What changes can we expect to see in the world of tea in 2020? In this article, I’m going to detail the main trends in tea that I can foresee in 2020. They range from the impact of the coronavirus on the Chinese workforce to the continued role of tea in the wellbeing trend. Read on to find out more.
In this article:
- The impact of coronavirus on Chinese tea
- The continued rise of fruit, herbal and spice teas
- Growing demand for functional and wellbeing teas
- CBD tea will become more popular (at least where it’s legal)
- Changes to packaging materials as tea drinkers become more environmentally conscious
- Increasing import tariffs, effects of climate change, and other political influences
Impact of coronavirus on Chinese tea
While the virus will not affect the tea plants directly, it could foreseeably have a negative impact on the workforce. Not only is there the possibility that the virus will render some of the labour force too ill to work during the crucial Spring period, but there is also a possibility that tea-producing regions might be quarantined or ports closed.
At this point (10th February 2020) the main tea producing regions have not been affected but my favourite Chinese tea site, TeaVivre, is only shipping products it already has in stock in its warehouse in the USA and has stopped delivery from their Xiamen warehouse in China to ensure safety. There is also the very real prospect that the image of Chinese tea, along with many other Chinese products will be damaged, at least in the short term, by the virus. At this stage, it is very much a case of “wait and see”.
The continued rise of herbal, spice and fruit teas
There is a definite trend away from traditional tea based on the leaves of Camellia sinensis to a variety of herbal, spice and fruit products in tea. A recent article by a major British news outlet (inews) ran a recent article quoting the chief executive of Unilever which owns industry giants PG Tips and Lipton Tea as saying “drinkers of black tea were getting older and consuming less and starting to fall over“, that is, facing extinction. The UK’s tea market has fallen more than 9 per cent in the ten years as coffee and herbal tea consumption has risen.
Many of the big producers, such as Twinings, have already tapped into this trend by offering fruit infusions, infusions intended for cold brewing and other taste innovations. Consumer palates are becoming more sophisticated and people expect better flavour and quality than in the past.
Growing demand for functional and wellbeing teas
Tea drinking to address specific health concerns will continue to grow in 2020. In recent years, consumers have been increasingly looking to Chinese medicine and Indian Ayurveda for inspiration in terms of tea ingredients and that trend will grow as people look for non-prescription solutions to mental health problems such as stress, depression and anxiety as well as physical concerns such as weight loss, diabetes and high blood pressure.
While well-known herbal solutions for sleep and anxiety reduction like peppermint, chamomile and hibiscus and 2019’s big trend towards turmeric tea will continue to rise in popularity, less well-known herbs and spices such as tulsi, ashwagandha and rhodiola will find increasing popularity among consumers.
There are very many small tea producers who have been offering functional teas for some time and some of the big tea producers are starting to catch up with this trend and are offering wellbeing ranges. Twinings is a good example with its new “Superblends” range which combine green tea, botanicals and fruit flavours with added vitamins and minerals. Tetley has similarly produced a range called “Super Tea” based on fruits and herbs with added vitamins and minerals.
CBD tea will become much more popular (at least where it is legal)
CBD is derived from industrial hemp and, unlike cannabis itself, as long as it has a very low (usually less than 0.3%) concentration of the psychoactive compound THC, is legal in many parts of the world. Having said that, the legal status of CBD is currently very different depending on where you live.
It is now legal in the USA with the exception of the states of Idaho, Nebraska and South Dakota, and here in the United Kingdom, but remains illegal or only available on prescription in much of Europe, in Russia, and in most countries of Africa, South America and the Middle East – it still carries the death penalty in Saudi Arabia. The situation in Canada is rather confusing, where cannabis is fully legal but CBD is technically illegal. In Australia and New Zealand, it is currently only legal for medicinal purposes. Up-to-date information can be found on The Extract website.
In those regions where CBD is legal, it is being touted as a treatment for everything from anxiety to acne, from inflammation to sleep apnoea, with very limited scientific data that it actually works for any of these conditions. However, like many so-called health products, CBD is a rising trend that people are keen to try, and are increasingly looking for ways to consume it other than the oil itself so this market is likely to rise dramatically in 2020.
Changes to packaging materials
The mass media reported widely last Autumn the discovery that tea bags contain microplastic and that prompted me to put together my list of plastic-free tea bags, which I am keeping as up to date as possible. Since I first wrote that article in September 2019, many more producers, including the huge PG Tips, have announced that their tea bags are now plastic-free, and we have seen loose tea’s popularity start to rise are many years of losing out to tea bags.
Many companies large and small are racing to remove plastic from all parts of the tea production process, including the packaging material for loose leaf teas. This increased concern for the environmental impact of tea will continue in 2020.
Increasing import tariffs, climate change and other political influences
Sparked by trade disagreements between the USA and China, the last couple of years have seen increasing import tariffs being imposed by many countries. While it is too early to know whether this will have any impact on overall tea consumption, these changes, along with environmental concerns about food miles, are encouraging more and more people to grow tea in their own country. In the UK we now have a number of options for purchasing home-grown tea and that number is set to rise, as is the realisation that it is possible to grow tea at home in our own gardens, at least on a small scale.
In the USA, the introduction by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of its Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in 2016 started to hurt Chinese imports, particularly of speciality tea from 2018. Then in September 2019, the US Trade Representative (USTR) put a duty of 15% on tea imports in September 2019. However, it announced at the end of January 2019 that from mid-February that would be lowered back down to 7.5%.
There were many reports throughout 2019 of the impact climate change is having on tea production, and scientific efforts to overcome this and help tea farmers plan for an uncertain future. It was a particularly bad year for Pu-erh tea, as drought-hit Yunnan province,
The world is changing in many ways: the climate, the political landscape, our health and wellbeing, and all of these have an impact on our tea choices.