The Teavana Fine Teas + Tea Bar on New York City’s Upper East Side exists as a graceful mashup between a Starbucks and a Teavana. The atmosphere is muted and calm, brewing instruments are set up for sale, and there’s a neatly printed menu above the front counter — it’s just that nothing in the store revolves around coffee.
But if you know where to look, you’ll see touches of the ubiquitous brand everywhere. Teavana’s paper cups are plain white with a centered logo. Its iced cups are clear plastic with a solid-colored straw that’s simply copper instead of green. A long countertop is interrupted by brewing machines, where baristas (if we can still call them baristas) go to work. Even the process of ordering — endless combinations of teas to make blends that can be served hot, cold, sweetened, or even carbonated with different bubble intensity — feels like it wouldn’t be so out-of-place to hear ‘double tall iced vanilla latte.’
For those who haven’t yet encountered one, Teavana is a purveyor looseleaf teas and tea-making accessories in the US, Canada, and Mexico. Starbucks acquired the brand in early 2013 as a way to expand beyond the bean, but the Upper East Side cafe is the first retail partnership between the two companies. In addition to serving prepared Teavana tea, the store also features a looseleaf bar where customers may purchase different blends to take home.
Starbucks’ Chief Creative Officer Arthur Rubinfeld explained that the store was envisioned as an all-day neighborhood meeting place. Small tables in the back and a long one against the front window encourage visitors to stay — although Rubinfeld noted that his team will surely learn from observing the ways in which customers choose to use the space.
The store does make certain requests of its visitors. Breaking from regular Starbucks layout, Teavana’s cafe asks customers to order their drink first and food second by placing the tea counter in front, with food choices displayed in the far back, to cut down on waiting time as drinks steep. By comparison, Starbucks presents a case of pastries and sandwiches before the registers. But waiting is, after all, an important consideration where tea is concerned. Depending on the leaves, a good cup must steep for two to five minutes — five being much too long for a busy cafe. Teavana’s designers found a solution in special vacuum brewing machines that expedite the process.
The whole shop revolves around its given theme of discovery. Details in the design from textured wallpaper to wooden countertops that wrap over edges to ceiling tiles made of cracked wood posts were crafted to direct attention to the small things — like a nice cup of tea with a friend. Whether the concept will truly catch on remains to be seen, but Starbucks already has a second tea bar slated to open in Seattle.