Tea terraces for National Tea Day

There was a time when the traditional British cuppa ruled the roost.

Then coffee got a make-over.

The rise and rise of lattes, cappuccinos and Americanos fundamentally changed our drinking habits, at least when it comes to hot beverages.

The UK coffee shop market hit its 20th successive year of growth in 2018 (annual turnover was up 7.9%) and is now valued at £10.1 billion, according to the Allegra World Coffee Portal.

In comparison, tea looks like it has gone off the boil. There has been a significant fall in UK consumption since the 1970s. Sales dropped 6% from 2010 to 2015 and Britons now drink about 25g of tea per week compared with 68g in the 1970s.

But all that might be about to change as tea tries to beat coffee at its own game… by becoming hipper, cooler and experiential. So it’s no longer just about the drink; it’s what the drink means; how it makes you feel; it’s about the experience.

National Tea Day on April 21 offers a timely opportunity to turn over a new leaf and look at the new ways the product is being consumed and interpreted.

Tea is being used increasingly in food preparations and cocktails as chefs and mixologists unlock the different flavour profiles. Tea “flights” are now being offered in top restaurants in the style of wine pairings.

Michelin-starred Club Gascon in London has a tea menu in partnership with Jing Tea. The tea list is a draw for diners seeking non-alcoholic alternatives, particularly at lunch-time. Once an after-thought in menu planning, tea is now front of mind for some chefs.

Mintel expects to see a “veggie revolution” in tea in 2019, including infusions of tomato, rosehip, apple, basil, cinnamon and passionflower, and supercharged “power tea” like Lipton’s Daily Boost Green Tea that features ginger, lemon verbena and turmeric.

Artisanal loose tea leaves brewing in china cup

Let’s get loose

High-end hotels are ditching tea bags altogether to refresh the experience, and flavour, for guests. The days of having a piece of string hanging out of a cup are long gone at Claridge’s where every gram of tea is loose, regardless of whether it is for lavish afternoon teas, in-room dining or conferencing.

The 24 to 35-year-old group is set to be the biggest growth area because it is more daring in its outlook and open to new products. It’s a match made in heaven for matcha with its “superfood” reputation and claims of enhancing mood and concentration.

Or you could just make a mug of builder’s brew and rediscover the art of biscuit dunking.