When it comes to making your guests feel at home, it is doubtful that many in the accommodation business give a lot of thought to consumption of the humble cup of tea. Perhaps we should.
Tea is by far the most widely consumed beverage in the world with staggering 4.73 million tonnes drunk in 2008. In fact, its consumption equals all other manufactured drinks in the world – including coffee, chocolate, soft drinks and alcohol – put together. The largest producers are: China, India, Kenya, Sri Lanka and Turkey.
All teas come from the same plant – the only difference is the fermentation process. But like wines, teas grown in different areas have a characteristic taste. Tea comes in three main varieties: green, oolong and black. Within this basic group there are myriad sub-varieties and serving styles. In addition, tea is highly receptive to the inclusion of various aromas, allowing for an almost endless range of scented and flavoured variants.
Most accommodation providers here are still likely to have or been influenced by a British heritage where a sit-down for a nice cup of hearty black tea with milk is always welcome. But in many of the world’s cultures it means much more than that, often being part of elaborate rituals and ceremonies. In Arab culture, tea is a focal point for social gatherings. In lranian (or Persian) culture, tea is generally the first thing offered to a household guest. Japan’s complex and formal tea ceremony is well known, and just one form of many Chinese tea rituals is the Gongfu tea ceremony which uses small clay teapots and oolong tea. Increasing numbers of tourists are flooding in from China where tea is historically divided into a number of infusions. Even to more traditional tastes, too little consideration is given to quality. A few packets of tea bags in their room is not necessarily going to cut it for discerning guests. In the recent past, tea used in tea bags was the waste product produced from the sorting of higher quality loose leaf tea and derisively referred to in the industry as fannings or dust. While many higher quality teas are now available in a bag, it is generally accepted that this method provides an inferior taste and experience. Among its drawbacks is that the paper the bag is made of can often be tasted and tea stored in a bag loses its flavour more quickly.
So, are we underrating the importance of a good cup of tea for our guests? At the top end of the spectrum is upmarket Cotter House in Auckland’s Remuera where host Gloria Poupard-Walbridge’ high teas, served in French style with a selection of home-made savouries and desserts, are in strong demand. “lt is a major aspect of our hospitality package. We serve mainly very formal high teas in which we offer a selection of beautiful teas.” These include a range of imported specialty teas, including herbal and organic, imported from niche manufacturers, including some of the world’s rarest teas sourced from a company in Paris.
But what is possible in a high priced, exclusive tourist retreat and a big hotel could be off the radar for motels, few of which have restaurants and where guests are basically behind closed doors in their rooms. Mrs Poupard-Walbridge believes most of our motels are doing “quite well” with an increasing range of designer tea bags offered to guests and a good selection of quality teas in caddies supplied by major tea manufacturers.
An example is Chanui which sits at the premium end of tea in New Zealand. Founder and CEO Doug Hastie says the company has seen a massive increase in demand over the last two years as people demand better quality tea.
“We originally started out supplying leaf tea only, but we got many requests from customers who loved the taste but needed teabags for convenience. As a result we went to tea plantations throughout the world and sourced the best quality tea for teabags.”
“The Chanui range isn’t made up of fancy teas that people don’t normally drink – they’re just the traditional favourites, using better quality tea. Our most popular teas are the ones such as English Breakfast and Earl Grey.”
While New Zealanders are the seventh largest tea drinkers in the world on a per capita basis, from the import export figures it can be seen that we drink some of the lowest grades of tea Mr Hastie said. “At Chanui we want to change that.”