; Cwyn's Death By Tea: Teavana, Just what the Doctor Didn't Order ;

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Teavana, Just what the Doctor Didn't Order

If you are familiar with the capitol city of Wisconsin, then you probably know the Beltline Highway in Madison, a stretch of 6-lane highway that never seems to get better. I can confirm it's worse, and I nearly take out the bottom on my car today as I drive to my doctor's appointment. Takes about twenty minutes to a half hour from east to west, and halfway getting nigh on 4 p.m. I get the thought I could sure do with a cuppa. I've been a VERY good girl leading up to my doctor's appointment, dutifully drinking my Liu Bao every night for the past three nights and staying away from tea drunkeness. Instead I've been watching videos of tea drunks on YouTube. But then halfway along the Beltline I remember the west side mall now has a Teavana.

Now, I've never actually been to a Teavana. Certainly I've read a lot about these shops and know what to expect. I rationalize stopping for tea on the grounds that well, I have a tea blog and this would be informational. Another justification is to see what the hype is all about, the hue and cry anyway. Never mind that I might blow my blood pressure test, and a Sephora shop looms close to the Teavana location which is yet another slippery slope of addiction. The final rationalization and the best one of all is I'm gonna be dead soon enough anyway, so drink all the tea I can right now. That particular thought always works when staring at tea cakes online. Another mile on the Beltline and no way am I not stopping, crazy old tea drunk.

The shop is surprisingly small, for some reason I expected a bigger place like a coffee shop with tables and so on. Get in, get out, buy that tea as quick as you can. The shop girl helped me with my late mother's IPhone so I could take a photo of the tea canister wall to prove I was actually there. I know there's something wrong with me when my elderly mother had a better phone than I've got and knew how to use it. I'm still in the clamshell flip phone universe. Okay, let's see if I can get this photo to show up on here:

Tea or paint cans?
"What have you got that's aged?" I inquire.

The girl shows me a Yunnan gold tips black tea of some sort. Looks dirty in the can, the thing would really need a good rinse.

"Okay, have you got any sejak?" my next request. "Korean," when I got a blank look in return. They have a Jeju Island green tea, the manager taking me over now because I am clearly going to be a tough customer. Even though I use a tea word she doesn't know, she needs to explain that a Korean tea is "between a China tea and a Japan tea."

"Does it have that marine, salty sea air on the first steep?" I ask. Actually I love me a Korean sejak with a minerally salt taste, crave the stuff, but I can't seem to find any to order lately that I'm certain will have that saltiness. No, the tea has a citrusy flavor, the manager says. She shows me a gyokuro instead.

"No thanks, I don't care for the spinach-y flavor," which causes the brewing girl to laugh. Looking over the canister wall, the rest of the teas seem to be flavored things which don't interest me much. Clearly the choice boils down to whether I want cold feet (green tea) or warm feet (the aged Yunnan).

"All right, I'll take the aged Yunnan black," I say while looking at the Famous Brown Rock Sugar, scary looking stuff. I've heard it's good but it looks dusty in the jars.

"I'm guessing you don't want sugar or milk," the brewing girl says, the one who helped me with the IPhone. "You guess right." Smart girl, knows her tea drunks from the casuals. "Straight up" and "neat" would be the way to put it.

So I painfully watch the long, long, long brew of a tea that is meant to be gong-fu brewed. Noting the shop has no gong fu supplies whatsoever, the closest thing being a covered cup with an infuser. That tea really needs rinsing, the question now burning in my brain, Are you Really Going to Drink That?

Whiff of the steam seems a bit fishy, and the tea brew is reddish like a shou. I don't dare open the lid and peek in, for I saw the cloudy tea well enough during the steep. Don't even want to sip it, maybe let it cool a bit. Fortunately the whole process takes long enough that now I don't have time to go into Sephora. Console myself with the thought that I can always order from them online and I really don't need to torture myself with Koh Gen Do just today. Besides I'm gonna be late for the doctor.

Barely make it in time for a quick pee. I start drinking the tea while awaiting my flu shot. It tastes like, Lipton. Something has been added to this, like a weird sweet taste. Maybe it's residue from a previous brew. It tastes like the mall. Actually it tastes like rubber Band-aids, adhesive strips used to cover small skin cuts. Well, I didn't expect to like the tea, it's the experience of it and crazy behavior on my part to have paid $3 and change for the cup. Suffer and offer it up for the sake of the blog.

Drinking the tea raises my heart rate about 6 beats per minute, but my blood pressure is just fine. Which is good considering all the drugs I take for it and even better knowing how much tea I consume in a day that I'm not telling the doctor about. Turns out she's been called up for federal jury duty so that's on her mind instead of asking me pertinent health questions that could expose my bad habits. My cholesterol levels have not lowered one iota. So much for puerh's cholesterol lowering properties.

Satisfied now that the only reason to drink tea is to get as drunk and silly as possible, I get back in the car and head home. Tea cakes, here I come.

Requiescat in Pace.


  1. I feel your pain! I sometimes torture myself by walking into a Teavana and almost always regret it. On my last visit, they were showing a customer the Dragonwell and Sencha. When she asked what the difference was, he told her that the Dragonwell is from the top of the bush and sencha is from the bottom of the same bush. There was no mention at all that they aren't even produced in the same country. I had an aneurysm and walked out

    1. Oh dear...they might have a decent tea or two but I had so little time to actually look. Did feel a bit odd looking at the strange brewing devices, realizing I would have no idea at all about how to even use them. Felt a bit primitive. After I wrote this post though I wondered if that rubber band-aid flavor came from the plastic in the brewer, maybe something emitted from the heat of the water.

    2. Teavana is owned by Starbucks, which perhaps explains the negative experiences. Mercifully we are saved from such things (so far) here in the UK.

    3. The Starbucks sale is somewhat recent, I think it pre-dates one of the main complaints by tea drinkers which is the high pressure sales pitch. I didn't experience that. The staff are not paid a living wage here in the US for this type of work, and the jobs are often taken by students trying to get through school. The gal that helped me with my camera was of student age. As a lover of tea, I am not happy necessarily to criticize the tea quality, I want the tea to be better than it is...:(

    4. Staff will do their best but there is no substitute for tea shops run by enthusiastic and knowledgable individuals. Sadly they are few and far between, but there are some notable exceptions. They are generally small independent retailers who deserve our support. I love Bristol (UK) where chains like Starbucks are struggling in the face of independent retailers and good tea is being promoted by the likes of Canton Tea

  2. Terrible sweetened/artificial flavors and glazed tetsubin-pushing aside, the worst part about Teavana and similar type stores is that you're paying like 10 times more than you should for tea that's 10 (or many more) times crappier than tea you can buy if you find a decent retailer (esp an Asia-based one). To use the coffee analogy, it's like if Starbucks was successfully selling Folgers for $50 a pound. And what's more, the employees of said Starbucks genuinely believed the coffee was special and had all sorts of miraculous health benefits and, like, deep cultural significance among the mystical Colombian mountain peoples who grew it. It's really a shame, and it's possible because (good) tea is such a new and foreign concept to most Americans. Along the same lines, I don't think there necessarily could be a successful retail store market for the type of tea we Internet puer nerds geek out about. I live in Portland which is kind of the promised land for people who geek out about non-mainstream foods and beverages, but even a place like The Tao of Tea seems kind of niche and out-there for this market. I would love to be able to go hang out and taste at a Chinese-style puer or oolong-oriented teashop in the US, but realistically I think I'd have to open it myself, and I'd probably do most business online...
    That said, I can't say that Teavana didn't act as a kind of gateway to the tea nerd I've become, but thank goodness I had the Internet to whisk me quickly away from their shit-tastic and expensive mall-aroma-infused sencha for good.

    1. I suppose both companies put the idea of better coffee or tea into the mainstream than Folgers or Lipton. But I think the Internet had more of an effect in the end for drinking high end tea especially, whereas the coffee shop scene out west had more to do with improving coffee. As you noted, even bigger cities don't really have much a tea scene even now, it is all online for the most part.

    2. I think its possible to have hybrid stores like mine that cater to both the flavored tea lovers and higher quality pure leaf teas. Personally speaking if it wasn't for the flavored teas I wouldn't be able to pay my rent, as there is only 10,000 people in my town. However, I have slowly introduced customers to higher grades. People have to start somewhere. :)

    3. Agreed, and I have no problem with flavored teas except when ingredients aren't disclosed. Here I was told I was getting a Yunnan puerh leaf but something was added to the tea, either flavoring or a black tea as another reader suggested. Earlier this year I bought a puerh tuo from another company that had rodiola herb added and I had a heart reaction. And I love high quality leaf teas in many forms! Always up for a good cuppa. But brewing is another matter, I can tell a dirty leaf when I see one and the lack of a rinse bothers me. Even a high quality leaf can need a rinse. We also don't know what pesticides might be on a tea, and most regular tea drinkers know what pesticides feel like in the mouth. Overall, I want to like any and all tea shops, the more good sources for my addiction, the better...or worse, depending on the point of view of my wallet. Cheers!

  3. Thank you for telling us about your experience there; I'm not surprised at it, though, having visited a number of Teavana stores in my own town. I don't even bother going in there anymore (unless they have their tea for 75% off after Christmas, and even then I'm not certain their tea is worth it).

    1. Some of the portable tea thermoses might be worth a look for people who want to bring brewed tea with them. Unfortunately, gong fu tea sets aren't very practical in the car.