Sunday, September 6, 2015

British Tea News

Thomas K Grose wrote a very interesting article on the British tea scene.  Article appeared on 7 Aug 2015 on USnews 

Brits no longer steamed about a hot cuppa tea

LONDON -- You would be hard-pressed to come up with a beverage more British than tea. Well, okay, possibly a pint of beer. But still, a hot cuppa tea is a quintessential British thirst-quencher.

So it came as a bit of shock this week when Mintel, a consumer research company, reported that tea sales in the U.K. had fallen 22 percent between 2010 and 2015, to 76 million kilograms. What’s more, it said, the trend is continuing, and predicted that tea sales would dip to 68 million kilograms by 2020. A big problem for British tea companies is that 86 percent of tea in the U.K. is consumed at home, almost all of it made with tea bags. And between 2012 and 2014, Mintel says, tea bag sales sank by 13 percent to a value of £425 million ($660 million).

“Standard black tea is struggling to maintain consumers’ interest amid growing competition from other drinks -- held back by a rather uninspiring image,” Emma Clifford, the report’s author, says in a statement. And demography is a factor, too. Younger consumers, she says, are less loyal to tea than their elders.

Bill Gorman, chairman of the U.K. Tea & Infusions Association, doesn’t argue the point: “Black tea has been in modest decline for a number of years.”

Britain’s love of tea began brewing in the 1660s, when a Portuguese princess, Catherine of Braganza, became the wife and queen of Charles II. She had grown up drinking the stuff, and her love of tea eventually made it the fashionable hot drink of choice among the aristocracy. And its popularity quickly spread to the hoi polloi. The East India Company, which had a monopoly on trade with the Far East, placed the first order for tea -- 100 pounds of it -- in 1664. By 1685, annual tea imports totaled more than 12,000 pounds, and by 1750, yearly imports hit 4.7 million pounds. By then, the association notes, tea had become more popular than ale and gin with the masses. Essentially, as Britain built its empire, the effort was well-oiled with countless cups of tea.

The drink also played a pivotal role in the American Revolution. It was Parliament giving the East India Company monopoly rights on exporting tea -- and taxing it -- to the American colonies that lead to the Boston Tea Party in 1773. That’s when anti-British patriots, dressed like Native Americans, boarded three British merchant ships and dumped 46 tons of tea into Boston Harbor. The protest proved to be one of the seminal events leading to the War of Independence, even though it had more to do with protecting the interests of American tea importers than with protesting British taxes.

So does the Mintel report signal the eventual end of yet one more British tradition at a time when pubs are closing at a rate of 31 a week and red phone boxes are disappearing from roadsides? Perhaps not, because the British have hardly lost their taste for tea -- they’re just drinking less of traditional black tea. Mintel points out that 54 percent of Britons still drink at least one cup a day, and three-quarters drink one to three cups a month.

Meanwhile sales of specialty teas, including herbal and fruit teas, are booming. Between 2012 and 2014, Mintel says, sales of those teas jumped 31 percent to a market value of £76 million ($118 million). One thing the British are not doing is replacing tea with coffee. They still drink around 165 million cups of tea daily, compared to just 70 million cups of coffee. A report last year by investment bank Barclays found that coffee consumption in the U.K. is lower now than it was in 2006.

And not all tea companies are feeling the squeeze. Twinings -- which has 19 percent of the U.K. market, second only to PG Tips’ 25 percent market share -- has experienced strong growth, Clifford says. It’s benefited from anticipating a recent surge of interest in loose, specialty teas, and has brought out a wider range of non-traditional teas than its rivals.

Other than Twinings, Gorman says, “the tea industry has been slow to innovate. It’s way behind the coffee boys, but it is catching up.”

One thing that is missing from the High Street landscape in Britain is a successful chain of tea houses -- mainly because it’s still a drink that most folks prefer to make for themselves.

And that’s where coffee purveyors have an edge.

If coffee consumption has plateaued in Britain, the market for coffee houses is nevertheless hotter than a steaming mug of joe -- it’s expanding at a rate of 5 percent a year. Costa, the leading U.K. coffee chain with more than 1,800 outlets across the country, last month announced it was spending £36 million ($56 million) on a new roastery to help meet growing demand.

And Gorman thinks that it will be the coffee houses that will help expand the market for tea outside the home. As the coffee house market grows, he says, the big chains are expanding their offerings, and are increasingly adding teas to their menus. That is bringing British tea-drinking full circle, given that tea was originally consumed in the 17th century mainly in coffee houses. And, Gorman says, afternoon teas at posh hotels like the Ritz and Claridge’s -- with pots of tea served with a huge variety of cakes, cookies and scones slathered with strawberry jam and clotted cream -- are more popular than ever.

So Americans heading for England this summer needn’t worry they’ll have a hard time finding someplace to enjoy a traditional cuppa -- just as long as they don’t expect to order iced tea. “That’s never caught on,” Gorman says. “Tea is a hot drink here.” Just not quite as hot as it used to be.

No comments: