Printer Friendly

Strange but true, fine tea's swift, sure success in Milan.

Strange but true, fine tea's swift, sure success in Milan

I have not seen all that many tea stores, although I have visited some wonders of retailing through the years. As for elegance, however, none so far can surpass the store I've just been introduced to. It is the creation of its mistress, Beryl Cavallini, and lies in the heart of Milan only a stone's throw from the La Scala Opera. This is the Betjeman and Barton store on the Via Ponte Vetero.

About five years ago I enquired of a knowledgeable person about the prospects for tea in Italy: the reply was a laugh and shake of the head. Tea was for old ladies; it was taken for health and by image was even associated with pharmacopia. Since that dismal appraisal, nothing much has changed as to the tea market at large in Italy, which remains relatively small and static. But, in the interim, Beryl Cavallini and |Betjeman and Barton' have arrived, and that in itself is remarkable and points to what may well be the dawn of Italy's tea age.

Cavallini opened her |B and B' in Milan in 1989 - her very first venture into tea and the very first store of its kind in Italy. One glance and it's clear that the effort took courage, vision . . . and money. It is also clear that the effort has been a run away success. Before Christmas season began in 1990, annual sales had already doubled from those of the first year. And then during the one month of December, the store rang up sales for 6000 clients, with lines forming down the block at times and entry limited to two at a time to control the crowd.

Cavallini is an eloquent business woman, and evidently apt at translating her ideas into reality. But she also gives full credit to the practical help and support services she's had from Betjeman and Barton headquarters in Paris - she has a contract of exclusivity with them for the B and B stores in Italy. In fact, such has been the swift, sure success of the Milan store, she has already franchised out a Betjeman and Barton store for Bologna, which opened this past October.

Cavallini's Milan store offers a menu of 120 Betjeman and Barton Bulk teas, with a secondary specialty in fine dark chocolates. The store is well stocked in first class confections, and carries an impressive range of designer-quality teapots, china and tins. Part of the store's success is in snob appeal - a medley of class location, decor, novelty. But the fashionableness is supported by unstinting attention to quality, as reflected unashamedly in the high prices. By intention, this may well be the most expensive tea store in the world. As a result of all this, the beautiful people of Milan throng through the doors - fashion designers, nobility, financiers, the maestros of La Scala.

Making tea an |in' thing in Italy, also means running a school of tea. "People know nothing about tea here," explains Cavallini. "Our emphasis is on an elegant and refined atmosphere, for an elegant and refined drink, yes, but it must also be learning together about teas as a great pleasure. Italians are open to fine teas, it's something new and exciting to them.

About 70% of the clientel are in the 30-50 years age range, and they split half and half among the sexes. That men are drawn to the store is important, given the traditional feminine image of tea in Italy Women customers seem drawn to the scented teas, men to the classics. Actually, the sales in volume tilt toward the scented teas, |Four Seasons' varieties, the Pushkin and Earl Grey, but this is changing in time. In truth, according to Cavallini, the |B and B' in Milan is particularly exciting because it is evolving along with its clientel toward a more sophisticated buying range.

"During our first year," notes Cavallini, "We did about 35% of turnover in tea, 30% in the Deli area and 35% in pots and accessories. Now we're doing more than 50% in tea alone, and it continues to develop. I have clients buying methodically through the entire tea menu, learning, searching out what pleases them most. In 18 months I've seen some of them become connoisseurs. There's also a lot of fun in learning to love tea.

"We stress with everyone working here: always be helpful, never boring or pedantic about tea. We have only a minute or two to place a new client in a tea context, and then be quickly informative. We try to profile a customer and match them to a tea - is it tea for morning or afternoon, tea with sugar or milk or |solo.' Sex, age, smoking or not - it all matters. We try to be anecdotal at the counter, to sketch tea types We aren't down to using scripts for sales, but we do stress simple, effective tea talk. Describing tea is very helpful, particularly as we don't serve it here."

With tea as a new acquaintance, a good measure of the store's sales are to infrequent buyers - people still acquiring a tea habit. To infuse a buying pattern, the store has found it helpful to stress seasonal teas to the clientel. This kind of promotion has worked so well that in March, for example, the arrival of the new Darjeeling drew so well as to set a Saturday store traffic record.

"Tea is something personal," says Cavallini. "The thing is to match the right tea to the person. But in general we do see people drawn here to Assam and the Chinas, toward a refined taste and memorable perfume. Just now I find people enthralled with their discovery of Darjeeling."

Cavallini is quick to point out her French nationality, and |Frenchness' of Betjeman and Barton. She says this image is of particular value in Milan, and goes well with her emphasis on the gourmet attributes of tea. Actually, the ultimate effect of her store is not of a shop at all. What comes to mind is the salon of a haut couturier in Paris' 8th. The association is hardly coincidental, as Cavallini knows such rooms well, having handled public relations for Laura Ashley in Europe for years before relocating to Milan.

To dress its fine teas, and in keeping with the prices to be found, the Betjeman and Barton store in Milan is a masterwork of lighting and interior design ("We completely redid the lighting in one room three times to get it right!" notes Cavallini.) It is a set of long narrow adjoining rooms, each subtly different in character, that entice one further and further, room to room. There are plush armchairs at hand, warm woods, chandeliers, a fortune in textiles - throws, curtains; the total effect is of a welcoming rich exclusiveness, soothingly comfortable but never haughty. The confectionaries are near the street, the teas are in the middle room, the chocolates and gifts are at the back, the cash register is at the far back.

Such details might not be |news' in other cities of the western world, but not so in Milan. Here, Beryl Cavallini and Betjeman and Barton have teamed to bring star status to tea in Italy's most fashionable and richest city; and that in itself is news.

PHOTO : Beryl Cavallini has teamed with Betjeman and Barton to create a uniquely elegant temple to fine tea in the heart of style-conscious Milan. The snob appeal is finely tempered by a true love of tea.

PHOTO : The store is a series of long narrow, connecting rooms each with a subtly different personality, but all of which speak of comfort and richness. This may be the most expensive tea store to be found, nevertheless, it is also a learning center for a people just discovering the pleasures of the leaf.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Milan, Italy
Author:Bell, Jonathan
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Jun 1, 1991
Previous Article:That priceless 'Paris' label.
Next Article:Charter vessels; a savings or a risk?

Related Articles
Milan's big city coffee.
A coffee map of Italy.
Bars and bar equipment. (Across My Desk).
Tea's popularity grows in Italy: in September 2001, the Italian Tea Club organized its second "Tea College" for tea aficionados.
Indena. (2003 Nutraceuticals World Company Capabilities).
CECIMO takes Paris out of the rotation for its centerpiece expo.
Italy: ever the source for the new in Espresso ... or tea? Italy is renowed as the source for a its rich coffee and tea products. Jonathan Bell...

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters