Food Writer's Diary

A brief open letter about tea

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Complaints about hot tea service are pretty common. Why do you think that is?

Well this is new: I got an e-mail from a restaurant-goer who had a complaint she wanted to lodge before the entire restaurant industry.
 
“I am wondering,” she wrote, “as a consumer how does one go about letting the entire restaurant industry know of a complaint?”
 
It seemed to me, that writing to an editor at Nation’s Restaurant News was a pretty ingenious way to do it, and something that, to my knowledge, no consumer has ever thought to do before.
 
Here’s her complaint (edited slightly to correct minor typographical errors, because I can’t help myself): 
 
As a tea drinker, I am tired of being given steel pots that are too hot to handle, a cup of hot water with no place to put the bag, no spoons to stir with, and having to ask over and over again for more hot water.
 
Why don't restaurants realize that an insulated carafe of hot water should be delivered to a table for a tea drinker, to refill their cup, just as if they were a coffee drinker?
 
Or brew it en masse just like coffee and serve it like coffee?
 
Sign me,
 
Sick Of Waiting For My Tea
 
Complaints of improper hot tea service at restaurants are pretty common, possibly because few restaurants have the nice tea service that the Austin-based Asian chain Mama Fu’s offers and which is pictured here. Isn’t it nice?
Some purists would complain about the lime wedge, which isn't a typical accompaniment in East Asian tea service — in fact, East Asians drink their hot tea without added dairy, sugar or citrus; they just drink it. Others would likely want milk with their tea, because they don’t know or care that Chinese and Japanese tea drinkers would consider them barbarians for drinking tea that way.
That’s another challenge with tea in the United States: Relatively few Americans drink hot tea compared to those who drink hot coffee or iced tea, and although hot tea consumption is growing at a fair clip these days, standard protocols aren’t really in place for how to serve it. Some restaurants have elaborate tea programs; a few have taken the time to source a variety of different types of tea — black, green, floral, oolong; Chinese, Japanese, Indian etc. — and a very few go to the trouble of brewing different teas at different temperatures and for different lengths of time for optimal flavor.
But hot water, a bag and a cup are still the norm.
I’d love to read about the tea services in your restaurants, and if you have suggestions for Sick of Waiting for My Tea, go ahead and offer them in the comments section below.

Discuss this Blog Entry 1

on Dec 16, 2013

I just got this response from Danielle Johnson Walker, general manager of Earth at Hidden Pond in Kennebunkport, Maine:

In my opinion guests want to feel taken care of – whether they are ordering foie gras, an ’82 Bordeaux or a pot of tea. So much thought goes into designing the menu and wine list, I feel like if you don’t put as much effort into the little things — like what kinds of tea to serve, or how you serve your after dinner beverages — you’re tripping over the finish line.
At Earth at Hidden Pond we want to help create as much of an experience for our guests as possible, so when we bring the tea selection to the table we leave it with the guests if they’re interested (simply laid out in an old bottle carrier). That way, those who want to smell them, see them and read what is in them can, and those who don’t — well, no harm, no foul.
Also if the servers know as much about your tea list as they do about your wine list, that’s a win for all. If you can be educated about what blackberry leaf, echinacea or peppermint could be helpful with, suggest a white tea over a China green and properly pair accoutrements for her, you may win over the “Tea Lady.” You would suggest a Sauternes with the foie gras wouldn’t you? Properly paired milk, honey and citrus couldn’t be any harder, right?

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Food Writer's Diary is a blog written by Bret Thorn, senior food editor of Nation’s Restaurant News, which covers culinary trends and his adventures.

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Bret Thorn

Bret Thorn is responsible for reporting on culinary trends in foodservice for Nation's Restaurant News. He joined NRN in 1999, after spending about five years as a journalist in Thailand, where...
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