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Originally published June 19, 2012 at 5:35 PM | Page modified June 20, 2012 at 11:24 AM

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Starbucks tea shop to open in U-Village

The new Tazo tea store will sell hot and iced tea drinks and tea lattes, and it will feature a blending station where customers can create their own versions of Tazo's existing teas.

Seattle Times business reporter

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Three months after debuting its first noncoffee store — a fresh-juice shop in Bellevue Square — Starbucks plans to open a store centered on tea in University Village. It is expected to open in the fall, replacing Lululemon, which is moving to a larger space in the shopping center.

Starbucks officials see the juice and tea stores as destinations where customers can experience its Evolution Fresh and Tazo brands in 3-D, but they decline to say how many other juice and tea stores they may open.

Both brands also are sold as packaged goods in Starbucks stores — including two at University Village — and in grocery stores.

"We want to raise customer expectations for tea the same way Starbucks did for coffee," said Charlie Cain, a vice president with Tazo.

Blending station

The new Tazo tea store will sell hot and iced tea drinks and tea lattes, and it will feature a blending station where customers can create their own versions of Tazo's existing teas

For example, a customer could replace the black-tea base in Tazo's chai with a white tea or rooibos base — or develop something unique.

Customer-blended teas will be sold by the ounce. Prices have not been set.

Although Tazo already books $1.4 billion in annual sales, Starbucks sees more potential, said Chris Bruzzo, Starbucks' senior vice president of channel-brand management.

"What we learned in our years building the third-place experience [with Starbucks] is that having a direct, personalized connection to consumers is powerful and creates a halo that benefits the brand when the consumer sees it on the [grocery] aisle," he said.

Bruzzo, who previously launched Starbucks' successful digital and social-media strategy, now focuses on the marketing of various Starbucks products, including what the company considers its three emerging brands: Tazo, Evolution Fresh, and Seattle's Best Coffee.

Seattle's Best is a chain of about 80 shops that also sells coffee in 50,000 outlets, including Subway and Burger King stores.

Tazo purchase

Starbucks bought Tazo, a Portland tea company, in 1999 for $8.1 million.

Steve Smith, who co-founded Tazo and Stash Tea, became known at Tazo for creating blends called Awake and Calm, which cost about twice as much a other teas.

Tazo's operations are now being moved to Starbucks' roasting and packaging plant in Kent.

The tea store is a good for University Village's mix, said Susie Plummer, general manager of the shopping center.

"I've been looking for a great tea store for about 10 years," she said. "Even on personal vacations to Vancouver [B.C.], there are some great owner-operated mom-and-pops up there, so to me this is perfect."

Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @AllisonSeattle.

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