Monday, 29 June 2009

Did tea become lazy?

I once again find myself apologising for the lackadaisical manner in which I tend to my blog. On this occasion however, I do have a valid excuse: I recently got married. Anyway, enough of that and back to the subject of tea.

When my wife and I set up Tea, we didn't do so becasue we thought tea was going to be the next big thing or, as I've heard many food and beverage experts profess, that tea was going to be hot. We actually set up Tea firstly because we both love tea, secondly because we could not get a decent cup on the go while working in the City of London and thirdly because we didn't think we were alone in this thinking. So Tea was effectively born out of frustration at the lack of tea-focused alternatives to the living, breathing coffee shops which were multiplying at unprecendented levels in London at the time. Coffee seemed to be having it all of its own way and tea was becoming a second-class citizen. In Britain? Surely not!

This got me thinking about how coffee had gone from thick, bitter, black stuff served in polystyrene cups to an aspirational consumer product that was being feted by city slickers and celebrities alike. My conclusion: coffee, or rather the coffee industry, made itself sexy. They also quite cleverly invented coffee-related words and expressions that made the wildly naive consumer think that what they were buying into was something more than coffee: a lifestyle. Furthermore, the coffee-based beverages that they were purchasing had such sophisticated names and required such complicated equipment (indeed a dedicated barista) that they could under no circumstance be made by the average consumer in the comfort of their own home.

So as coffee was going through the mother of all makeovers, busy wooing the fashionistas and opinion-formers alike, what was tea doing? Tea basically sat back and watched as if blissfully unaware to the fact that consumers were deserting tea in their droves for skinny lattes, cappucinos and mochas. So did tea become lazy? Let's face it, tea could be forgiven for resting on its laurels. It has been around in some shape or form for millennia and consumed in its current form in the UK for more than 350 years. Certainly there was talk of speciality teas, antioxidants, a British institution etc but there was no cohesive strategy to enable tea to compete on a level with its old foe.

To be honest, there is still no real cohesive strategy although there are an increasing number of innovative tea companies attempting to redress the balance with new flavours, brewing techniques and equipment which are all helping to connect with a new generation of tea drinkers. Of course, there is still room for vintage afternoon-tea parties, paper doylies, bunting, and chintz and there always will be but there also needs to be innovation. I would love to see more tearooms offering a superior tea experience with slick service in great surroundings for the discerning commuter and I truly believe that this will be the case. I would also love to see the more innovative tea brands truly compete with the large household names that account for 99.99999% of all tea sold. To be fair, I am seeing a number of the large tea companies develop new and innovative advertising campaigns although the products advertised appear very familiar. Come on guys, you can do it!

In the meanwhile, we can only hope that the tea innovators continue to innovate and we do not lose an entire generation to coffee.


  1. I don't know if tea got lazy but I've heard that in the UK tea seems to have fallen asleep. It's either awakening now or has passed out of deep sleep and is ready to get up pretty soon. That's because tea sales are no longer on the decline there. Perhaps here in the US there's already more attention to tea as an "affordable luxury" than in the UK where it's viewed as more of a basic commodity. Let's only hope the UK will fall in love with tea as a new crop of connoisseurs is raised up. --Jason

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. There are plenty of 'fun' ways to enjoy tea. Bubble tea for example is one: you can have it in almost any flavor and its amazing. Thai iced tea is another example. Heck, look at Red Mango - they're a yogurt company who's now breaking into selling 'probiotic health tea' which comes in really delicious flavors.

    Tea isnt strictly british, its a global product: like soccer (or football, as you know it) People the world 'round do different things with it - if you can bring these things together and appreciate them in their many forms, tea is actually very exciting.

    I'm working on opening a tea shop with a relaxed coffee-house feel here in the States, I will be having scones and the typical Brit 'high tea' stuff, along with an underground coffee house feel - shabby chiq without the patchwork furniture, per se.

    Maybe you should petition the Italians to get into teas - they did a bang up job with the whole grapes into wine thing ;-) But for god sakes, dont get John Lydon to promote tea beverages >_<

  4. Finally an article worth reading about. Its funny because I was thinking the same thing about tea sitting in the shadow of coffee, like two sisters, one more pompous with nothing to show and the other in the wing, sitting quiet, with the class, intelligence and beauty of a german shephard as the chihuahua barks her way into the spotlight.

  5. You're such a good blogger, I wish you'd write more.

  6. Tea is underrated here in the US, due to everybody's go-go attitude and lifestyle. Sitting back, relaxing and enjoying a cup of tea is an essential part of my day. Though to be fair, one cannot be lazy either :)

  7. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog.The post is written in very a good manner and it entails many useful information for me. I am happy to find your distinguished way of writing the post. Now you make it easy for me to understand and implement the concept. Thank you for the post.

    Weight loss treatment

  8. Nice post. Thank you
    for taking the time to publish this information very useful! I’m still waiting
    for some interesting thoughts from your side in your next post thanks!