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Storm in an unconventional tea cup? Home-grown and alternative brews favoured over ‘traditional’ teas

alternative tea

The British may love a cup of tea, but a Tetley brew accompanied by a rich tea biscuit is no longer enough to satisfy.

Standard black tea bag sales fell by 13 per cent between 2012 and 2014, contrasting with the sale of alternative teas like green tea, which rose by 50 per cent during the same time.

The study, announced by market research agency Mintel last week, also found that fruit and herbal tea bag sales rose by 31%, while speciality blends such as Assam and Ceylon increased by 15 per cent.

A move away from the average ‘builder’s brew’ is in line with a ‘growing foodie culture in the UK’, according to Emma Clifford, senior food and drink analyst at Mintel. The shift has also been attributed to stalling cake and biscuit sales.

‘It is widely accepted that tea is a good accompaniment to biscuits and cakes. Given the sugar scare, however, and that usage of such treats is in decline, these strong associations could have had a negative impact on the tea market’, Clifford said.

These findings come in time for National Afternoon Tea Week from Monday 10th to Sunday 6th August, and show that the British public have become more discerning about the quality of their tea. Tastes are evolving, with consumers demanding newer, more dynamic and healthier alternatives.

Home-grown luxury

In an era when the UK is consistently reprimanded for not producing enough, it’s quite surprising to see an increase in the number of home-grown tea plantations. While Scotland’s first vineyard may not yet have drinkable wine, its tea farms are a different story.

The Tea Growers Association is a recently established not-for-profit organisation which intends to build alliances between fellow tea growers in Scotland and abroad.

While wine grapes are difficult to cultivate in Scotland due to high rainfall (meaning heavily diluted grapes) and low temperatures, tea leaves are actually able to withstand and grow in such climates. Tea leaves can actually grow leaves in temperatures as low as -11C.

Setting up the association was down to the Wee Tea plantation, who now cultivate 14,000 plants. They offer premium blends such as Dalreoch Single Estate Scottish Smoked White Tea, which sells from £35 and won the gold award at Salon du Thé in Paris. A gift containing a collection of their Scottish teas sells for £240.

Despite the conditions being easier for growing tea leaves rather than wine grapes, it is still not easy. The good quality combined with limited stock means that Scottish tea still has a premium label – and in a time where demand for high quality and unique tea, that’s the right place to be.

Unique blends

Coffee may have been king of the varietal hot drinks for a while (Columbian medium roast or Sumatra dark roast espresso? Flat white or skinny sugar-free caramel cappuccino?), but now tea wants to share the podium and show the varieties it has to offer.

Expanding on the matcha green tea phenomenon (a powdered speciality Japanese green tea), teapigs have brought out a range of ‘matcha super power green tea’ drinks. They’re readymade cold drinks, and come in flavours such as apple, elderflower and grapefruit.

Twinings have also banked on the green tea trend by offering a set of sweet green tea, including Cherry Bakewell, Fudge and Caramelised Apple.

Cold brews have come a long way since Lipton’s original Iced Tea. Following a new trend for coffee that is brewed cold (rather than hot) for long periods of time to extract the flavours, Bluebird Tea Co. are selling cold brew tea bottles alongside flavoured teas such as Strawberry Lemonade, Ice Cream Float and Elderflower Champagne.

The company has also introduced Candy Floss tea (a blend of white Chinese tea, hibiscus, elderberries, pineapple pieces, rosehip, candy sprinkles) and Black Forest tea (Sri Lankan black tea, cocoa shells, apple pieces, elderberries, raspberry pieces, vanilla pieces, sunflower and calendula petals).

Tea rooms go alternative

Afternoon tea is a quintessential British experience, and one that often evokes images of ornate china tea cups, cucumber finger sandwiches and strawberry jam scones. However, a Ritz-like experience is not a pre-requisite for British afternoon tea.

Ichi Sushi, located at Westminster Bridge, offers a sushi-based afternoon tea. Arranged on a stylish black tray, the Japanese take on afternoon tea consists of a variety of nigiri and sushi rolls, arranged artfully alongside cakes such as green tea and chocolate Japanese savarin. You’re also given a choice of teas and offered a glass of sparkling sake.


A photo posted by Sandra Lowe (@sandrawaibl) on

The Sanderson provides a quirky version of afternoon tea by garnering inspiration through the mad hatter’s tea party. While there still may be a cupcake stand and the savoury components may sound ordinary (cold smoked salmon and lemon butter on dark rye bread, egg mayonnaise with watercress and smoked sea salt on lemon bread), the composition is less so.

A stripy tea cup sprouting grass sits at the top of the stand while sugar cubes are offered in a musical box and clinking medicine bottles collect at the bottom of the stand, with ‘Drink me’ labels attached. Sweets include a matcha green tea and white chocolate mousse, carrot meringue, marshmallow mushrooms and melting mango cheesecake.

One Aldwytch in London also follows a fictional theme in their afternoon tea – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. From candyfloss clouds on a stick to chocolate caramel milk in a small bottle and a golden chocolate egg, the afternoon tea is a chocolate lover’s haven.

Their tea selection is also varied and includes a ‘Chocolate Tea’; a blend of Indian Assam, Chinese Yunnan black, Peruvian cocoa nibs and Madagascan vanilla pod.

BB Bakery offers afternoon tea in a different setting altogether – on a bus. While indulging in macaroons and mini quiches you are taken on a vintage double decker tour of the sites of London. From around £45 per adult and £35 per child, the driver will take you round landmarks like Big Ben and The Houses of Parliament for around 1 hour and 30 minutes. For an even more unique party experience, the whole bus can be hired out.

As British consumers seek more adventurous taste sensations and tea experiences, does it make you want to broaden your own hot drink horizons? Or will you always be loyal to the reliable builder’s brew with two sugars?


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