The Obvious Choice

Moving back to Mexico needs planning. Short term, I pretty much know what needs to happen and how things will go. Long term? I am, after all, planning to settle permanently. Do I want to teach English for the rest of my life? I could probably scrape by comfortably enough. But I’d like to embark on something slightly more challenging, and preferably a good deal more profitable. What to do?

I’ve had a number of ideas. But there is one that stands out. Open a tea shop. A Little English Tea Shop. There’s a lot to commend the idea. The average start up in Mexico lasts two years. Except those serving up food. They have an average life expectancy of eleven years. I like those numbers.

The idea of a Little English Tea Shop appeals for a number of other, more important, reasons. It’s something that can start off small, and something that can easily grow with success. Hell, I could start off with a market stall on Alvaro Obregon. It’s something that would have a unique twist on the average coffee shop. We’d have to sell coffee, of course. Hot chocolate too. But tea would be the selling point. English tea, herbal tea, every tea. We’d serve it in tea pots. And in winter, we’d clothe the tea pots with a tea cosy.

Scones too. Lots of scones. With jam and clotted cream. We could sell bags of scones to take away. Tubs of clotted cream too. And jars of real English jams. I’d serve up other sugary English desserts too. I make a mean Apple Crumble. And who can resist a Spotted Dick with custard? I’ve tried out my custard on students. They found it most agreeable. Mexicans do have a sweet tooth too. I had thought of cupcakes too, but it appears I’ve been beat to that market. But then again, I think English cupcakes might have added appeal.

They’ll take away bags of tea in decorative little packs as well. Hot chocolate too. Mexicans invented hot chocolate. The English turned it into a solid bar for eating. Then we made a drinkable version, and we do that pretty good. It’ll be a bit like selling sand back to the Saudis, but I’m game for a challenge. Besides, I’ll have a nice selection of out of date English magazines and newspapers with BBC Radio 2 playing softly in the background.

This would be just the beginning. We would be selling on Englishness. Our ceramics industry has gone from one that supplied the world, to a borderline cottage enterprise. But we still make great ceramics. We could sell dinner sets and plates of a multitude of designs. With commemorative issues for Beatrix Potter, Harry Potter, Harry Wales and the other royals who get wed or dead. It’s be pricey and exclusive stuff.

If it sells it’ll be profitable. Having seen the silly fortunes that the growing middle-class spend on inferior crap in Palacio and Liverpool, I am confident it is a viable proposition. I just need the location. Someone small but visible in Coyoacan or Colonia Roma would make a nice start. But I guess a space in a mall like Perisur would be where the money is at. But anyway. It’s something for me to ponder. The photo below looks great. I took it on Portabello Road in London. I could see it working well in a trendy part of DF though.

PC246689

31 thoughts on “The Obvious Choice

  1. I think that is an awesome idea. I nearly expired in New York City when I realised that there was no tea, anywhere. No wonder my host made a point of showing me where the tea was in the house and thank goodness I held my tongue and didn’t say what I was thinking (which was, “yeah, we get tea in England”).
    Perhaps you could have a little room out back to teach English? Then it could be a true destination in the city for all things English. And perhaps, in the room out back, you could have a couple of terminals with internet access so that English-speaking travellers can head there too? Just ideas.

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    1. One things for sure, any tea shop I open won’t die from lack of a website and social media whoring!

      They are all good ideas! Building a little community around the place isn’t a bad idea. Perhaps if things go well I could design the place to be ‘teacher friendly’ – a place where teachers can come and give classes. And drink cuppas, of course.

      I think the success I’d be looking for wouldn’t ultimately come from people buying tea and scones though. That’s the bait to get them in, and the money to pay the bills. I’d like to think they’d be money in selling the boxes of tea, china teapots, dinner sets and general English kitchen utensils. There are so many related goods I could start stocking. It’s all about being unique.

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  2. I foresee two challenges. Water only boils at around 93ºC here—good for green tea (I think) and mate too; less so for the English stuff. And all the people asking for chamomile could break any tea drinker’s heart. But I don’t mean to discourage you! I’d go there.

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    1. I’ve made English black tea in DF….the altitude and boiling point doesn’t spoil it! In fact, most of the black tea drinking world brew up just short of boiling point. Apparently, having the water too hot spoils it.

      And we’d have to sell all types of tea. Being overly exclusive will lead to an exclusive clientèle…and that’s not always good for profits!

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  3. “Hell, I could start off with a market stall on Alvaro Obregon.”

    A wise idea, to test the market before plunging in and spending muchísimo dinero. Remember that Caravanserai de Thé (on Álvaro @ Colima) is already establlshed in that area for the luxury tea market.

    A well researched location is even more important than good recipes, IMO.

    Who’s going to do the work?
    How many hours a day would you be open? How many days of the week?

    Saludos y suerte,
    Don Cuevas

    Just for an example, I understand that The Green Park Hotel, on Av. Constituyentes offers afternoon tea.

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  4. “A wise idea, to test the market before plunging in and spending muchísimo dinero.”

    I’m a cautious old prude. Starting a business is a gamble. And I don’t like gambling. I work too hard for my money to see it frittered away on chance. Unless it’s someone else’s money, of course. In which case, I’d not go for anything unless I was as certain as I could be of at least not losing it all.

    “Remember that Caravanserai de Thé (on Álvaro @ Colima) is already establlshed in that area for the luxury tea market.”

    I’d never heard of them, but thanks for the name – I found them on the net. Tea done French style.This is encouraging, rather than the opposite. There is a market for tea drinkers. Having the competition numbering a grand total of one or two isn’t bad either. And I’d sell the stuff in teapots, not on fancy trays. Tea isn’t tea unless it’s in a teapot. With scones too. Afternoon tea isn’t really afternoon tea without scones.

    I could be wrong, but I suspect that if you mentioned the word tea to the average Mexican, and then asked them to name a country, most would name England. I’d have to research this assumption more thoroughly. But if I’m right, I’m convinced this is a head start. My Little English Tea Shop would also have a Tall English Waiter – I’m equally convinced that this adds credibility.

    I don’t know about you, but if I go to an Indian restaurant, the food has already lost credibility the moment it’s served by a non Indian waiter. Doesn’t matter how good the food is, it’s playing catch up before the first bite is bitten. I also found that there is a fair bit of ‘positive discrimination’ in Mexico. I’m happy to feed off of it.

    “Who’s going to do the work?
    How many hours a day would you be open? How many days of the week?”

    Me and Mrs P. It’d be open for as many hours as there are customers willing to come through the doors. Eight days a week.

    If one is to go for it, one should really go for it. A new business shouldn’t be done half arsed.

    “A well researched location is even more important than good recipes, IMO.”

    Absolutely. Location, location, location. It’s no good expecting the tea drinkers to come to some obscure out of the way corner of Mexico City.

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      1. I’m 6’3″, so you’ll have to be the Little Waiter. I’ll print a badge with that name on it for you. Surrounded by Mexican clientèle, who’ll average a good foot shorter than either of us – it will keep them bemused and us amused for a good while. 🙂

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      1. I reckon I am! I am going to have to visit both the French and (by the sounds of it, pretencious…) English tea venues when I return. I got the link from the review – thanks. It made interesting reading. And I guess it’s pretty much what one expects in Mexico City. Generally speaking, with Italian perhaps being the exception, foreign cuisine is done pretty poorly in Mexico. Except when it’s done by a native of that foreign country. I’m sure I could beat the hotel on price, service and product. But then, according to the review, the bar is set pretty low….

        We were eager to try their highly advertised “high tea” service one rainy afternoon. The people at the front desk had no idea of what we were talking about, so we headed to their “the view” restaurant on the third floor, where we were greeted by a surprised and disdained waiter who also did not know what we were asking about (we are fluent in spanish).
        Finally, came the maitre´d , who told us that we needed a 24 hour prior reservation for the high tea service. To which we replied that there is no mention of this requirement in their nicely done colorful flyer. We asked if we could still have tea and biscuits and they led us to our table. We were the only customers they had in their big dining room. By the way, the only “view” you get is of the gates of the beautiful chapultepec forest. We expected a great cup of tea for the price (about 10 usd each), it turned out the waiter who serves the tea has NO idea of the right temp. tea must be served, and we ended up with 2 tasteless cups of very expensive tea. The tarte tatin we tried was ok, not excellent, for the price of about 10 usd

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    1. You’re too harsh! I’m sure Princess Anne would do a fine job on the door keeping the riff raff out. And the newly Princess-orised Catherine….well every business needs a bit of eye candy.

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  5. Wow, I would definitely visit, though I dislike tea… how about make coffee also? Or something sweet like a smoothie or candy from london?

    And you can make the waitress or waiters wear english costume. That would be adorable and unique. =)

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    1. I’m going to let you into a little secret…..I despise tea. It is, quite frankly, the most ghastly concoction ever devised. I’d almost rather swill Clorox….

      As for costumes….well, given my comments about Eye Candy above, it’s perhaps best if I don’t post a link to any of my ideal waitress kit. Mrs P wouldn’t allow it anyway…. 😦

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  6. I agree with Don C. – you really need to think who’s going to do the work. I personally think a day of rest, even when starting, is essential for a balanced life. Sounds like a great idea Gary. Start with a small menu.

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    1. I agree with Chris Sorlie. You need a day of rest. Burn out is a danger in new enterprises. You may find your day off to be spent in maintaining, shopping for your business.

      (I have had my entrepreneurial experience, back in the ’80s, when I opened a small bakery and takeout in a small town in the Arkansas Ozarks. I could write a lengthy manual on all the mistakes I made. But it lasted for 12 years, and was widely mourned when I closed it.)

      Saludos,
      Don Cuevas

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    2. I agree that killing oneself through overwork is not a recipe for success. But at the same time, one has to be prepared to give one’s all to get off the ground. I like the idea of having a Saturday girl (see eye Candy comment above!) and closing Monday.

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  7. I am now wondering what rents are in various locations in DF. Roma and Coyoacan in particular. I guess a stall in the artisan market in Coyoacan might not be a bad place to start.

    Any ideas?

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  8. Hola Gary,

    There is a US chain, Teavana which has some franchises in Mexico City. There’s one in Polanco, and a couple in and around Roma/Condesa/Zona Rosa as I recall. They sell absolutely top-rate tea, though they also charge a top-rate price for it. They don’t do much in the way of food though.

    But on the theme of cute waitress outfits, perhaps you could also import another English tradition and name the place, “The Big Teas.”

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where we think you should delete your comment about not liking tea, lest it get out and harm you later.

    P.S.: http://www.teavana.com/retail/search?searchcriteria=mexico%20city,%20distrito%20federal,%20mexico

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    1. More tea shops in Mexico crawling out of the woodwork. Who knew? But still….nothing that’s quite threatening my little dream. I think. And it’s good to know that there is a market for the stuff.

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  9. Having lived in a part of the US where there is little to no chance of finding anything even remotely resembling ‘real’ tea bags, crumpets, pasties, sausages, biscuits, Turkish Delight, smarties, pork pies, and on and on… I’d suggest an import shop that caters to homesick brits with a little tea shop on the side. We recently found a small store that carries a pretty good variety of long-lost English foodstuffs and on one trip walked out with many dollars worth of horrendously overpriced treasures. We didn’t care – would have paid twice as much. I bet there’s not too much competition in D.F. for that type of place!

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    1. I agree. I do think the profit will ultimately come from the take out purchases. There are barriers to cross – I bet importing it will be fraught with bureaucracy and high taxation.

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      1. Everything you try to do here will be fraught with bureaucracy and high taxation. You might as well enjoy the effort.

        Saludos,

        Kim G
        DF, Mexico
        Where we are delighted to finally have ChingaTel fix the internet after a 3-week hiatus. F sadly endured most of it.

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        1. I certainly wouldn’t start off ignorant of that. It’s such a shame. I often found it a wonder that foreign companies bother to do business in Mexico at all, so difficult do the authorities make it. But there is money to be made for those who persevere. Hence the fact that so many companies are willing to dip their toes in the water,

          I do think I could probably make a quicker, easier buck by illicitly plugging into the electricity grid on a street corner and serving up there on the sly. But it wouldn’t be terribly satisfying, and it’s not exactly ambitious. I’d get fed up of paying bribes to avoid being put out of business by the authorities too.

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