Josh Zad knows all about branding and setting the mood with ambience. He’s used his talent, passion, and knowledge to create the successful L.A.-based Alfred Coffee and, later, Alfred Tea. With their well thought-out, inviting interiors, including the brand’s catchy phrases in neon, Alfred cafes and tearooms are highly Instagram-worthy. We sat down with Zad to get all the details on his move to tea, his collaboration with Barneys, and the first pop-up on the East Coast at Barneys Madison Avenue now through December 23.
The Window: How has Alfred Tea changed your perspective on tea as a beverage?
Josh Zad: There’s a level of romance associated with coffee: the preparation, names of the drink, sounds that you hear, and all that energy. My travels to Asia, along with the amount of tea drinks that we were selling in our coffee shops, inspired me to start building the blueprint for what a modern tea shop would look like.
A big problem for tea is image. People think, Why would I spend up to five dollars on a small bag of tea that goes in hot water? The challenge was creating a space that people would want to come and see, and once they’re there have them realize how dynamic the world of tea can be with all its different flavors and ways to enjoy it.
What did you learn about tea during the process?
I think something that we did not anticipate being so strong and getting such a strong reaction was the boba tea—the bubble tea that we do. We added it in last minute and that’s been really the core of our business.
How important are aesthetics to you?
The design of the spaces themselves is really my specialty. When we first started the coffee shops about six years ago, the style was very minimalist and stark white with lots of steel and wood. It was Scandinavian style. For the team rooms, I wanted to create something that was a little bit more worn in, cozy, and familiar. A great challenge for me is always really understanding the space itself and what kind of neighbors we have to better know what the customers would really enjoy.
How did you incorporate Alfred Tea Room’s aesthetic at Barneys Madison Ave?
The aesthetic is pretty much set: pink tiles, brass elements, and butcher block countertops. For Barneys, we worked with the team on integrating this to the space that they gave us. We wanted to incorporate the pink tiles but make it durable. We brought in our “Tea yes. You, maybe.” neon sign, which is a staple in all of our tea shop locations. We brought a lot of our own custom merchandise that we sell in all of our cafes, and we added some Barneys-exclusive items that are going to be scattered around the space.
How did this collaboration come about?
It all originated from The Drop L.A. Barneys tapped some local businesses to do some pop-ups for that. The lines for our tea bar were exceptional. People really, really loved it, so for the holiday season Barneys’ team reached out. It’s been an amazing process.
Tell us about the Matcha in Blue drink, which is exclusive to Barneys.
It did so well at The Drop that we decided to give it another go and expose it to a whole new audience. Also, it’s very festive for the holidays.
What is the most exciting thing about this collaboration?
The most exciting thing about this collaboration is being in New York during the holidays at the premier retailer in their flagship store. To be able to team up with somebody we love so much is really a dream come true for myself and our entire team, whether they’re going to be in L.A. or N.Y. Everybody’s so energized behind this.
What do you think is the magical sauce that makes Alfred Tea such a success?
I like to think our main competition would be other coffee shops because in the tea space there is no parallel to what we do. I think our discipline in bringing everything under one roof and operating so efficiently and making it so pleasing on the eyes has been really what sets us apart and makes the tea room so exciting for people to visit.
So are you a coffee person or tea person? Or have you become both?
I am a coffee person. Sometimes in the afternoon I like to have a chamomile tea just because I don’t want the caffeine. I like to warm up. But yeah, there’s no doubt about it: Through and through, I am a coffee person.
The Alfred Tea Holiday pop-up will be open every day from 12:00–6:00p.m. from today through December 23.