Afternoon tea in the desert

As has been noted here on Desertstandard, Tea is getting a major boost into the American Market. Whether this is a genuine growth that will establish itself or just another marketing trend is for time to decide. I have a feeling this will establish itself:

  1. Cold tea drinks have been doing well for a while: Snapple, Arizona, etc
  2. Tea is much healthier than Coffee
  3. American’s love new trends as we get to buy new things. =)

One thing that is holding up more adoption of tea drinking is the retail situation. Personal experience with ‘Tea Rooms’ is that they are tied in with a certain lifestyle, generally Vegetarian/Vegan. This is fine and has its benefits but limits the market share. Asking people to change everything is harder than just asking them to change one thing.

This is where the Urban Tea Loft in Downtown Chandler, AZ gets things right. Situated next to Kokoapelli Winery and near the San Tan brewery the Tea Loft is a unique place in a rapidly evolving and growing downtown revitalization. The space is very open and light as would be expected and after navigating the seating setup you are assured a good seat no matter what as their is somewhat limited seating to begin with. My server recommended some blend of tea and a scone.

The Chef, Christopher Jinnette, was gracious enough to bring out a sample of the days soup. Something about pork and potato and though my belly was not hungry the sample was gobbled up quite quickly. This single act has guaranteed a dinner return will occur and soon.

A quick note on the tea pot at Urban Tea Loft: If you are going to incorporate a gimmick into the central theme of your store be sure to make it intuitive. At the Urban Tea Loft you get your tea either in a 20oz or 40oz teapot. However, while there is a handle, this teapot has no spout. After attempting to retrieve my tea incorrectly my server was gracious enough to show me the proper method which involves putting the pot on top of the cup and pressing it down. A mechanism lifts in the teapot and the tea comes out the bottom and into the cup. My suggestion is to have a design on the side of the pot that makes this more intuitive.

Teapot chicanery behind us the scone arrived and was better than most. Thankfully it wasn’t dry as a bone and served as a nice afternoon snack. However next time I will probably go with toast and preserves. At the end I was treated to a sample of the BBQ pulled pork which was very tasty indeed and prompts another return for the food.

When it comes to space the UTL(their website uses it, so why can’t I be a bit lazy?) has an interesting setup. As you walk in there is a patio out front, then a row of tables with benches on the window wall to the left, then a few central tables with a cabinet of retail products on the right wall, the bar is on the right wall, and the back closes down suddenly into a hallway. The retail wall reminds me of my families’ deli in Vail where we let the merchandise get out of control, maybe it works for them.

Some of the central tables incorporate high backed bench seats and curve slightly. These are good for creating a private space at the table but also cut off some of the openness of the room.

The bar seems unfinished with bottles and various storage bins sitting near the open end. This made me hesitate from sitting there as I was unsure if they were doing prep work or something else.

The biggest curiosity is the sudden hallway which occurs about 25 feet into the place. Two doors are easily spotted on the right side and there is a glass wall facing the front door through which you can see that the first side door leads to a meeting room of sorts. After venturing down to the second door I find a large table with chairs and a flat screen TV on the wall at one end. So meeting rooms must be a decent part of their business, or that is the hope anyway, as these are hard walled rooms that cannot be opened to incorporate the rest of the restaurant.

The website is very sharp looking and professionally done. However it is little more than a brochure for the store and incorporates only one form of user interaction: a mailing list form on the Contact Us Page. The events page should incorporate an actual calendar, I suggest looking at Google’s tool which can be incorporated into the site. Tying into a social network like Myspace and Facebook would cost nothing, creates free publicity and allows you to grow a membership list. They are hosted on a shared server with about 1500 other sites which keeps the cost down, but ensures various hiccups in service. Obviously having a blog is a no brainer and could incorporate so many topics and create conversation. All of this is with the goal of getting people to come back to the site again and again because there is always something new to check out. It also ties into their life via Social Network or newsreader.

Overall I enjoyed the UTL and will return again. The service was fast and responsive, the food was excellent, and the setting was relaxing and pleasant.

My gripes are the non-intuitiveness of the teapot, the large amount of merchandise, the unfinished bar, the closed rooms, and the price. More than $8 for a small pot of tea and a scone is a premium I can only get away with once a week at the most. From looking over the rest of the menu this looks like a consistent situation which is fine but will limit how often I can attend. Oh yeah and no free WiFi. =(

Tea is making a big push right now and the Urban Tea Loft is doing a great job of catching the trend. Friday and Saturday nights there is live music starting at 7pm, so grab your gal or guy and check it out.

Phoenix New Times Review

3 Replies to “Afternoon tea in the desert”

  1. This article has encouraged me to visit the Tea Room. The food seems healthy and tasty. Also, I like the new look to the Desertstandard website. Clean and light.
    Good Job!!

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