Tea is changing. No longer is it just the hot strong drink beloved by the British, to be taken with milk and sugar, the bedrock of the working classes. This article will look in brief at some of the most important and fastest-growing tea trends in August 2019. Recent years have seen huge changes in the way tea is grown, processed and consumed, especially in more affluent parts of the world. This is inevitably having an effect on the types of tea we buy, and how we drink tea.
More and more consumers want to know where their food and drink is from, and how it is produced, and tea is no different. This desire for transparency covers the whole process from plant to kitchen and includes issues such as:
- the geographical location of the tea plants;
- whether the tea is picked by hand or machine;
- the carbon footprint of transporting it to their tea pot at home;
- the rights of the people doing the hard work of growing, picking and processing the tea
- whether the workers are getting a fair price for their product. Most of the tea sold in the richer countries of the world is grown and produced in the poorer nations of the world, and some of these have a dubious record when it comes to worker rights.
Consumers are increasingly seeking ethically sound products and a real relationship with growers and producers of all food items, and tea is no exception. In a matching trend in products like chocolate and wine, tea consumers have become more aware of the different regions which produce tea and the word “terroir”, borrowed from wine growers, increasingly appears in producer information about tea.
Single-origin and single-estate teas are now a distinct product from the more common blended varieties and consumers want to know the difference.
As tea continues to become more popular outside of the traditional tea-producing nations, so does its reach into new markets for horticulturalists and farmers. Tea is now grown in at least sixty countries around the world, and at least forty of these have growers producing it on a commercial scale.
The home-grown tea industry in countries like the UK addresses a large number of environmental and human concerns about issues like food miles, food security, fair trade, and worker rights. Tea is now being produced on a commercial scale in the UK. It is currently on a very small scale relative to demand but the home-grown tea movement is gaining popularity.
Tea as a healthy beverage
Over the last twenty years, one of the biggest changes in the tea market has been the growth of green tea as a desirable product outside of tea producing nations. Only fifteen years ago, green tea was rarely encountered in the UK or USA but by 2009 the so-called “tea health wave” started and sales of green tea, along with claims about its health benefits rose dramatically. Green tea, and matcha tea, a type of powdered green tea, are now to be found in every supermarket and on the menus of many restaurants, coffee bars, and tea shops. Green and matcha tea now make up around 10% of tea sales in the USA.
Although sales of black tea have declined a little in the UK in recent years, rather than switching to coffee, people are discovering different types of tea with different nutrient profiles. Black tea itself has plenty of health benefits, but it seems likely that green tea, as well as other kinds of tea, offer an even greater health boost.
A further trend which has developed from the growth in the market for green tea as a healthy beverage is the rise of an increasing array of so-called “functional” teas, that is, teas that claim to help with any number of ailments, from low energy levels to weight loss to digestion. Many of these teas have a long tradition of medicinal or functional use in Chinese medicine, for example the use of Pu-erh tea as an aid to digestion, and Jasmine green tea for its calming properties. Probiotic tea is on the rise, along with teas which claim a wide variety of benefits, such as being ayurvedic or adaptogenic.
Tea as a recipe ingredient
No surprise here for those of us who were raised on tea loaf and tea bread, foods that my grandmother made so as to avoid the waste of brewed tea left in the pot. She used to collect leftover tea throughout the week and on a Monday she would use that as the liquid component of a tealoaf: a type of not very sweet cake, sometimes incorporating a small amount dried fruit, dark in colour, and sometimes spread with butter. A quick Google search for “tea recipe” yields hundreds of recipes, mainly using tea as an ingredient in sweetened foods like cakes, cookies and doughnuts.
I have recently started experimenting with tea as a recipe ingredient for savoury foods, taking inspiration from the excellent book “Culinary Tea” by Cynthia Gold and Lise Stern. So far I have made tea-marbled eggs, based on the classic Chinese recipe, and have felt inspired to create some easy recipes using matcha tea as well.
Cold-brew is not just for coffee-lovers. As so often throughout history, a trend in one beverage is mirrored by a trend in the other and cold-brew is no exception. Tea is being seen as a flavour enhancer for cold water rather something that is made with hot water and allowed to cool, as in traditional iced tea. Fitness sites increasingly offer all-in-one “hydration flasks” which allow you to essentially cold brew your tea on the go. Sparkling tea is another relatively new trend that is increasing.
Fifty years ago, tea was still the drink of the traditional tea producing nations, who drank green tea, plus the UK and the English-speaking world where black tea, usually with milk and sometimes with sugar, predominated. Now tea has become a truly a global drink, with every country seemingly having its own take on the way tea should be prepared and consumed. How is tea consumed in your country? I’d be really interested to know, so leave me a comment below. Thank you!