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From Tea Shops to Coffee Shops - A Brief History of Tea-Drinking in Britain

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For the past twenty years or so, the story of Britain’s high streets has all been about coffee, coffee, coffee. And rightly so: sales of coffee have long since overtaken tea. When people want to get together for a catch-up, these days they’re likely to say, “Let’s meet for coffee.” Coffee chains such as Starbucks, Costa and Caffè Nero, as well as thousands of independent coffee shops, are now a feature of our national life.

Tea drinking making a comeback

Young man drinking tea outside tea shop

Yet tea is showings signs of making a comeback. Although most younger drinkers are not turned on by the milky, often sugary drink consumed by their parents, they are warming to the pleasures of different kinds of tea: green tea, bubble tea (a beverage originating in Taiwan that uses various flavours and tapioca balls), Japanese matcha tea, and all kinds of herbal infusions such as South American maté.

New tea bars are opening up around the UK, while coffee shops and cafés are having to update their offerings to cater for the new generation of tea drinkers.

The history of tea drinking in Britain

A brewed cup of tea

But how did the British come to be drinking tea in the first place? The story begins in China, where tea has been drunk for thousands of years. Evidence of tea-drinking was found in the tombs of Chinese Han Dynasty emperors from the 2nd century BC. One of the stories about the origins of tea – a rather gruesome one - says that a Buddhist devotee, or perhaps even the Buddha himself, was meditating when he fell asleep. Annoyed with himself for dozing off, he cut off his own eyelids and tossed them away, where the eyelashes grew to become the first tea bushes.

Whatever the truth, the bush from which all tea is made – camellia sinensis, to give it its full botanical name – was cultivated in China and slowly spread to Japan and the rest of the world. The Portuguese and the Dutch were among the first to import it to Europe, and tea became hugely popular. In 1662 Britain’s King Charles II married Portugal’s Princess Catherine of Braganza; she popularised tea drinking at court, and the habit spread.

Mid 19th century tea

modern tea varieties in glass cups

By the mid-19th century, tea clippers such as the Cutty Sark were a feature of ocean life, and Chinese domination of the tea trade was coming under threat. British Botanist Robert Fortune travelled around China disguised as a Chinese trader on behalf of the British East India Company (all of which was highly illegal). Acting as a kind of industrial spy, he stole tea plants and observed the complicated processes involved in making tea.

(For a long time it was believed that green tea and black tea were made from different plants; it turned out, though, that they are made from the same leaves, but their treatment is very different – black tea, which is what is most widely drunk in Britain, goes through a process of heating and rolling known as “fermentation”, though in fact it’s more like curing.). 

The contraband tea plants that ended up in India mostly died, but Fortune’s knowledge of the processing of tea leaves proved invaluable in establishing the Indian tea industry. And tea drinking took a huge leap forward in the early 20th century with the invention of the teabag.

Today China is still the biggest tea-growing country in the world, but tea is widely grown elsewhere – India, Sri Lanka, Kenya; there are even tea plantations in Cornwall, on the Tregothnan Estate. 

Tregothnan tea plants

Tea rooms and tea shops

young woman drinking tea at cafe

From the early years of the 20th century onwards, tea rooms and tea shops were found on every high street, with the Lyons chain leading the way. Tea became not just a drink but a social event, perhaps not as laden with ceremony as the famous Japanese tea rituals, but still an important part of daily life. In the second world war, tea played a vital role in keeping morale high. 

Second world war tea break

The growth of coffee shops

In recent years tea rooms have been supplanted by coffee shops and cafès, but now, in a trend that seems to have begun in America, new tea bars and tea shops are opening, offering exotic teas, matcha lattes and herbal infusions in cool surroundings. (Some retailers, by the way, peddle the myth that green tea is healthier than black tea; in fact, both contain equal levels of healthy anti-oxidants.).


Fermented tea?

Among the new tea bars is Jarr, which is mainly in the business of selling a drink called kombucha – fermented tea with various flavourings – and which has an outlet at a small “tap room” in Hackney, east London. In Newcastle, Pumphreys – a business long associated with coffee – serves speciality teas at Mrs Pumphrey’s Curious Tea Leaves Shoppe in Grainger Market. Across town, Quilliams Brothers Tea-House offers dozens of teas and is open most nights until midnight. 

Tea shops in London

tea shops in London

In Tooting, south London, The Brew is a new “tea pub” that aims to offer a wide range of teas in a pub-like environment (it serves beer and cocktails, too). Also in London, Amanzi offers exotic-sounding teas, including Ginseng Oolong and T-Rex, at its branch in Marylebone, and has ambitions to become Britain’s leading tea-bar brand. Bubbleology has around a dozen branches selling bubble tea, mostly in London but also with branches in Sheffield and Leeds. 

Amanzi tea brewers

The Urban Tea Rooms sells sandwiches and 10 varieties of loose-leaf tea at its two central London branches. It was set up to provide “a modern equivalent of the traditional tea room”. Speaking of which, the tradition of a proper English afternoon tea has survived the onslaught of the coffee shops, in the form of Bettys, which has six branches in Yorkshire; here, cake stands, fine crockery and doilies are the dominant themes. 

In response to the demand for a wider range of teas, chains such as Starbucks now offer hot and cold teas with names such as “jasmine pearls tea” and “iced shaken hibiscus infusion”.

How can coffee shop and café owners respond to the new generation of tea consumers?

Well, the first thing to say is that tea now comes in many glorious colours, from pale off-white to deepest red, so if you’re following the trend and serving exotic blends and varieties, glass cups might be the way to go; these will show off the rich hues of the liquid. Second, bear in mind that the new tea drinkers are a younger crowd. They will not take kindly to fine china, doilies, cake stands and flouncy old-fashioned decor. They prefer things to be more authentic, natural, honest. 

This often means unvarnished wood, bare brickwork or plain plaster, local photographs on the walls, that sort of thing. Amanzi serves tea in fancy brewers, made from transparent materials so that the process of the tea brewing and straining into the cup can be seen and relished. (Amanzi sells a range of teaware, and also has a helpful guide to brewing the different kinds of tea.) 

And there are all manner of well-designed, cool-looking teapots, stands, strainers and other tea paraphernalia now available.

It seems that what was once a murky brown liquid that was often doused in milk and over-sweetened with sugar has come out into the open in all its varieties of colour and flavour. There’s life yet in the British cuppa.

How to deal with bar queues in cocktail season

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The cocktail season is upon us! While it never really goes away, the true cocktail season is throughout summer and it’s finally here.

fresh summer cocktails at a pub

You’ve hopefully updated your cocktail menu with summery flavours and have made use of your outdoor space so that groups can enjoy their tasty cocktails on your outdoor furniture in the sun.

Selling cocktails at a busy bar

cocktails on a bar

As we’re sure you’re aware, making cocktails can take time. They are often worth the wait but the time that they take to be made means that a busy queue can quickly form at the bar, especially when a customer makes a big order for a range of different cocktails.

Tips and advice for handling bar ques

Preparing your team for the pressures of dealing with large cocktail orders is key for the success of a bar. Here is some advice for limiting the time customers spend in a bar’s queue:

• Ensure that the bar has all of the necessary equipment to make the cocktails as fast as possible. 
• Optimise the process so that making cocktails is as fast as possible. Some of the juices could even be pre-mixed and be ready to add. 
• Make the experience as pleasant as possible for those that are in the queue. Small queuing spaces can lead to bumps and spilt drinks that only make customers even more frustrated.
• Be attentive to everyone. No one wants to spend ages queuing without even being acknowledged by members of the bar. Serve customers in a fair and clear order.
• Create separate queues for those ordering cocktail and those order beers and wines for example. Split the bar workforce so that some are making cocktails and the others are doing regular drinks. 
• New technology means that customers can order on their phones from the comfort of their chair – the perfect solution to queues!

Getting the best bar furniture for your needs

At Trent Furniture we have a bar furniture selection that incorporates many styles of tables and chairs in traditional and modern designs all of which are suitable for use in any commercial environment. 

Browse our bar furniture selection or get in touch with our team on 0116 2985 852 to get ideas on how best to optimise your bar’s space with furniture. 

How to ‘Social Media’ your restaurant

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If you’re planning a special evening out with friends and family, are you one of the people that check the restaurant’s social media pages before visiting? 

The above is getting more and more popular with customers and new research shows that two-thirds of people now check a restaurant’s social media before eating out. 

You might assume that the bulk of the figure that dedicates time to examining restaurant’s social media is millennials and younger persons but the research by HGEM show that all age groups are guilty: 58 per cent of millennials and 53 per cent of 56 to 65 year olds follow the behaviour.

Why do people visit a restaurant’s social media page? 

types of social media brands for business

It’s simple, customers check the social media pages to look for offers and promotions more than anything else. Other reasons include looking at photos of the interior, upcoming events and competitions that are currently being run. 

On the whole, social media creates a general impression of an establishment, the happiness of its customers and gives visitors the latest offers and promotions. That’s why so many people find it necessary to scout it before making a visit.

Getting customer feedback from social media

man using laptop to provide social media review

It’s long been known that social media is a powerful way of managing customer feedback and adding to the customer experience, but the result of the survey show just how big a role social media plays in driving diners to a restaurant.

Getting your restaurant's social media landing page right

To have a favourable social media page, restaurants must firstly ensure that their channels are all active and regularly updated. If you visit a restaurant’s Facebook page and there hasn’t been a post for over two years, what does that tell you about the establishment? 

Posting as a business on social media

social media icons on mobile phone

Posts then need to be engaging and content must match with the needs of the audience. Restaurants are now required to communicate with their customers in the same way that they would in the restaurant to extend the customer experience. A massive 34 per cent of the public deem social media interactions to be an equally important part of the guest experience as on-site conversations. 

Instagram worthy décor tips for restaurants 

Once the customers are in your restaurant and eating there meals, you want them to share posts, check-in and upload photos of your restaurant. It’s the modern word of mouth. To benefit from this, you need to make it as easy as possible for them by having an open public WiFi on site. 

To increase the likelihood of posts being made about your restaurant, you need to make your décor Instagram worthy. It’s not all about the food. If the setting is right, you’ll be awash with notifications of being tagged in pictures. 

Trent Furniture has a range of restaurant chairs and tables that improve the overall décor. 


News Flash - Pub food sales are growing faster than alcohol

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food and cocktails on a table outside a pub

If there wasn’t already enough reason for pub owners to add food to their offerings, new research into the pub industry has shown that there has been a higher growth in sales of food between 2012 and 2016 than in drink. 

The research by Mintel shows that food sales in pubs demonstrated a 14 per cent growth in the four years, reaching £7.4 billion. Other areas such as alcoholic drink sales and soft drinks also showed growth of six per cent and seven per cent respectively, but the dominance of food’s growth shows the importance of it in the industry. 

The research also shows that food is, for most, the reasoning behind visiting a pub. 89 per cent of Brits say that they typically visit a pub or bar to eat, whilst 79 per cent visit to go for a drink. 

Is your pub losing out?

pub food served on wodden platter

Operators are missing out on a large market by not offering food and its importance is continuing to grow. Overall, in an industry that saw turnover grow to £23.8 billion in 2016, alcoholic drinks make up 50 per cent of sales and catering brings in 31 per cent. 

Whilst having the option of food is arguably the most important thing for pubs, ensuring that is high quality is what will truly attract customers. In 2017, nearly one-third of consumers said they had visited a pub in the past month because of the high quality, a rise from 23 per cent just the year before.

69 per cent of pub goers claim that one of the most important factors when choosing which pub to go to is high quality food. If you are going to commit to cooking food in your pub, it must be done to a high standard to appease customers. 

Adding food to a pub

pub diner eating outside

If you’re looking to introduce food to your pub’s offering, you may need to invest in more seating and tables to cater for the guests. Whilst with drinking, visitors can get by with standing and perching on a stool. The same cannot be said for eating. 

At Trent Furniture we have a section of our website dedicated to furniture for pubs. Browse our pub furniture and pick out a selection of seating and tables that match the décor that you are aiming for. 

How to shabby chic furniture - Your practical guide

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Interior design is forever changing. One minute it’s all about minimalism, the next it’s traditional and then it’s modern. For restaurants and public spaces, it can be hard to keep up with what the current looks are. 

One décor that has arrived and doesn’t looks like it is going anywhere, is shabby chic. 

What is shabby chic?

shabby chic standing table

Put simply, shabby chic furniture has the appearance that it has been well-used and is slightly old. The interior as a whole brings together different styles and colours that creates the impression of age and use. 

Remember that shabby chic isn’t about using garish furniture and putting it all together in hope that you achieve the shabby chic look. The goal is to create a homely interior and if done correctly it will do so whilst looking clean and stylish.

The extent of the shabby chic look can also vary from place to place. Some might commit to the décor and use a number of layers of colour on furniture so that different levels of wear can be achieved whilst some use it subtly and gently distress furniture with one coat of paint. It comes down to personal preference really. 

With the classic and elegant style of the shabby chic trend it’s no wonder that cafes, restaurants and bars are embracing this type of interior and using rustic and shabby chic furniture to furnish their dining areas.

How to shabby chic your furniture

Before you start getting the paint pots and all of the old furniture out of the cupboards, there are some things that you should do. Firstly, visualise what you want the completed space to look like. There’s no point in blindly buying every piece of old furniture in sight if it isn’t going to fit with the overall scheme. A quick browse on the internet will give you plenty of ideas and inspiration for your design. 

For restaurants, cafes and bars especially, you need to consider how many seats and tables are required and will fit in the space. Draw up and layout a plan, then buy your furniture accordingly. Lastly, you need to decide on a colour scheme. There aren’t particularly any ‘rules’ when it comes to shabby chic. You could, in truth, use an array of colour on pieces of furniture. However, most designs focus on traditional colours such as off-white, creams, greys, olive greens and baby blues. 

Right, now that you’ve done the planning and chosen your furniture, the fun can begin!

The five steps to creating shabby chic furniture:

1. Prepare a space to work in and remove any handles, hinges or metal work on the furniture. These can be reattached once the paint has dried. 

2. Remove the existing finish on the wood so that your new paint work will stick properly to the surface. To do this, lie the furniture on a dust sheet and work it with sandpaper. Stripping the varnish or paint can generate lots of dust so have a dusk mask handy.

3. Get painting! Apply a thick coat of water based acrylic paint in your chosen colour and then leave to fully dry. Once dried, sandpaper certain areas to create a worn effect and then paint a second layer, perhaps in a slightly different colour.

4. Scrape and sand. It might seem counterproductive to sand after just applying a coat of paint but to achieve the desired affect it’s a must. Don’t overdo it and try to scrape at edges and corners most to create a distressed look. 

5. Remember that it’s near impossible to get the shabby chic look wrong but once you’re happy with the appearance (you can repeat the steps above with as many coats of paint as you like), apply a couple of coats of varnish or furniture wax.

Optional extras for shabby chic furniture

shabby chic living room furniture

If you’re a dab hand with the paint brush, you might feel obliged to use your skills and paint some patterns or images on sections of the furniture. Spiralled patterns up some table legs can create an appealing affect. 

You may also want to keep certain areas of furniture untouched. By only painting the table tops, for example, it creates an elegant contrast. If you wanted to do this, follow steps one and two but then apply coats of varnish without painting.

How to shabby chic a chair

Once you have completed the steps in the process above, you can add upholstery to seating. These should match the colour of the paints used or could use decorative patterns such as floral. The textiles used on the upholstery should feel comfortable, welcoming and natural. 

Where can you buy shabby chic furniture?

While the shabby chic look can be achieved by transforming and decorating old, used furniture, it can be considered a wiser investment to buy new furniture that has a shabby chic-look. 
If you would rather buy furniture that already has the shabby chic look, Trent Furniture has a huge range of affordable restaurant furniture, which includes chairs, tables, stools, sofas and outdoor furniture for restaurants.  

View our shabby chic furniture range to see our huge range of products.

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