Tea Trends

Jessica Pook

Tea is a hospitality staple but that doesn’t mean one blend suits all. Jessica Pook looks at how consumer habits are changing and why choice is key

Tea is the most consumed beverage in the world – second only to water – and behind every brew lies centuries of ancient tradition and rituals that have shaped cultures across the globe.

In China, for example, the art of making tea is closely linked with Chinese philosophy, whereas in Japan a traditional tea ceremony is a spiritual experience; in Morocco or India it’s an expression of hospitality; whilst in the UK “putting the kettle on” happens pretty much on the hour, every hour.

Industry leader

Despite coffee shops taking over many high streets, tea continues to dominate the hot beverage market, being consumed three times more each day than coffee. But while tea is always in demand, it’s important the hospitality sector recognises the need to offer quality, choice and a product that is ethically sound.

Louise Cheadle, Teapigs co-founder and tea taster, believes that concern around caffeine intake is influencing healthier decision making. She says: “While our signature every day brew will always be popular, the growth of herbal infusions and green teas has shown that healthy, natural products are on the rise – especially among younger tea drinkers.”

According to National Tea Day’s Modern Tea Trends Report, 80% of brands identified wellness as a key sales driver, with consumers looking for five key health benefits from their tea: antioxidants, detox, immune boosting, calming and energising. “Health and wellness is a key trend with consumers turning to herbal teas for their functional properties and health benefits,” says Diaz Ayub, tea futurist, National Tea Day.

“Colourful infusions are definitely on the rise (including butterfly pea, mallow and raspberry leaf to name a few). We’ve also found today’s consumer favours natural remedies and cures. As an example, illegal only 24 months ago, CBD infused teas or actual CBD leaf infusions have hit an all-time high. Due to the naughtiness factor of consuming ‘legal’ hemp, in addition to the possible health benefits attributed to ingesting the plant.”

Tea specialist Twinings has also tapped into the demand for ‘infused teas’ with its range of Superblends, recently launched into the food service sector. The range uses botanicals blended with natural fruit flavours, vitamins and minerals to promote general health and wellbeing and includes Focus – mango, pineapple and ginseng; Glow – strawberry, cucumber, green tea and aloe vera; Digest – spearmint, apple, rooibos and baobab; Calm – spiced camomile and vanilla with roasted chicory root, and Sleep – spiced apple and vanilla with camomile and passionflowers.

The natural teas are currently driving category growth for Twinings and have a repeat purchase rate of 35% in the retail sector.

“We’re seeing a decline in consumers drinking black tea and adopting healthier options, such as fruit and herbal teas,” said Lucy Chappell, Tea Specialist at Twinings. “Consumers are looking for products that taste good and do good for those maintaining a busy lifestyle.”

The conscious consumer

In the age of awareness, people’s tea consumption habits are also influenced by ethical sourcing and they want transparency in what they buy so they can trace a product’s origins and pick the more sustainable brands.

“Consumers want to be a part of the journey from seed to cup, and appreciate naturally-grown and processed teas,” says Diaz. “Wildcrafted – plants that are harvested from a natural state without human intervention – and biodynamic – a lunar cycle process that uses only organic, locally-sourced materials for fertilizing – are terms being used more and more within the industry, as consumers demand natural, sustainable and honest teas.”

Convenience is no longer the top priority when choosing tea. Defining factors can range from anything from the quality of ingredients to the flavour, to the age of the consumer. Research from National Tea Day suggests that consumers in the 20 to 30 age group are more willing to engage in tea ‘discovery’ and with a sense of generational competitiveness, are always looking for the next niche. Whereas those in the 30 to 40 age group focus on the palette, pairing, and the whole sensory experience of the moment. Those aged 60+ tend to opt for teas which they have grown up consuming if they can, providing a level of comfort and familiarity.

One such brand is Taylors of Harrogate, producers of much-loved Yorkshire Tea, which recently introduced Pure Green Tea, Green Tea with Mint, Classic Chai, White Tea, Ceylon Tea and Apple and Cinnamon to its classic range of flavoured teas.

Inflight passengers do look for comfort brands but are also willing to invest in quality. Teapigs, already onboard British Airways, says more people are choosing quality tea when out of the home as a treat so are willing to spend a bit more on it. “Consumers are generally looking for quality and variety and tea taps into both,” says Cheadle. “The matcha latte is now a must for the breakfast menu and we have recently introduced our new matcha latte sachet range, available in chai, turmeric, mint and cocoa flavours. They’re made from premium, organic matcha and real, all-natural ingredients – just add
the milk.”

The tea in hospitality

As with wines, tea can bring out the flavour of a dish and enhance the taste of foods, providing the perfect pairing opportunity. Black tea is said to pair well with roast meats such as beef, lamb and venison or lasagne. Green tea goes well with vegetarian dishes, salads, green curries and light chicken dishes. Fruit teas complement desserts, cakes and dark chocolate. There’s also the tradition of afternoon tea, where dark teas are paired with scones or sandwiches, a successful concept onboard.

Turkish Airlines already serves a vast selection of ‘special teas’ including hot and cold digestion-friendly teas. These beverages may help alleviate indigestion and bloating while airbourne and contain fennel, aniseed, garden balm, caraway and garam masala from the Far East. The airline also offers a relaxing tea said to aid sleep inflight with the help of lemon balm, daisy, lavender and sweet rooibos.

Ayub says: “When selecting a tea range, the first and foremost consideration must be quality (taking into account freshness, provenance and production method) – this should be consistent with your overall dining or service experience. But tea should not be an afterthought, it can be an equal part of the meal. Having the right range is important, as increasingly people base their tea choices on their mood, the product’s functional properties and flavour. For example, on a night flight, offering a relaxing camomile works well.”

She adds: “It is worth considering teas beyond the norm which passengers might want to try – consumers are more likely to experiment and discover a new favourite if the opportunity is there in addition to the more traditional menu options. Offer choice and let passengers find
out themselves what is, or what isn’t, their
cup of tea.”