Twenty years ago the tea business in the United States was under $2 billion (wholesale) annually. Today it is over $10 billion and growing! (Source: Tea Council USA)
In 1773 colonists threw tea into the harbor in protest of England’s taxes. This single event changed the course of tea in our country for over two centuries. In fact, at the time, if you continued to drink tea you were considered a loyalist to the king. Wrapped up in politics, tea became very unfashionable. Consequently, for every generation afterwards tea just wasn’t a big part of our daily lives.
So 200+ years later we ask ourselves “Why aren’t we drinking tea like the rest of the world?” Come to think of it, we’re not even mad any more. Our point was made - everyone got it, it’s over, now let’s get back to some tea drinking.
Okay, this too is part of our national collective psyche we inherited - “Only fancy people drink hot tea.” There was a time in England in the mid 1700s, when tea was taxed 119%. As you can imagine, this enabled only the super wealthy (or those wanting to appear super wealthy) to have access to tea. Aristocrats were so proud to show the world they were “sophisticated tea drinkers” that they often had their ornate teapots and tea wares included in family portraits. So, the stereotype spanned the ocean and Americans to this day still chuckle at the notion of a pinky-out, nose up, self-proclaimed dandy, drinking tea with a snide condescending look for the balance of mankind.
Well it turns out, tea has a rich history in some of the least opulent cultures in the world. Monks and peasants, field workers and laborers for millennia have been committed tea drinkers. Today tea is considered one of the most affordable luxuries on the planet. It crosses all social and economical lines and is the second most consumed beverage in the world (after water of course).
We’ve overloaded on sugary beverages for so long, our own US government has flirted with the idea of an obesity tax on soda. We’ve grown weary of not feeling well and being overweight. We are thirsty (literally) for something truly healthy and refreshing.
Enter tea! Who knew? Tea is a natural superfood! Studies have shown it may help protect the immune system, help prevent cancer, reduce cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar, and even protect against stroke and heart disease. Tea is loaded with antioxidants that fight against free radicals and cell degradation. Oh and bonus - it’s naturally calorie-free. (Source: “Tea Sommelier Handbook” written by Victoria Bisagno & Jane Pettigrew, copyright 2014).
I see it every day in my own tea shops - people come in, order tea and get antsy waiting for it to steep - 2 to 5 minutes. It’s not like coffee or espresso. There’s no grinding, tamping, or even dripping. With tea you just wait - as the leaves dance silently and gently release their bounty. You can’t rush tea. So I remind my customers (and often myself) that this is how it’s supposed to be. Tea forces us to stop for just a few moments, and invites us to be fully present. We desperately need this.
Even the chemical makeup of tea is kinder and gentler than other beverages. Tea gives a calm energy because the caffeine is released into the cells at a slower rate and over a longer span of time. You avoid the sharp rise in jitteriness and inevitable crash of coffee and energy drinks. Americans are discovering what the ancients knew, tea is good for the body and soul.
Mango Pomegranate, Ginger Honey Peach, Chocolate Strawberry Kiss - these are teas! Who ever knew tea could have so many varieties and culinary-inspired pairings of flavors? From the rarest imperial teas in the world to tens of thousands of blends and flavors, the world of tea is complex, exciting and rapidly growing! You could literally drink a different tea everyday for 10 years and never have the same one twice.
From casual tea drinkers to full-on tea connoisseurs, Americans are learning we love tea! We are starting to write the American tea story with traditions and customs of our own, while embracing aspects of rich cultures from distant lands.