Coffee House vs Tea Shop

Love Tea, Hate Coffee
I love tea. I do not like coffee (although I do love its’ aroma). So the phenomenal rise of the corporate, faceless coffee house (I’m looking at you Starbucks and Costa!) has kind of passed me by. I mean, I am aware of how they have run small, independent coffee shops out of business, but I have not been a frequenter of said establishments. I completely missed out on the fashion of having a landfill-clogging over-sized paper cup glued to my hand at all hours of the day. And I fail to understand the excitement of ‘Cinnamon Latte Season’.
Tea is Good
I like tea. Good tea. Proper tea. Tea that tastes of tea. Tea served in a washable container. Tea that breathes life into you. Relaxes you. Soothes all ills. Makes the world a better place.
OK, you get the picture. I like tea, I don’t like coffee.
The Problem with Coffee Shops
What I do not understand is why, in a country of tea-lovers, do these enormous corporate chains of coffee houses serve such abysmal tea? I know that their USP is ‘coffee’ but surely they are missing a trick here. We tea-drinkers would like the water for our tea to be freshly boiled, not that stinky old steamed nonsense. And maybe a wider range of tea? I mean, it is not hard to find excellent quality tea suppliers in this country.
Where else?
“Why don’t you go to a tea shop instead?” you might ask. Well, I would if there was a one in my town. But no, tea shops have sadly dwindled in numbers and even independents cafes are on the out. The thing is, these huge corporate coffee chains are getting a bit of a monopoly on British town centres, they have the economy of scale to make running costs lower as well as strong brand recognition. It is just much harder for independents to survive – I have seen so many close in all the local areas I have lived in (of which there are many).
Is it a case of can’t beat ’em so join ’em?
Well, not entirely. Whilst I would prefer to frequent an independently-run tea rooms or cafe I am aware that the coffee chains are continuing their take-over at a monumental rate. So I propose a more constructive engagement with said chains, particularly Costa which is the largest in the UK – I would like to see better tea provisions in their shops.
Either that or someone needs to start up a hugely successful chain of tea shops… *lightbulb pings*


What are your thoughts? 
Would you like to join the campaign for better tea in coffee shops?

(Photo credits: 1 – source unknown 2 – The Rubie Place )
  1. I completely agree! I am a tea lover but have spent far too much time while on maternity leave in Starbucks … shame on me. I long for a Lyons Tea House to re-appear and was very excited to hear about the Cadbury's Cocoa Houses which are hopefully going to be opening up soon. I went to the one at Bluewater and had a lovely cuppa! For now I will just have to make do with regular afternoon teas in fancy London hotels 🙂

  2. I love this post! As much as I love coffee, I also enjoy the odd tea – I would agree and say they taste awful at Costa/Starbucks!! Xoxo

  3. I am totally with you on the tea vs coffee front. I love coffee cake and coffee flavoured things but the taste of the dark brew on its own is foul in my mind. A nice cup of tea (my favourite is rooibos) all the way. In London there is a lovely 'chain' called Yum Chaa

    Maybe have a chat to them about opening one in your local area.

  4. What annoys me is the amount you PAY for tea in Starbucks and other coffee chains. When all you've done is pop a bag of Twinings in some hot water, I don't think that warrants £2 or my money.

  5. The bestest tea shop I've ever been to was in Brno, Czech Republic. They had an enormous book from which you chose your tea and they had everything – black teas, green teas, herbal teas, lotus flower teas. Just every sort of tea you can imagine. I would love to find something like that in the UK.
    Sadly, I think the coffee chains are making it impossible. There was a pretty good tea shop in Cambridge a few years ago – First Class Teas. They had many sorts of tea and also sold tea to use at home. But they went out of business. 🙁 Probably not enough custom to keep going.

  6. I am so glad I am not alone in this.

    Victoria Plum – A Cadbury Cocoa House? I have never heard of one of those, I would be interested to see what they come up with.

    Michelle Yes! I have been to Yumchaa in Soho a few times when I was living there, the tea is fantastic. I wonder if they would expand?

    Siany – So true. It is a nonsense price for a nonsense service and product.

  7. Pigwotflies – That tea shop is Brno sounds amazing. I went through Brno on a train many years ago and noted how beautiful the place was. Now I have another excuse to go visit.

  8. This is a difficult one for me – I drink both tea and coffee (tea is my first love) and I'm a manager at a Costa in a small Oxfordshire town.

    I completely agree that the tea in Costa, Starbucks, Nero, my local independent coffee bar… is substandard and over priced. So much technique and care goes into making a cup of coffee, tea bags are just bashed into pots.

    BUT – I don't think these chains of coffee bars are the devils that people make them out to be. We are involved in our community, working with local youth groups and churches, and well over half of our customers are the regulars that we see everyday. I know their names, their favourite drinks, and can chat with them about their decorating, or ill parent, or new baby and make them smile for a little bit of their day.

    I'd love to open my own tea shop sometime soon, but for now I'll be defending my Costa store against the army of bashers who don't seem to understand the place that we have in our local community, and think we're just about over priced, faceless coffee.

    (Whoops, didn't mean to get quite so ranty there, inspired by your excellent post!)

  9. Hooray for this! As a tea drinker who is going out with a coffee drinker I'm all for places where you can get good quality versions of both drinks!

  10. Lucy – Thank you for your detailed comment. It is really useful to add an 'inside' voice to the debate. It sounds like your coffee place is super-friendly, but unfortunately that has not been my experience of Costa in the past. tis a shame.

    I think you should get that tea shop opened soon! I'm sure it would be a great success!

    Becky – that's a great point too. Why have seperate places for tea and coffee? Why not be rad at both?

  11. I love that last photo.. I'm not a tea fan *braces for the impact* ha ha sorry! But I'm not huge on coffee either (just a mocha if I'm desperately in need of a tasty energy boost) so I hope we can still be friends! =P

  12. I'm loyal to both! You know I love me a good cup of joe (it has to be good…no watered down crap), but I also love me a steaming cup of tea. I drink mine the non-British way (no milk) and usually with a spot of honey. Most days, I begin with a cup of coffee and end with a cup of tea. It strikes a nice balance.

    As for coffee vs. tea shops? I'm spoiled. NYC has an abundant selection of both. Come visit?

  13. This is funny. We have some great tea rooms here, but wayyyy more coffee shops. I am a huge coffee lover at heart, but lately I've been trying to get un-addicted to coffee so I have been enjoying tea this past week daily. I do ahve to say it's more refreshing.

  14. Oh yes I would love some lovely little tea shops! I'm the same as you, love the smell of coffee but don't like the taste! I actually saw a Chinese tea shop somewhere recently, must try & remember where…

  15. I've been to some excellent proper tea shops – The Tea Pod near Tower Bridge and Eteaket in Edinburgh, but they are few and far between. I think the coffee shops and big chains are missing a trick – I think there's a huge demand for proper posh tea 🙂

  16. lol love this post doll! i'm actually more of a coffee person but now and again i love to have a good cup of tea but i cant stand the taste at big chain coffee shops and not only that but having to pay about £5 for hot water and a tea bag….not cool lol! x

  17. I've never tried tea at a big chain coffee place but I'm also not a big fan of coffee. I usually opt for hot chocolate when I'm in a coffee shop and the quality of hot chocolate with coffee chains can vary. I live in Dublin and the best hot chocolate I've had is at a small chain in our area called West Coast Coffee ).

    Some independent cafés in my area seem to be doing OK even though Starkbucks have set up a few shops in recent years and another chain, Insomnia, have a good few places around. There's another places I've been dying to check out, Wall and Keogh, ( that has 150 varieties of tea and there's also a tea shop around the corner from where I live ( I've always found it strange that there's a specialty tea shop in my neighbourhood as it'd be more suited to the city centre.

  18. I drink gallons of tea but usually only at home where I can use my preferred choice of tea and brew it just how I like it.

    I have to admit that when I'm in town I do frequent Costa but mainly because it is one of the few places where I live, which is big enough to fit a buggy and has no stairs.

    I adore tradtional tea shops selling good cake etc but I only usually go when I'm child-free as they tend to be on small sites and often the tables are cramped or there are stairs and if I try to go in with a pushchair everyone looks at me as if I am crazy/stupid.

    I would love it if there were more traditional tea shops on decent sized premises with proper accessibility for all.

    So there's my two penneth for what it's worth 🙂

  19. there are quite a few points to make here. i think the first one, as someone already sort of started, is that chains didn't really push out independent coffee shops. if anything they did everyone a favour by convincing the public that they should and could pay more than two pounds for a non-alcoholic drink. they also did all that groundwork with a terrible product. but they also sold lots of bizarre ideals to people such as drink sizes, untrue coffee 'history', nonsensical drink names etc etc. so while it is a task for independent shops to get customers to break away from the coffee slang they have been conned into, it's also pretty easy to do if you have a really good product – if you've done your homework and trained to a good standard.
    tea like coffee is a very ambiguous product and while we (speaking on behalf of the whole specialty coffee industry here!!) have had ours bastardized by starbucks and the like the tea industry has had the same thing done to them except by 90% of the british population for about a century.

    british people think tea should be quick and cheap where as that's the two things it is not. the logistics of doing a 'proper' tea shop would be fantastically expensive and it would involve the mamoth task of trying to get customers to sit and WAIT for their tea to infuse. the reason most chains don't bother doing decent tea is because no one really wants it. we use to do loose leaf tea bags, pots and present customers with timers pre set with the recommended seeping times depending on the tea, that lasted all of about 2 weeks when we realised people don't care, people wouldn't bother waiting for the timers, would drown it in milk etc and we figured what is the point of paying (and having customers) pay for a premium product if you're not getting the best from it. you can either do tea really well at which point we'd need an uberboiler (a hot water tap that can deliver water to .1 of a degree with built in scales) a new reverse osmosis system as i bet the water would need to be different to brew tea – that's 5k worth of equipment!

    i would also hazard a bet that you DO like coffee but you just haven't had coffee made properly before. brewed coffee especially has so many different, subtle flavours, i could brew you something that you'd think have more similarities to fruit tea than coffee.

    next time you're in london go to

  20. First, I'd like to say that though I don't like coffee, one of the big chains at least meets my approval. We most often go to Nero, as husband despises tea in the same way I despise coffee. The shops are comfortable, they have decent wifi, the tea is made from a kettle, and they provide free ice water, which when you have 3 children with you (as I often do for work) is helpful. The other two i find bleak and impersonal, and thier teacups are two thick. They serve weak tea made with old, steamed water and it is not good enough.

    I'd actually like to answer the person above me on the point of tea – I am a British person. I like tea. I do not like coffee. I don't mind paying for decent tea, and I wait for my tea to infuse. I don't think I'm wrong in having issues with old, steamed water being put atop a tea bag and being charged £1.80 for it. The tea bag being a basic Twinning one is fine, I just want them to freshly boil a kettle and put the water on. It's not a lot to ask.

    I understand that shops are customer driven, but making proper tea is not that difficult – and I speak as someone who has worked in a 'posh' fish and chip shop, where fish and chips and decent cups of tea were our bread and butter.

    As an aside, a large boiler doesn't work either, as after the first boil half the oxygen essential to making a decent cup of tea is gone.

  21. Thank you everyone for the really engaging opinions you have shared.

    It would seem that when there is a decent tea shop it tends to be in one of the big cities. This is where a lot my issue lies, living in a small British town where nearly all the shops are 'chains'.

    Kayla – I would love to come visit all the tea shops in NYC! As soon as I have saved up the pennies to come over the pond I shall definitely let you know.

    KatGotTheCream – That is a really good point about accessibility. I have noticed the more traditional tea rooms in Bromsgrove or Stratford-Upon-Avon have stairs, steps, narrow entrances and squished in tables.

    JJ5000 – Thank you for the Dublin recommendations. I will note them down for a time when I can visit your fair country. 😉

    – Thank you for the insight from a Speciality Coffee Shop owner. 😉 I would like to take you up on that challenge of liking real coffee, I really would. Maybe I can try some when I am next down in Brockley?

    Lisa-Marie – I should try Nero out actually. We had a new one open in Redditch. I agree that it is not difficult at the very least to use a kettle to boil some water for the tea. I know it's not an industrial scale but I imagine there are not a huge amount of people drinking tea at these coffee chains.

  22. Most indi coffee shops in brum serve good leaf tea even if the range is restricted. At our place, Brewsmiths Coffee & Tea, we usually carry 30 leaf teas, give or take, black, white, oolong, infusions, green … we even do a great chai! You’re not short on choice in brum … but chain shop tea generally sucks, but what do people expect at those places?

  23. Hi Elizabeth, really loved your blog post – and totally agree, with the chains why is there not better tea? I am also a big fan of independent cafes and tea rooms, and want to see them preserved.

    I even have my own blog-site dedicated to finding the best and most unique ones – which is in case you’re interested – and is where I am undertaking a bit of a personal journey to connect these cafes up with people who enjoy uniqueness and character of them like I do.

    As to tea rooms, you may like to note the one which has just opened up near me lately called My Secret Tearoom for details – as it is endeavouring to preserve the great traditions of afternoon tea, in a cute setting, close to the centre of London.

    In following up your aspiration of putting better tea back on the table with the chains, and mentioning Costa in particular, I both have contacts at Costa as well as local residents in here in Kensal Rise are going to have a Costa opening here shortly – so would be happy to share details with you privately, and possibly even meeting to discuss at My Secret Tea Room.

    That said, hopefully the independent cafes and tea room will hold their own against the Costa coming here – and maybe good tea is the way for them to do that? I look forward to hearing from you


    Matt M
    P.S. Would be great to get your advice and insights into blogging too, as I am a relative novice compared to you, and would like to up my game with it

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