Starbucks to open ‘tea bar’ in New York

NEW YORK — Starbucks is trying to make tea trendy, with plans to open its first “tea bar” in New York City.

The Seattle-based company says Teavana Fine Teas + Teavana Tea Bar will serve sweets and other food including flatbreads, salads and small plates ranging in price from about $3 to $15. Drink prices will range from $3 to $6, and include novelties such as a Spiced Mandarin Oolong tea and carbonated teas.

The menu of food and freshly made drinks is a switch for Teavana, a chain of about 300 stores that sell boxed and loose tea and accessories. Teavana stores are mainly in shopping malls, but Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said he plans to expand the footprint to include more locations in urban areas. The company plans to add brewed tea and food to more Teavana stores.

The opening of the New York City store today comes after Starbucks bought Teavana last year. The company has said it plans to use the acquisition to make tea a bigger part of American culture, as it has with coffee.

Starbucks Corp., which has about 12,000 U.S. locations, has been on a strong financial run even in the weak economy, boosting its profits by raising prices, revamping food offerings and adding items such as pricey bottled juices. In its latest quarter, it said sales rose 9 percent at cafes open at least a year.

At a media event at the new Teavana store, Schultz said executives noticed that tea orders were among the fastest-growing drinks at Starbucks cafes. People are also more likely to order food when they buy iced tea.

Schultz said he expects the average purchase at the Teavana shop to be higher than at a Starbucks cafe, although it probably won’t get as many customers. The store is also expected to do more business throughout the day, compared with the early morning rush at Starbucks stores.

Starbucks opened a similar tea shop last year near its headquarters under its Tazo brand. Next month, that store will be converted into a Teavana tea bar as well.

The idea of a tea shop isn’t new, of course. Jenny Ko, a part owner of the Culture Tea Bar in New York’s Harlem neighborhood, notes that they’re more prevalent on the West Coast but that they’ve been popping up on the East Coast more recently as well.

Ko said she welcomes Starbucks’ push into tea shops, even though the company has put many put many smaller coffee chains out of business. She said she thinks her tea shop has enough unique offerings to withstand the competition. Besides, she said Starbucks’ push should lead to greater awareness about teas in general.

“That’s how everyone got into coffee, after Starbucks opened,” Ko said.

Already, Ko noted people are more knowledgeable about tea, with customers increasingly familiar with different varieties such as oolong and Darjeeling.

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