Christmas Joy

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I’d just gotten off an eight hour shift, and I still had to drop off an item at the library. After that, it was either wait twenty minutes in the dark in November for another bus, or take the ten-ish minute trek up the hill, home. I decided to stop off at Starbucks to get something to warm my hands. Not caffeinated, I had class in the morning. I figured a hot chocolate would do.

It was busy, but I did a double-take when I spotted a familiar name and colour, but unfamiliar package on the display of Christmas goodies.

Joy has been a Christmas staple of mine the past three, maybe four years. Alongside Joy usually sits Stash’s Christmas Morning. Basically, as I call them, The Christmas Classics of Steven Smith: Green and Black Blends’. Before this sighting, I had even been contemplating putting in an order for Morning Light, which though it lacks Smith’s hallmark green in the blend, makes an interesting substitute: douglas fir needles. How festive is that? I was eyeing it as a replacement for Joy, since until now it seemed like I’d never see it again (I never found it in grocery stories around the Christmas season, only in Starbucks).

But now, this.

Hfffff.

I don’t know why this bothers me so much.

Maybe it’s because Joy is so divorced from Teavana’s usual tea lineup, and the ‘style’ of teashop I associate with it. Health-claims aside, Teavana is akin to Davidstea in that it favours strongly flavoured, fun, fruity, candy blends (‘desert teas’; not a bad thing, I have my favourites). Blends with so much ‘stuff’ sometimes it’s hard to see the tea-leaves. They’re the kind of company that a offers a smattering of single-estate teas as more of a novelty. Neither of them focus on ‘blending’ in the traditional (‘British’) sense. Joy is just a little too strong, a bit too astringent. It’s different. It doesn’t fit.

Perhaps it’s because Teavana has its own Christmas lineup, and yet for some reason Starbucks has only decided to offer the bare minimum in their coffee shops (period; I think there’s a total of four Teavana teas offered in Starbucks, and no Teavana christmas blends [besides Joy]). When they first started making the shift, I was sad to see Joy go, but not being much of a Starbucks-goer, I didn’t think much more of it otherwise. Well, until I realized that Teavana’s earl grey doesn’t make much of a London Fog compared to Tazo’s. Downright tepid.

But I would have thought Starbucks would use this opportunity to get more people interested in Teavana. Offer fun festive Christmas tea lattes instead of just their winter coffee drinks (which sound delicious, but all just taste like coffee to me).

Maybe what bothers me most of all is that Steven Smith died less than a year ago. Because as much as I consider John Murchie as one of perhaps the western founders of green-black blends (I’m sure he’s not truly, but it’s certainly a credit and something strongly associated with the Murchie’s brand), Steven Smith is and was a modern-day American tea master, praised by James Norwood Pratt, and green-black blends were essentially his signature to me. He’s certainly the only one to get them onto grocery shelves, and so beloved, that Joy and Christmas Morning make a comeback every year. Every tea-brand he founded was touched with this ‘signature’ in some way. Usually around Christmas (I like to think it’s a play on red-tea/green-tea). I know Starbucks bought the brand from him fair. It’s theirs to do with, and so is Teavana. But it just doesn’t seem right.

Teavana was already almost in full-swing in Starbucks’ around this time last year, and Joy never made it into shops then. At least not those in my area (and I was in contact with a friend in the states, also a Joy fan, who saw nothing of it either). Maybe Joy had a bigger following than I, or Starbucks, thought and this is the solution after possible backlash last year. That’s my best guess.

I suppose if there’s an up side to this, it’s that you can now buy Joy loose-leaf from Teavana.

I got a cup to go that night. There’s no difference. It tastes the same. And, amusingly, they’re both still listed on Starbucks’ Canadian website, although only one is in stock.

A transgendered, tea-drinking, rock-hammer wielding, mineral-collecting, fashionable, mid-twenties Canadian.

4 Comments

  1. I understand your feelings but I must say that the Teavana you describe is the company of the past. There is actually a big push for the higher quality unflavored teas (and there is more than just a few). Joy was not produced last year which would be why you couldn’t find it. As much as I loved the Tazo version, the loose leaf from Teavana is higher quality leaf. It’s a bit more sensitive because of that. I’ve had luck treating it more like a 1st flush Darjeeling. Hope that helps :)

    • AJ

      22/11/2015 at 11:51 PM

      I don’t mean Teavana’s teas aren’t quality (and it’s great that they’re expanding), I just mean Joy as a blend doesn’t fit Teavana’s idea/style of blending. Outside of their flavoured line, Teavana favours single-origin teas (outside the obligatory english breakfast every company carries). I like that this is a trend of many chains. Their flavoured teas are the front runners, they invite you in, and then eventually you try their single-origin teas and get hooked in. Davids is like that, and Teaopia was like that. They’re not blend-heavy, focusing instead on flavoured teas and single-origin.

      When Teavana bought out Teaopia, they incorporated a number of their flavoured teas, and it worked because Teaopia was so much like Teavana to begin with, Toasted Nut Brulee and S’mores couldn’t be more at home. Even though Joy has peach in it (although I still swear up and down that that wasn’t there a few years ago), it’s much more a blend, like English Breakfast is a blend. Black, oolong and jasmine green. It’s out of place.

      Joy actually more fits Murchie’s style of blending (black, green, oolong, occasionally a one-note fruit and/or jasmine), but Joy is undeniably Steven Smith. So to take a product that is part of the Tazo brand and just plunk it into a new brand, even though both brands are still in operation, just feels like fraud in this case. “This is Steven Smith’s signature blend, Joy.” “Nono, this is Teavana’s Joy 2015 it’s different” it’s still the same tea. There’s Tazo next door in the grocery store (amusingly, when Starbucks failed to bring Tazo’s Joy back last Christmas, I still did find it… in a Safeway in February, showing that Tazo was still carrying it). The blender’s just not here to dispute it (if he even would; I’m sure he was well and done with Tazo), though it’s nice to see it with fresher higher-grade ingredients. And loose leaf, at least from standalone Teavanas.

      I feel like it would have been less of an awkward shift if they had fully dissolved Tazo into Teavana as they did Teaopia. As it stands, Tazo is the no-longer-starbucks-brand still-kind-of-in-grocery-stores-i-guess but-no-new-festive-blends limbo. Like Starbucks is holding onto it “just ’cause, y’know” it’s a solid-selling grocery brand (it’s something in the top ten ‘specialty grocery store brands’?). If they’d brought it in fully, discontinued Tazo, and then re-released Tazo’s grocery store teas under Teavana-for-grocery-stores. But I doubt it would have worked. There’s awkward overlap between existing teas (and a few of them don’t fit in with Teavana much better than Joy), and I’m sure Starbucks doesn’t want Teavana to gain that ‘grocery store brand’ label.

      Another interesting note is that Tazo no longer sells teas online through their website, but Starbucks still sells Tazo teas on their website. I think maybe in the end Starbucks is just having trouble juggling two tea companies (they did buy Teavana shortly after their standalone-Tazo failed; I blame poor advertising on their part). Tazo’s got out a new line of teas that you can’t buy off of their website, can’t buy off of Starbucks’ website because they’ve only got Tazo’s main blends, can’t buy in a Starbucks, and are so limited-edition, don’t seem to be in any grocery stores. At least Stash still lets you buy loose-leaf online… I can’t remember if Tazo ever did.

      Sorry, that was a ramble and a half.

  2. Teavana didn’t make it to the Starbucks I go to yet.

    I understand your point of view as this tea blend is for you linked to a special man and you feel in a way betrayed by this blend being sold when he is no longer here.

  3. Norah Gibbons

    20/11/2016 at 7:04 PM

    Tazo Joy was available at Metro grocery stores last year … sadly not this year though.

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