close, I wasn’t surprised.

I was, however, a little disappointed. There was something excellent about visiting the store and picking out my own tea, blending those I liked, and looking at all the new teapots and tea-making gadgets. I found a couple teas I really liked. I found a couple duds, too. But mostly, my visits brought stress.

See, Starbucks was quick to blame the demise of the American shopping mall for the underperformance of Teavana stores. But here’s the thing: If a store is worth visiting, people will visit. Many mall stores fail to make themselves appealing enough to pull in customers. Some continue to adapt with strong branding and advertising, making themselves continually relevant, or filling a niche that make it the best place to find what you’re looking for. Teavana did an excellent job of the latter, so why was the store always empty?

Probably because they just didn’t understand their clientele.

I mean, when you think of the average tea drinker, who do you envision? A sweet grandmother and a bookish introvert probably come to mind right away. I fall into the latter category (though I hope to be both someday!) and let me tell you–as much as I liked Teavana, I hated going there.

The staff were unhelpful. They were overly aggressive, making me feel uncomfortable and bullied. I won’t forget the time I went in and asked for two ounces of a particular tea. So imagine my discomfort when the sales lady dumped a heaping scoop into the bag on the scale, filling it with almost three times what I’d requested, then looked me straight and the eye and said “Is that okay?”

It was absolutely not, and she knew it. She also knew most people like me would crumple instead of being angry, collapse under pressure and just pay for it in hopes of avoiding a confrontation. And unfortunately, it was like that every time I visited, and more than once, I had to fall back on my husband–a prior Marine–to insist that no, removing two teaspoons of tea from the bag did not make it what I asked for.

Needless to say, I avoided the place when I was alone. I didn’t want to deal with the aggression or the inevitable challenge at the register to get what I’d asked for without being badgered into getting anything else. So, no–decreased mall traffic probably had very little with the store’s demise.

While I regret not being able to smell teas before I purchase, which means I’ll probably experiment less, there are a number of companies I’ve grown familiar with and a handful I’m looking forward to trying. I want to drink more tea in 2018, so while I’ll be kicking back with some extreme discount Teavana white chocolate peppermint this afternoon, I’ll be settling on places to try tea from this year, and here are a few contenders:

  1. Plum Deluxe (who I got tea from before!)
  2. Desert Sage Natural (A small, independent company with a LOT of blends)
  3. David’s Tea
  4. Adagio Teas (Whose fandom blends give me so many ideas)
  5. Republic of Tea
  6. Mahalo Tea
  7. Tea Forte (Because I loved the black cherry blend)
  8. Holy Mountain Trading Company

Have a favorite tea supplier? Who would you add to my list? And, most importantly… who has the best Earl Grey?

5 Replies to “Goodbye Teavana: Looking for tea alternatives”

  1. As a former retail slave I can attest that some of the aggression is because of corporate sales quotas and expectations. If they get a secret shopper and Don’t try to upsale they can get in trouble, such as being written up.

    I used to make sales. I made some big sales too. But not because I was aggressive, but because I listened to the customer and bent over backwards to help them find exactly what they were looking for. This also meant that sometimes I only made a small sale, because the customer only wanted the small thing. But they still bought it and were happy because it was just what they wanted.

    But corporate didn’t give two figs about all that. They wanted us to upsale. They wanted us to push certain products over any other. Nothing else mattered but beating the sales figures from the year prior. Growth just for the sake of growth is the cancer of American capitalism.

    I used to loathe the surveys. Still do. Because anything not Super Great/5/10 whatever the highest rating was, might as well have been a Poor/1. We had customers who LOVED us, LOVED our store. But because they gave us a 4 out of 5, or whatever it was, corporate treated us like we’d gotten 1s.

    Can’t help you with the tea thing. I’m more of a coffee person.

  2. I remember Teavana before it was Teavana — they were the Elephant Tea Company in Atlanta, and I loved them. IWhen I moved to New York often went to a Teavana store locally because I knew its quality from the get-go. But once Starbucks bought them, I knew it was over.

    So I am mourning the Elephant Tea Company — quirky, fun, unusual, and a haven. It should ahve stayed the one-off it was, and it would still be with us today.

  3. I have two tea supplier recommendations for you to consider, both of which I’ve been shopping with for years and can highly recommend.

    – Harney & Sons (https://www.harney.com/): They have quite a variety of tea, most of which you can get as either loose tea or sachets. Their English breakfast and Scottish Afternoon teas are my go-to basic teas, but I’ve enjoyed quite a few of their flavored and herbal teas as well. Right now, I’m completely obsessed with Victorian London Fog, which is a newer offering, and is an Earl Grey with “something extra” that I can’t quite put my finger on. Delicious! (Also, you usually get a few random individually-wrapped sachets for free with each order. I’ve stumbled onto several teas I would not have otherwise tried that way, so that has been fun!)

    – The Whistling Kettle (http://www.thewhistlingkettle.com/): Another place with a wide variety of tea, but I believe it is only loose (so, no sachets here). I am absolutely in love with their Blend 1776, which I bought because of the name (I am obsessed with 18th century everything) and thought would be gross (strawberry and maple?) but ended up absolutely falling in love. The only thing I don’t love about WK is that they don’t have the cute tins like you can get with Harney. I don’t know, I just like a row of pretty, labeled tins on my counter! So what I did was buy empty unlabeled tins from Harney and made my own fancy labels for my WK tea. (I’m a lunatic, ha ha ha!)

    Both of these places offer samples, which is not as good as getting to smell before you plunk down any money, but it’s better than ending up with a giant tin or bag of something and not liking it! The samples are usually only a couple of dollars and I find I can get quite a few cups from a sample, so it’s really quite reasonable.

    Also, they both have a point system enabling you to get discounts off future purchases. As a person who drinks an incredible amount of tea on a daily basis, I really appreciate that. 😉

    Good luck with your quest for a new tea supplier!

  4. Wow–that’s an awesome history lesson. I had heard that Teavana was a lot more relaxed prior to the Starbucks takeover, but I never had the chance to experience it. But I still hold out hope that at some point, independent tea stores will make a comeback. Especially now that the popularity of tea is growing. I know more tea drinkers than coffee drinkers now, and there are even a few independent sellers locally, though they mostly only sell at festival booths and the like. If one of them gets around to opening a permanent storefront, I’ll be a very happy camper!

  5. Oh man, thanks for the recommendations! Both places have a couple teas that caught my eye, so I’ll probably be checking them out soon. I really appreciate it! Especially knowing that they’ve been around a bit. It seems like more often than not, the companies I like tend to vanish, so I’m looking forward to having a couple I can count on!

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