Stirring up a taste for a modernized tea explosion at TNTea

By Clare Buchanan ( China Daily ) Updated: 2014-12-20 07:39:57

TNTea has something for everyone: hot or cold options, milky or herbal brews, something for those with a sweet tooth and even a couple of functional health teas created with the help of a Chinese medicine expert.

With winter approaching TNTea plans to release more functional health drinks as well as a special tea to help fight the effects of air pollution, which will be sold when the capital's PM2.5 goes above 300.

Drinks are served in decent-sized cups to take away or have in and prices start at a very reasonable 25 yuan ($4), with the option to add various extras such as honey or even Baileys or Hennessey.

When I settled in to enjoy my cuppa, I noticed Starbucks was directly opposite the tea bar and I couldn't help but wonder if this was intentional.

"It was definitely done on purpose. We want to face our strongest opponents from the very beginning because it's a very long battle to deal with giants like Starbucks and Costa Coffee," Liu says with a wry smile.

TNTea's founders admit they are unsure if people are ready for a complete tea revival but plan to wait at least nine months until their next move, which, if things go well, could involve expansion beyond Beijing.

"We are still experimenting. We are, I think, the only one in this market to price things affordably with all natural ingredients. In the past few years there has been a lot of revitalization of Chinese concepts in various markets, so I think it is in our favor, but then I am not sure if we are really at the tipping point," says Liu.

The London School of Economics graduate gave up a high-flying, secure job with a top pay packet to set up TNTea, but it is obvious his desire to make it succeed goes beyond profits and personal gain.

"Frankly its very hard to make money in this industry. It doesn't provide you with high returns. I think it takes Chinese people a while to realize tea is actually something they should really appreciate and be proud of," he says.

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