Tea Shop Finds Solutions to Pricing Tea Amid Inflation

It’s no secret everything costs more now. This includes bulk tea and other ingredients in a brewed-tea drink, putting tea purveyors and tea shop owners at a crossroads: Should that price hike be passed along to the customer?

“Especially during the pandemic and after, the prices of tea and agave have gone up,” says Alfonso Wright, certified tea sommelier and co-owner of Brooklyn Tea, with cafes in Atlanta and Brooklyn, N.Y., as well as an online shop selling loose-leaf tea, apparel, and accessories for brewing tea. “We really did not want to raise prices. We wanted to hold steady as much as possible. We didn’t have a large margin to start with.”

Then they hit on a solution earlier this year. What if they raised prices on only some of their teas? Knowing they already had captured a loyal following of customers who didn’t blink an eye at the premium teas, and in fact, ordered them regularly, they chose to focus price increases on those items only.

“Tea connoisseurs don’t mind paying a little more for oolong,” says Alfonso Wright. “Our only solution was to do tier pricing.”

At the same time, they did not want to alienate new tea drinkers or even new customers.

brooklyn tea pricing
Photo: Brooklyn Tea

“Because we serve a lot of tea novices, 15 teas haven’t seen a hike in price,” says Jamila Wright. “They can still appreciate our affordability. They don’t feel the impact until they buy a single-estate Japanese tea.”

At their cafes, prices for small pots of tea went up. “When we first started, they were $6 and now they’re $8, taking into account the overall increase and the overhead of the store,” says Jamila Wright, adding that this price remains competitive. “It’s very hard to get an $8 small pot of tea anywhere in New York that’s of high quality.”

Another challenge in whether or not to raise prices is that they operate cafes in two very different destinations. “Our clientele in Atlanta tend to be more on the novice side,” says Alfonso Wright. “We are even more sensitive and cautious about raising prices there. Tea drinking isn’t as wide spread as it is in New York City. We don’t want to raise prices and then potentially turn away customers. They’re not only new to our brand but new to traditional tea drinking. Maybe they’re used to sweet teas but not quite the ‘sit-down, have a pot of loose-leaf tea.’”

For now, the Wrights have chosen not to increase prices on their cafes’ all-day brunch food menus. Most items are vegan—or can be made vegan—and are Alfonso’s recipes. This includes a breakfast sandwich with vegan egg, sausage and cheese; waffles; and vegan cookies.

Raising food prices on the menu is not off the table. One ingredient they really like—pre-roasted tomatoes they say taste just like bruschetta—has already doubled in price.

The Wrights teamed up on their business by melding together Alfonso’s tea-drinking family tradition (his family hails from the Caribbean) with Jamila’s marketing prowess.

“When we first started dating, we would go tea hopping instead of bar hopping. We were always seeing how cool it is to get to know someone over a pot of tea and the social aspects of the tea industry,” says Alfonso Wright. “We began to build the brand and the business while we were dating.”

brooklyn tea pricing
(Photo: Brooklyn Tea)

How they divide their roles in operating Brooklyn Tea is intentional: by focusing on what they each do best. Before the tea business, Jamila Wright taught elementary school and worked in marketing. Now she uses those experiences to evaluate systems and structures, and offer professional management guidance for the team. Alfonso Wright previously worked in tech support, which helps guide their website development.

“We kind of fall in our lane that way and that’s made it relatively easy to be partners because I don’t enjoy or think in great detail about what he does,” says Jamila Wright.

Personalizing the experience for café visitors is also important. Many food items are named after rappers and r&b artists, particularly those with Brooklyn roots like Jay-Z, Maxwell, or Biggie, or are nods to their songs. For example, there are three vegan waffles: Sumthin Sumthin, Shimmy Shimmy Ya, and Foxy Brown.

“It’s kind of a ‘if you know, you know’ and the more connected you are to Brooklyn,” says Jamila Wright.  “People come in and they have that a-ha moment and it’s very nostalgic for them.”


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