Is it time at the bar for the great British cup of tea?

Ute Dickerscheid –

Tea time, black humour and changeable weather are often what come to mind when people think of Britain. But the cliche of a nation of tea drinkers applies less and less to the young.
Even with milk and sugar, they increasingly regard traditional breakfast tea as boring, while herbal and fruit teas are thought to be healthier. And although tea drinkers are still in the majority in Britain, coffee is fast making inroads.
The tea industry is aware of its ailing image, as the rate of tea-drinking has long been in decline. Between 1974 and 2014, the amount of tea drunk by Britons more than halved, according to the BBC. The latest surveys reflect a similar trend.
“Consumption is still declining,” says Richard Caines from the market research company Mintel. Between 2013 and 2015, English breakfast tea bag sales fell by 14 per cent. Last year, consumption dropped by another 6 per cent.
All the while, Britons are drinking more and more coffee. For many people, picking up a coffee on the way to work has become a daily ritual. Once they get to the office they start drinking tea – the two are not incompatible, and many Brits drink both, say market researchers.
But when it comes to tea, there is an increasingly wide generation gap. Britons aged over 50 love a “cuppa,” an everyday part of their lives, and drink on average five to six cups a day.
The young are not so keen. “I don’t like the taste of that stuff,” says Alice Hines, who belongs to the 25 to 34 age group. Like many of her generation, she prefers green tea.
“The sale of green tea grew by 39 per cent between 2013 and 2015,” says Caines. Fruit and herbal tea sales have also rocketed. “Aside from that, younger Brits drink a lot more water,” he says.
Analysts predict that English breakfast tea sales will continue to decline, while coffee consumption will grow. Last year, 90,000 tonnes of tea were sold in Britain, while 78,000 tonnes of coffee were sold, according to the market research company Euromonitor International.
Over the next few years, that gap is expected to narrow, says Euromonitor’s Violetta Scola.
The slow decline of tea is a source of sorrow for many older Britons. The traditional afternoon tea is now the preserve of fancy hotels, whereas in days gone by, every middle or upper class family would routinely sit down to sandwiches, cake and a pot of tea in the afternoon.
“Everyone wants to eat healthily these days,” complains 72-year-old Richard Morris, reminiscing about the “tea ladies” who used to push their trolleys around the office in the 1970s.
But tea-lovers aren’t giving up that easily. Some restaurants in London offer special menus with paired teas, and two restaurants even employ tea sommeliers, according to the UK Tea and Infusions Association.
In the London neighbourhood of Tooting, Alex Holland has opened the British capital’s first “tea pub.”
“There’s a pub atmosphere but instead of pints of beer we serve pots of tea,” says Holland. The menu offers tea cocktails like Earl grey and tonic, and customers are enthused. “It’s a great idea,” says one Italian tourist.
For several years now, there have also been two successful tea plantations in Britain. In the mild climate of Cornwall, in south-west England, the Tregothnan estate grows imported tea bushes from China. And tea from a plantation in Scotland is served at Balmoral, Queen Elizabeth II’s summer residence.
“The tea industry is a bit like the wine industry – it’s all to do with the earth and the elevations,” says Jamie Russell of the Wee Tea Company, which runs the Dalreoch estate in Perthshire.
But British-grown teas are extremely expensive compared to those imported en masse from China and India.
Ten bags of afternoon tea from Tregothan will set you back 4.20 pounds (5.50 dollars), around ten times as much as a box of ordinary tea bags.
And if you want to treat yourself to 25 grams of the Dalreoch Estate’s smoked white tea at London’s finest department store, Fortnum and Mason, it will cost you all of 50 pounds. — dpa