Last September, Chinese popular tea-drink brand LELECHA opened its first tea lab in Shanghai. The lab extends 300 square meters in floor space, including professional tea making, brewing, extraction processes for consumers. In less than a year, LELECHA opened another Tea Wonderland in Hopson One Wujiaochang, Shanghai. Such a business model has been on the increase as the brand has opened more across the country. The lab style has become another symbol of the tea-drink brand.
Besides LELECHA, we’ve also noticed other tea-drink brands “roasting” their own teas in store. The style of tea lab is becoming popular as part of the new-wave tea culture in China. It remains unknown whether such a style will work for long or for any brand. What’s the business philosophy behind this? How will the public respond to this setup? Will it be a sustainable model for tea brands to adopt? Well, we need to wait and see.
The Tea “Roasting”
If we want to enjoy a cup of freshly brewed tea, the tea leaves have to experience a few processes. The most decisive steps are roasting and drying, which can help tea develop special flavors and aromas.
Tea roasting is more than just dehydrating tea leaves. The tea master has to consider different variables such as temperature, moisture, and weather, and then adjust their roasting to better the process.
There are two kinds of tea roasting based on the order of fire use. The first one is to roast and dry tea leaves first before removing all the unnecessary parts, which is called “Fire First Roasting.” The other way is to remove all useless parts and then roast and dry tea leaves, which is known as “Fire Last Roasting.” The latter process can result in a better quality, more delicate flavors with fewer impurities. Experienced roasters will choose the best combination of elements which include solar terms, types of teas, and so on. Such loose leaf teas are regarded as the best in grade.
At LELECHA’s tea labs, fresh tea leaves normally undergo a roasting period of around 60 minutes before a onehour withering and rolling process to achieve the best possible flavor. However, some teas will have a period of fermentation, stored in a clay container for over 24 hours, which is similar to “resting” in baking. After all these processes, ready-to-brew teas are at their best quality.
It’s worth noting that even consumers can enjoy watching such processes in store, freshly produced teas are not meant for immediate consumption. Possibly, you will end up drinking a freshly brewed cuppa.
A Concept to Borrow
At Starbucks Reserve stores, the whole coffee production is inviting customers to take photos or simply watch, which does improve consuming, and make it a more memorable experience. Many tea-drink brands would like to adopt a similar way in their businesses. Therefore, tea labs become a new way to present the behind-the-scenes of tea processing in front of every customer.
The “New” Third Place – The Third Place, a concept from Starbucks, creates a space for people to work or social network in a place other than offices or homes. Well, the concept can be easily applied in tea-drink shops. The bigger store space allows more possibilities for customers to enjoy not only a nice cup of tea but also feel comfy enough to work on the laptops or enjoy a conversation.
In China, the average annual coffee consumption per capita is around 0.03kg while that tea is about 0.95kg. However, the younger generations, those who are in their 20s, don’t feel like brewing their own tea at home or in the office. They prefer an easier way, to buy a drink directly from a store. There are not many easy teas on offer while young people don’t like traditional ways to drink tea. Such a tea ceremony is rather a mental and physical burden for them.
In recent years, we have seen many tea-drink brands grow big and strong. Some of them have opted for big bricksand-mortar stores, ranging in size from dozens to hundreds of square meters. The large space shows the brand’s aim to attract more consumers in and persuade them to stay longer, which will result in better sales. Meanwhile, the open space offers a place for people to take a rest, enjoying a moment from all “grown-up” pains. “Having fun” is not only a tag for
tea-drinks but also an intention behind the increasing sales in the tea-drink market.
Reading or surfing online is no longer a reason to persuade consumers to stay for a longer period. The store experience has been put on top of the agenda in a bid to stop customers from walking away after purchasing.
The tea lab brings add-on values to tea-drink stores, which will enable customers to experience more than just drinking. Watching tea processing can be fun and informative. Such an education will in turn attract more people to show great interests in traditional tea ceremonies and cultures. The third aim is education and promotion of the tea culture.
The lab business model will surely help its tea brand to achieve higher profits than just in customer purchases alone. A clear brand positioning with core values and competence will help the brand to reach more consumers as well as to improve brand image and products.
Supply Chain Matters – Meanwhile, such tea labs will accelerate the new launches, stimulating all market players to work hard in product innovation and processing skills. Also, a strong partnership with all companies in the supply chain such as purchasing, logistics and R&D. Thus, a stable relationship will bring not only benefits but also an unbeatable team.
Cross-border Chances – In the tea-drink market, single origin teas are not new like single origin coffees. Cross-border in innovation or branding is a solution to bring a new life to this traditional type of teas. A win-win situation can be reached if a well-planned marketing and branding strategy is adopted. LELECHA Wonderland is one of the best examples. It teams up with milk brand Milk Dulex by Mengniu to provide limited products for online stores while having pop stars as spokesmen is another way to get public attention.
Thanks to the existence of tea labs, the tea drink market has more possibilities in innovation, attracting a wider range of consumer groups, especially the young targeted audience. The unique positioning in brand and product line will surely bring more success to the brand while the public
will gain a better understanding of tea culture.
The Third Place, a concept from Starbucks, creates a space for people to work or social network in a place rather than offices or homes.