On the Line / Casual Dining / What is a Teahouse?

What is a Teahouse?

Learn about the history of and how to start a teahouse, as well as what kind of food and atmosphere you can expect.

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A teahouse is a restaurant establishment that primarily sells tea. Learn about the history of and how to start a teahouse, as well as what kind of food and atmosphere one provides.

What is a Teahouse?

A teahouse primarily sells a selection of different teas. A teahouse also mainly focuses on serving high-quality loose-leaf teas, and many will conduct tea ceremonies, usually following traditional Japanese or Chinese ceremony customs. The function of the teahouse can vary depending on the country you are in. For example, a teahouse in the United Kingdom will likely serve tea with cream alongside small cakes or finger foods in a social atmosphere. 

Similarly, teahouses in the United States are often set up the same way coffeehouses are in that they sell tea, coffee, and pastry or food items. But, in most Asian countries, a teahouse really only offers tea.

What is the history of the Teahouse?

Tea drinking culture shifted in China in the fourth and fifth centuries when tea became a drink for pleasure as opposed to merely being seen as a medicinal drink. During the Song Dynasty, drinking tea became a ceremony of sorts during which tea houses were formed as a social event space for business meetings, casual conversation, or even entertainment purposes put on by actors or poets. 

In Japanese culture, teahouses arose during the 16th century when Sen no Rikyu, a master of tea ceremonies, requested a special teahouse surrounded by a garden to be built for ceremonies. This led to a more elevated experience than the traditional Chinese tea ceremonies, which is why Japanese teahouses are as exquisite as they are today and tend to focus more on experiencing the tea in place of a social atmosphere.

In the United States, tea drinking became popular among women during prohibition. Many women opened tearooms across America and the teahouses varied from spaces for young people to socialize while drinking tea, to more wealthy, elegant establishments. 

Across the United States and the United Kingdom, teahouses became less popular both when tea was mass-produced in tea bags and due to the rise of fast food restaurants. However, teahouses remain the same and continue to be popular throughout Asia.

What is typically on the menu at a Teahouse?

The menu at a teahouse varies greatly depending on the country you are in. A teahouse in the United Kingdom will generally serve tea and food. A popular tea in the U.K. is Devonshire tea, which is a type of tea served with cream. If you visit a teahouse in the morning, you will be offered tea with a scone, jam, and clotted cream. If you visit a teahouse in the afternoon, the British tend to do an elaborate spread with small sandwiches and cakes. 

At a Japanese-style teahouse, you can expect to experience a tea ceremony and possibly taste a variety of high-quality teas. A Turkish teahouse will usually serve tea, coffee, and even Hookah. Teahouses are also very popular in Tajikistan and tend to be decorated with lavish art, colors, and nature while serving a wide variety of tea and food items.

How do you start a Teahouse?

If you want to start a teahouse, the first decision you need to make is what type of teahouse you want to own. If you choose a Chinese or Japanese-style teahouse, you would want to focus on offering tea ceremonies and sourcing high-quality teas. Or, if you choose to do a British-style teahouse, you could focus on offering a nicely decorated space with tea and light food options. You could also choose to go the route of the standard coffeehouse setup, but instead of offering a wide variety of coffee, you would focus on more tea selections.

Once you know what type of teahouse you want to start, steps include writing a business plan, finding a location, and determining a source for importing your tea. Offering a good selection of tea will be vital to the success of your teahouse, so be sure to spend a good amount of time researching and tasting teas to pick the ones that you think will sell well in your area.

How much does it cost to start a Teahouse?

Opening a teahouse will be time-consuming, but depending on which type of teahouse you decide to model your business on, it could be a streamlined process. The total costs for starting a teahouse will be similar to opening a coffeehouse, but will vary depending on your size and the type you wish to open. 

Restaurant startup costs can vary based on location, local rent prices, whether you have furniture and seating, renovation needs, and more. The average cost to open a restaurant can range from $100,000 to $2 million. 

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