Do cafe-goers actually want to engage in making small cup tea themselves?
I recently posed the question on the Gongfu Cha Facebook group:
Can tea appreciation spread in the West without gong fu cha?
As many of you know, I’ve been working in a teahouse in Berkeley since April. Every day I’m at the shop, I attempt to teach people small cup brewing. Please note my precise language here. I'm not kidding myself that I am teaching them Gongfu Cha, which is a discipline. Gongfu Cha, as I have come to more deeply understand, is not simply brewing tea “with a small gaiwan” or “with a small clay pot.” So for the purpose of this piece, I will use the term “small cup brewing.”
When I serve customers, I explain each of the pieces on the chapan (drain board), demonstrate how to use the gaiwan using a two-hand method, and give pointers on brewing. Here is some of the most common results I have seen happen.
I've had people send back tea boards and ask for a western style pot.
I've watched people dump the tea leaves in to the strainer for the gongdaobei (fairness pitcher) and use that as an infuser in the gaiwan minus the lid.
I've watched people pour boiling hot water over green tea in a gaiwan and then forget about it while they go back to working on their computer.
I've watched people drink out of aroma cups (even after my training on what they are for).
I've watched people drink out of gongdaobei.
All of these experiences and observations have lead me to a few thoughts - one of which was having a more controlled and "opt in" setting for learning small cup tea like a series of classes. The second is not offering small cup brewing as the defacto "non single cup" option. But I think there is much more here to explore. This is a crucial philosophical discussion for teahouse owners given the early stage of understanding in the west of speciality pure teas and how to brew them.
Underlying this is an even deeper question of delivering and managing a great customer experience. Are we actually giving customers what they want? Or are we forcing them to do something cumbersome that they could care less for? If people put up with small cup tea brewing so they can stay longer at the teahouse and use our wifi, my guess is, no, we are not.
For me, this comes down to how I'm introducing fine tea to my mother. She is NEVER going to adopt small cup brewing methods. But I can get her to stop drinking Lipton teabags and move up to higher grade whole leaf Ceylon by finding the right combo of teaware, technique, and ease of use and cleanup.
We have a long way to go in the West to develop a more widespread appreciation of pure speciality teas. I have concerns that the innovator adopters (heardcore tea enthusiasts) are making the bar too high for the next wave of tea drinkers to come on board because they put so much time, energy, and effort in to learning and understanding.
This reminds me a lot of the really early innovator adopters of home solar energy who had to learn everything about the equipment and its integration first before finding a contractor to install it. Nowadays, people just want to know how much money switching to solar will save them on their bill. I am committed to understanding how my experience moving through this transition in the solar industry can afford me opportunities to help people learn about and adopt speciality tea.
What do you think. Should make the bar “this high to ride this ride?”