Lisa R. Schoolcraft  of the Atlanta Business Chronicle writes that when Teavana Corp. CEO Andrew Mack reads his tea leaves, he sees growth for his chain of retail specialty tea stores.

Founded in Atlanta in 1997, Teavana currently has 110 stores, predominantly based in malls, in 33 states and 10 in Mexico, including 25 that opened this year.

Mack is projecting he’ll open 35 to 40 more stores in 2010 and “Teavana could be in the neighborhood of 300 to 400 stores in the next five years.”

All U.S. Teavana stores are corporate-owned. The Mexican stores are joint ventures, Mack said.

There are five Teavana stores in metro Atlanta, at Lenox Square mall and Phipps Plaza in Buckhead, Perimeter Mall, Mall of Georgia in Buford, and North Point Mall in Alpharetta.

Mack, a former Applebee’s restaurant manager, and his wife, Nancy, a former Walt Disney World Resort customer service manager, founded their first teahouse at Phipps Plaza.

The tea industry is now projected to grow to $15 billion by 2012, according to Packaged Facts, a division of consumer goods market research firm Market Research Group LLC in Rockville, Md.

“Tea is one of the most underdeveloped beverages in the United States,” according to a recent report on the tea industry by Packaged Facts. “The potential is enormous, as tea barely compares in market size to beverage categories such as carbonated soft drinks, coffee and water.”

The main growth for Teavana “has been a strong focus on developing people, great teas and the merchandise from many tea cultures, such as authentic Tetsubin cast iron and ceramics from Japan, Celadon porcelains from South Korea, bone China and Yixing clay teapots from China,” Mack said.

Read more at: Boston Business Journal (subscription maybe required)