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The Right Tea Equipment for Your Needs

By Scott Ball

For years at trade shows and meetings, customers have asked me what equipment they need to brew and/or steep tea. It would be nice if I simply could hand them one sheet, with one piece of equipment on it that would meet everyone’s needs. Of course, this cannot happen, due in part to the diverse operations that are serving tea and the variety of teas that are being served.

Over the years, the articles in Tea & Coffee Trade Journal have taught us the proper way to steep and brew tea. But just in case anyone forgot, let’s review some basic brewing/steeping basics as they relate to equipment.

Water Quality: In my opinion, this is the most critical element of the process. If you want great tea, start with great water. Obtaining great water usually involves a filtration process. Most local beverage companies have various water filtration systems. Explain what you will be serving and the companies can make recommendations on systems you might need. When the cost is amortized, these systems cost only pennies a day and your customers will notice a difference.

Temperature: As we all know, different teas require different brewing temperatures. I am only going to focus on the three main categories for this article: black, oolong and green. I’ve included a simple chart to use as a guideline for the correct holding time and temperature for steeping tea. Please note that I state that this is a guideline and not a specific rule of thumb. Of course, your recipes may vary. Space and Electricity for Equipment: Something most people don’t consider when deciding to purchase equipment is how much room is available for the equipment and dispensers (e.g. airpots, urns, decanters). Here is a quick check list to help guide you: How wide is the area of counter space you have for the equipment? Will your dispensers go next to the equipment and if so, how much room will they need?

If your dispensers will not go on or next to the equipment, how much room does the dispenser unit take up? If you will have a dedicated area for your dispensers, be sure there is enough room for them. How tall is your equipment? Remember, there is a shelf above most counters. Be sure it will fit under that shelf.

How deep is the counter on which the equipment will sit?

What is the electricity requirement for the new equipment (110, 208 or 240 volt)? Remember if you have a 110-volt outlet and your equipment is 208 or 240 volt, you will need to have an electrician make a conversion to the outlet and electrical service.

Will your dispensers require electricity? If so, will that specification be included with your equipment requirement, and is that too much for one outlet?

When it comes to electricity, I always invest in an electrician to come out and see what equipment will be installed and allow the electrician to give a professional opinion.

Traffic Flow and Self Serve Vs. Full Service: How will you serve the product to your customers? This is an important question to answer so that you can see how your customers and your employees will move around the equipment and how big an area you will need for everyone to be able to get the product comfortably. Here are three standard types of service:

Full Service: Customer places order at counter. Staff makes final product and gives beverage to customer.

Self-Serve: Customers come up, pay for beverage and receive cup to serve themselves at the beverage area.

Full/Self-Serve: Customer receives finished product from employee, but if they desire a refill, they go to a self-serve area for refills (usually at no cost).

I find it helpful to do some role-playing when looking at how customers and staff will interact with the new equipment. Put empty boxes in your “proposed” beverage areas and have your staff role-play that they are serving customers and making the product. This will help to see how much room you will need. You can do the same for a “self serve” beverage area as well.

Now that you have figured out your space and electricity needs, you get the fun job of picking out what equipment you need. Of course, the traditional way to make hot tea is to simply boil some water and steep the tea, usually in some type of teapot. While this is perfectly fine for very small operators, it is extremely time consuming and restrictive for operators who want to serve more customers.

Recommended Tea Steeping
Temperatures and Times
Tea Water Temperature Steep Time
Green Tea 160 ° F 1 - 3 minutes
White Tea 180 ° F 4 - 8 minutes
Oolong Tea 190° F 1 - 8 minutes
Black Tea Rolling Boil 3 - 5 minutes
Herbal (tisanes) Rolling Boil 5 - 8 minutes
You can choose from four basic categories of hot tea equipment depending on your serving application:

Hot Water Units: These are the large, rectangular, stainless-steel boxes with a hot water faucet on the front. I like to store these in the back where customers can’t see them. You can still prepare tea by the pot or cup, but in comparison these machines will allow you to do a much larger volume. I recommend hot water machines to any operator who is doing significant business that requires a lot of hot water or to operators who may be serving different teas that require different water temperatures. You could have one hot water unit for each type of tea “category” you serve.

Airpot Brewers: For a self-serve location, I like to brew hot tea into airpots using an airpot brewer. This type of equipment is ideal for the operator who has minimal staff and wants to brew a variety of teas in large volume for customers to serve themselves. I usually recommend that the operator serve a full variety of individual teas, but feature two to four unique teas that customers can serve themselves. Iced Tea/Hot Tea Combo Brewers: If your operation is also going to serve different types of iced tea, I would recommend looking into combo brewer units. You can brew both hot tea and iced tea simply by switching a button on the front of the machine. Usually the iced tea is brewed into 3-gallon dispensers and the hot tea is brewed into airpots. These units work for a full-service as well as a self-service operator, with the clear advantages of space efficiency and the reduced cost of buying only one machine.

Individual Cup Brewers (Pod Brewers): Traditionally, if your customers wanted a single cup of tea, they purchased a tea bag of their choice and got a cup of hot water for steeping. Then they had to wait for the tea to steep and dispose of the bag. There are now brewers available called Pod Brewers that reduce a customer’s time spent waiting for the tea to steep. Pods are round tea and/or coffee bags that are placed in a small tray and slid into a small brewer. Pressured water is pushed through the bag to extract the final product in about 30 to 45 seconds. The advantage for the customers is that there is no steeping and no waiting.

Equipment selection for your operation basically boils down to two things: space/flow and how will you serve your product. Look at your operations carefully. Plan for your success and growth, and consult your beverage equipment dealers. Great planning will pay off in great sales!

Scott Ball is vice president, national accounts, for the BUNN Corporation.

Tea & Coffee - October/November, 2004

Modern Process Equipment

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