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Tea is the
new coffee

Every high street in Britain boasts at least one ‘chain’ coffee shop, such as Costa Coffee or Caffè Nero, and no doubt a collection of smaller independent cafés to boot. Almost imperceptibly these cafés are being joined by a raft of tea houses offering a variety of specialist and herbal teas to consumers who are echoing the mood of yesteryear’s coffee drinkers as they search for a wider and better choice of beverage – for which they are willing to pay a premium

Cup of tea and leavesOver 165 million cups of tea are consumed daily in the UK. That’s twice the amount of coffee. Yet, compared to coffee, only a small proportion of tea is consumed outside of the home or work place. This is because the coffee industry has capitalised on its market by offering a variety of ways of serving coffee, such as flat whites and frappaccinos, while the tea industry has remained pretty much a one trick pony.

As consumers’ tastes have changed and become more sophisticated, it has become increasingly important to ensure that you are providing the range of products your customers want. Of course the traditional builders’ brew remains popular, however hospitality establishments should be considering the plethora of other teas available including green, herbal and fruit varieties, bagged versus loose leaf; how to serve it (mug or pot) and the ethics and provenance of the teas: Fairtrade? Organic? Rainforest Alliance? All or none of the above?

At Woods Restaurant & Bar in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, owner/chef Claire Wood places not only a food menu on each table but also a tea menu, courtesy of specialist tea company teapigs ( “People love the choice,” says Claire. “We have an extensive tea menu because it is a fantastic product and also in great demand. I have noticed a big difference in the last 12 months with more and more people choosing to drink different teas. I wouldn’t have had a tea menu on the table a year ago.”

Types of tea

The majority of tea consumed in the UK comes from China and India, with Sri Lanka and Kenya also being significant growing nations. The young leaves and buds of Camellia sinensis are used to produce four different types of tea: black, oolong, green and white. The most expensive is white tea, where only the youngest leaves and buds are picked (by hand). It is then allowed to wither in the sun before being lightly processed to prevent oxidisation of the leaves. White teas primarily come from one region on the southeast coast of China and the young leaves and buds are covered in a fine silvery-white ‘hair’, which gives the tea its name. White teas are extremely rich in catechins (an antioxidant), which have positive health benefits.

Tea potGreen teas undergo a little more processing than white varieties including some oxidisation, which produces the classic fresh taste for which green teas are famous, as well as the low caffeine content. Green teas can be infused with other ingredients such as jasmine, citrus and mint for additional flavour. Black teas have the highest caffeine content and, although they are highly oxidised, still contain useful levels of antioxidants. Oolong teas are half way between green and black teas and are lower in caffeine than standard black teas.

Other teas are produced from different plants and have very distinctive taste characteristics. ‘Redbush’ (or Rooibos) tea is produced from the South African Calicotome villosa plant, which is then processed in a similar way to standard black tea. Rooibos is naturally caffeine free with a smokey taste, and while being almost unknown 10 years ago, it has now gained a significant share of the tea market.

Fruit and herbal teas or ‘infusions’ can be produced from the leaves, flowers or fruit of plants such as chamomile, peppermint, blueberry, nettle and even wax gourd (a type of melon). Between 1997 and 2002 the UK consumption of fruit and herbal teas increased by 50% and is still increasing year on year.

How to serve it

Once you have selected the type of tea that you are going to offer, the next consideration is how you will be making and serving it. With different options including bagged, loose, syrup and powder, which one will be right for you?

Tea bagsBags

The simple way to brew tea – familiar, low hassle and easy to use. In the UK, black tea (i.e. standard ‘builders’ or breakfast tea) tea bags still account for the majority of tea used (for the year ending 2009 around 92% of consumption*). However, this figure is decreasing as green, rooibos and herbal teas have become more popular, and Mintel reports that non-black tea consumption is likely to double over the next ten years.

Loose leaf teaLoose leaf

These products tend to be made from large fragments of leaf or flower; the more expensive blends can be made from whole leaves or flowers. Loose leaf teas offer your customers a drinking experience that requires time and allows for a premium to be added to your tea offerings as many find loose leaf offers a significantly improved taste over classic bagged teas.

Chai teaChai

A classic milky tea drink from India that mixes black tea with spices such as ginger, cardamom, vanilla and nutmeg with milk to give a warming, creamy option. This is a good option to offer customers who are looking for an alternative to coffee or hot chocolate during the winter months.

Cosy teaWhich one for your business

Tea cosyThe classic British cuppa is unlikely to go out of fashion anytime soon and making sure that you have a quality standard black tea on your menu is essential. If you serve Fairtrade coffee you should look to offer the same for your tea range; the majority of major tea brands offer a Fairtrade option.

Standard builders’ teas are widely available, allowing you to capitalise on the quality and reputation that well-established brands have built up over the years. However, this can be a double-edged sword as customers can resent paying the same for a cup of tea out of home as they would do for a box of the same tea in a supermarket. More businesses are now looking at premium organic brands such as Cosy Tea or premium ‘loose leaf’ bagged brands such as teapigs, which are not yet available in the supermarket, in order to offer something a bit different.


Tetley teaMix & match your own courtesy of Tetley

Visit Tetley for Caterers and create your own bespoke case of teas choosing from the full range of Tetley speciality teas including Earl Grey, English Breakfast, Camomile Smile, Green Tea Pure, Green Tea with Lemon, Peppermint Punch, Redbush, Summer Berry Merry, Sweet Cranberry and Tetley Decaf. All you need to do is create a case of six packs of tea – with each pack containing 25 tea bags of your choice – and you have the wherewithal to trial new flavours with your customers with no hefty price tag attached.

Minimum order is one case, which costs £12.50 including p&p.
T: 0845 606 6328

Tea with Mrs SimkinsTea With Mrs Simkins

Although written with the domestic market in mind, this gem of a book contains a delicious selection of quick and easy-to-make biscuits, cookies, cakes etc that could serve to enhance your tea offering.

Cost: £12.99. ISBN 978-1-905862-43-6     
T: 01476 541080.

*Source: Mintel

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