You can get a cup of tea at a Starbucks, but you can't get a cup of coffee at the chain's first teahouse, Teavana Fine Teas + Tea Bar, which opens today in Manhattan.
That's how serious Starbucks is about selling lots of fancy tea at the chichi teahouse strategically located on the city's Upper East Side. It's very appropriately near a Lululemon and Dean & DeLuca.
The difference between a Starbucks coffee shop and a Teavana teahouse "is like night and day," says Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, in a phone interview. "It's much more zen-like than anything you'll find in a Starbucks store."
The store, with fashionably-gray walls, light wood and museum-esque lighting, looks very different from Starbucks, and it has no Starbucks branding. The most striking visual feature in the store is the Teavana "Wall of Tea" with a range of loose-leaf teas and tea blends.
For Starbucks, it's a high-profile baby step into the $90 billion global tea market. The only thing that people globally drink more of than tea is water. Even as Starbucks puts the brakes on new, domestic coffee shops, it can accelerate on teahouses. Starbucks hopes to open at least 1,000 more of its own Teavana bars (different than the retail shops currently open in many shopping malls) in North America and many more outside the U.S. Over the next five to 10 years, projects Schultz, "We'll do for tea what we've done for coffee."
It won't be easy. And it's a bit pricier than Starbucks. Salads sell for up to $14.95 and a 16-ounce specialty tea latte fetches $5.95. A raspberry and apricot cream scone goes for $3.75.
"The idea of starting fresh is smart," says Allen Adamson, managing director at Landor Associates. "It's hard to find a quiet place to hang out in a Starbucks. This feels softer and less bustling."
Unlike Starbucks, where the culture is more about drinks-on-the-go, at Teavana, the aura, design and mood is all about lingering. The chairs are padded and comfy. The lighting is low. And the sheer variety of teas and munchies seems to require time to sit and savor.
"When you walk in, you see a shrine to tea," says Schultz. "The store demonstrates our knowledge of tea and romances the theater of tea with a visual experience."
There will soon be more Teavana locations. A second Teavana is scheduled to open in Seattle around Thanksgiving. And Starbucks plans to open additional Teavana locations on the East and West Coast during the first half of 2014, he says.
What does Schultz sip? Moroccan Mint Teavana tea at night, "but nothing will replace my (Starbucks) French press Aged Sumatra in the morning."
Copyright 2013 USA TODAY
Original headline: Starbucks opens first Teavana store and it's a doozy
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