Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz seemed caught off guard recently when asked if the tea offered at the company’s Teavana Tea Bar is kosher.
“It will be. It hasn’t been certified,” he replied. “No rabbi has come in to bless it yet.”
First of all, Schultz repeats the common misconception (however jokingly) that kashrut is bestowed on food with a blessing. Rather, it is achieved by processing food according to Jewish halacha, which is overseen and certified by rabbis.
Aside from that, Schultz didn’t mention (and possibly wasn’t aware) that some teas available at Teavana might already be kosher–depending on whom you ask.
According to the Star-K Kosher Certification company, the main concerns with tea are additives and flavorings. Flavored teas might use unkosher ingredients, and usually must be certified kosher. But non-flavored teas are purely vegetarian, and are usually processed on dedicated equipment with no chance for contamination, making them naturally kosher.
The company does, however, recommend looking for specially-certified teas for Passover to be on the safe side, and to refrain from making tea on the Sabbath (as it would be considered cooking).
Of course, not all kosher-observant tea drinkers would feel comfortable getting a cup or even just buying loose leaves in Teavana without certification. If any of the store’s varieties are found to be unkosher, and these varieties share prep surfaces or utensils with the kosher varieties, it could create problems for some consumers.
Starbucks bought the tea retailer last year for $620 million, hoping to tap into the market for the second-most consumed beverage in the world and expand tea’s presence in the US (where it still lags far behind coffee). The first tea bar, which not only sells leaves but prepares cups and pots in a Zen-themed café atmosphere, opened last month on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, a neighborhood home to many kosher-observant residents. Schultz said 1,000 more Teavana Tea Bars will roll out in the next five years.