We chart the latest trends in the UK tea market, identifying a few surprises along the way

If you were asked to name the one drink that defines the UK as a nation, it’s a pretty safe bet you’d mention tea.

This is the drink that fuelled the growth of the British Empire, brought untold riches to the people who first traded in it, and continues to give the UK’s population a sense of its distinctive national identity.

Despite this, consumption of traditional tea has dropped by almost a third in the UK over the last five years. That reflects a sharp decline in the amount of black teas like Darjeeling, Assam and Ceylon, including the classic English Breakfast tea, being drunk throughout the country.

Far from dwindling in size, though, the tea market is looking more buoyant than ever. It’s still the most popular hot drink to be consumed in the UK, with the average person drinking nearly three cups per day.

Moreover, the decline in demand for traditional black teas has been offset by an increased appetite for herbal teas, fruit infusions and speciality teas of the sort that are popular among Cup of Tea’s customers.

In fact, premium tea in all its forms has enjoyed a surge in popularity over the last decade. That’s partly the result of an increased interest in provenance – meaning people are more concerned about where their food and drink comes from, and are keen to buy products that have a clearly-identifiable supply chain.

It also reflects a growing sense that drinking tea is an experience to be savoured, akin to wine tasting in its complexity and the chance it provides to encounter a range of flavours.

Indeed, some restaurants even employ tea sommeliers to advise diners on the best tea to accompany their choice of dish, and give tasting tips to ensure that guests get to grips with the tea-drinking experience.

At Cup of Tea, we offer tea-tasting workshops that equip customers with the basic knowledge to really enjoy our range of speciality teas. In these sessions, we taste a selection of high-quality loose-leaf teas, explaining how they are made and how best to brew them. And we make suggestions about pairing them with particular foods, enabling guests to enhance their enjoyment of tea as an accompaniment to mealtimes.

This is a sign of one of the biggest changes to have happened in the UK’s attitude to tea over recent years. It’s still a go-to hot drink for the masses. But in addition, thanks to the rise of speciality teas, it’s now more than a drink: it’s a subject to become an expert in, and a premium product that appeals to connoisseurs.

Above all, though, tea-drinking in the UK is what it’s always been: an experience to be relished, whether you’re alone or in the company of others.

4th November 2014

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