Friday, April 09, 2010

Leaf-wafting Luftwaffe: A pleasant afternoon with the pickpocketing gypsies of Teavana (Daily Photo 4.8.10)

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The latest leg of the epic journey across America to find a good cup of tea took me back to the place that started it: Teavana. We liked a few teas we sampled there, so I bought Nik a few Teavana items for her birthday, which is tomorrow.

If you've never been to a Teavana, you should go, even if you don't care for tea -- maybe even because you don't like tea. At some point you should experience what it's like to be in thrall to the store's sales personnel. It's like being caught in a tidal wave of unrelenting up-selling, and the only way to bail yourself out is with a Perfect Tea Spoon ($3.99). I went to Rome once. As soon as I stepped off the train and rolled my luggage to the sidewalk, two gypsy women immediately latched onto me and started groping for my bag and wallet. I had to run away, yelling and beating the air with my free arm to shoo them away. This was very much like that, but in English.

Even across the mall atrium, approaching the door, I felt two sales associates' hawk-like eyes size up my tenderness and fighting spirit. I ventured inside, even telling the sales associates I was looking for birthday gifts for my wife: a nice mug, a small-size Perfect Tea Maker, and a couple of teas. Within mere seconds, a saleswoman was foisting into my helplessly upturned arms a large-size Perfect Tea Maker, the aforementioned spoon, a Perfect Tea Mug, sticks of rock sugar, a thermometer, and a timer. The latter being a small clock ($8.95).

SHE: And you'll need a timer...

ME: I think I'll be OK.

SHE: You already have a timer?

ME: We're making our tea in the kitchen -- there are two clocks already in there.


SHE: This one would be just for the tea.

ME: Right. [pause] I think she's got one.

I put everything back except for a small tea maker, which I was informed was of clearly inferior quality, and the spoon. We could always use another spoon. I went to the other side of the store and looked at some of the mugs, and the saleswoman followed me, a slight leer skittering across her mouth, as I moved toward the cast-iron teapots. The latter being metal containers that hold a little bit of hot water, averaging a couple of hundred dollars each. She told me I should buy one -- several, even. I said, "Nah," and took a small mug and went to the counter to buy the loose tea.

SHE: Are you just "getting into" tea now?
ME: Sort of. Mostly in bags.
This is the scary bit. I knew the teas I wanted. My saleswoman had an accomplice who suggested that for every tea I buy, I should buy a second, more expensive one to blend the first one with. They brought me a metal hatbox filled with tea that cost $22 per 2 ounces. The dried leaves and herbs in there probably cost as much as a year at Harvard. One of them literally wafted the scent over to me with the lid while the other spoke in a hushed and clipped tone out of the right corner of her mouth suggesting other teas she should take down off the wall and likewise waft in my direction, like one of those cartoons where an anthropomorphized perfume odor snakes across the screen and carries Bugs Bunny off. What seemed like several other saleswomen hovered midair in lazy circles directly above me, swooping down occasionally to see if I was still alive. They showed me a canister the size of a healthy loaf of bread and told me this was the "best value" because the canister was $7. I had a crazy idea that it was $7 filled with tea, but no -- just empty, it was $7. "I can fill it for you." I glanced down at some pre-filled canisters and saw them priced at $500. Turns out you can put a lot of 2-ounce servings in one of those.

ME: What have you got that's smaller?

SHE: [pulls out something the size of a Sigg bottle] This is our small container.

ME: Anything smaller than that?

[She reaches under the counter for half a minute, making sounds like it's taking great effort]

SHE: [Shows me a 5-inch tall tube] There's this.

ME: I'll take it.

I bought two teas that day and I ended up going back the next day to get a third -- also because I wanted to experience the up-sell tidal wave again, like the world's most expensive and boring flume ride. Again! Again! But I don't want to leave you with the impression that it was unpleasant. I'm fascinated by salesmen. They have to make a living and they're fantastic to watch. I spent the next few days dying to talk to Nik about it. I imagined what she'd say when I mimed the tea-wafting gesture. That would be part of the birthday gift. I want to take her in there and have them waft tea in her face. I don't want to pay for this, but I want her to experience it. You should too. There are only so many times in your life you can have another human being waft tea odor in your face.

About the tea itself: We drank some. It's pretty good. Lots of flavor. What the hell else do you want me to say about it? It's a bunch of dried herbs and leaves, for fuck's sake.


Melissa H said...

Okay, I was thinking about going to Teavana for the tea that you mentioned on Twitter and now I am scared shitless to walk in there alone! :-D I'll bring my husband. Like you, he enjoys that sales atmosphere crap.

k said...

Those ladies scare me...

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