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How to Run a Tea Room

A short guide to the complex blend of written and unwritten rules in the refined realms of tea service.

Bored of coffee? Well, the trusty cup of tea has become the latest sought after sip.

Canada ‘has always been a tea drinking country because of its British past' according to Louise Roberge, president of the Tea Association of Canada.

The drink's popularity peaked just before World War II.However, after the war, the beverage’s popularity plummeted and by 1991 the drink’s consumption rate had fallen to the lowest historical level.

For years, the presence  of tea has been stifled by the likes of Starbucks and the extensive coffee culture in the USA and Canada, but it is making its comeback and we are experiencing a tea renaissance.

Afternoon tea has evolved from traditional to trendy as more and more tea shops are experimenting with alternative flavours and home-grown blends.

And with these changes in the industry come a complex blend of written and unwritten rules in the refined realms of tea service. You would do well to pay heed before investing in tea room...

Cultivate a calm and inviting atmosphere

There is a definite sense of occasion around ‘taking tea’. This is not a bleary-eyed morning brew, nor is it a hastily bought hit of caffeine in a paper cup, favoured by rushing commuters or shoppers. 

No, the clientele of a tea room establishment, the sole purpose of which is to serve tea, will expect attentive service, decent china, well-made cakes and, moreover – a little time. 

Know your meals

Your customers can partake of a cream tea, afternoon tea or royal tea. Familiarising yourself with the range may be an idea when thinking about your menu and supplier options. 

A cream tea is a simple affair, consisting of a pot of tea, served with scones, cream and jam. 

Afternoon tea usually incorporates sandwiches, scones, a selection of cakes, often displayed on a delicate cake-stand and carefully infused tea. 

Royal tea is, essentially, afternoon tea with a glass of champagne on the side – for that extra special occasion. 

Become an expert on blends of tea

From smoky Lapsangs to delicate floral infusions, the more unconventional teas are becoming favoured above the traditional. There are now over a thousand unique blends of blends of tea from all over the globe so you will have to choose a selection to serve in your tea-room. 

The myriad options fall under the categories of black, blended, green, herbal, Oolong, post-fermented, white and yellow tea. 

Many world class tea-rooms (London’s Claridges, New York’s Palm Court at the Plaza, Paris’s Mariage Fréres) have dozens of blends on their menus to cater to the connoisseur, or adventurous. 

Learn the rules of service

Many like their everyday tea poured from a pot, some just waft a bag around in a mug of hot water, but it’s widely agreed that the best flavour comes from a loose leaf tea than has been carefully infused. The longer you brew the tea, the more antioxidants and flavonoids come through. 

And as a general rule, an infusion time of three to six minutes, depending on tastes, is recommended. You can serve a slice of lemon for a more refreshing taste.

Some prefer milk in first as they claim this allows the liquids to blend properly (though the practice originates from the well-to-do not wanting the boiling water to crack their fine china), and some would rather the milk after so they can achieve the perfect strength.

The correct order of consumption for afternoon tea is to eat the scones first while they are hot, then move to sandwiches (with crusts most definitely off) and, lastly, sweets. 

Get the right equipment 

Your customers will appreciate a stylish teapot, rather than a bog-standard stainless steel pot, and it would be useful to have them with integrated infusers. 

It’s considered proper for your crockery to match (at least on the same table). 

Napkins are a must, as are cake-stands and of course, you will need an urn.

Create a distinctive customer experience 

A distinctive style is a must for any small business, not least in modern tea-rooms.

Presentation is vital and a varied menu will ensure a wide customer base. 

Bea’s Vintage Tea has embraced a 1940’s vintage theme. A charismatic old shop in UK’s historic town of Bath has been be-decked with bunting and WW2 propaganda posters and waitresses serve you in floral aprons, jauntily tied headscarves and the obligatory slick of pillar-box red lipstick. 

On the other end of the spectrum, Vancouver’s Shangri-La tea room has a sleek Asian feel, with dark wood furniture, exotic printed linen and tea is served from its signature Blue Willow china.

Melanie Luff

About the author

Mel wrote for all titles in the Dynamis stable including, and as well as other global industry publications.


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