NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Coffee and tea are different things. Coffee is quick. Tea is slow. Coffee means sweet. Tea means salt. Coffee is utilitarian. Tea is ceremonial. Coffee is the sunrise. Tea is the sunset. Coffee is a cup. Tea is a pot. Coffee is male. Tea is female. For these reasons the Teavana chain, which Starbucks ( SBUX) bought last year, sold loose tea and offered samples. The company also sold pots, cups and other paraphernalia. Its main mission was to get people out of thinking that those little bags my mom bought to stick in cups were really tea. At the time of the Teavana acquisition, Starbucks was selling those same little bags in its coffee shops, alongside its coffee drinks. The bags came from Tazo, which Starbucks acquired in 1999, and although they were quite good, they were tea in a coffee shop.
Teavana made me a loose-tea fan, but I quickly found a larger store selling similar blends at much lower prices. Once I had my favorite tea pot, and a reliable supplier, I had no reason to go to Teavana again. I had an inexpensive, elegant beverage I could enjoy at home. The Sage Group, which is based in Starbucks' hometown of Seattle, estimated the retail size of the U.S. tea industry at $27 billion in 2011. All types of food service were used in the estimate, but 75% of consumption consisted of iced tea. Iced tea is great, but it's just a drink. That's a challenge for Starbucks, because iced tea generally uses bulk, black teas, while Teavana is selling a variety of leaves, aromas and relaxation. Coffee can be consumed quickly, while tea, in the Teavana sense, needs to be savored. That takes time, even without WiFi, which makes turning tables a challenge. Follow @DanaBlankenhor This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.