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National Tea Day Interview – Trade Newsletter – The Future of Tea

How are people’s tea consumption habits changing and are there any trends within particular age groups?

In the age of awareness and the ‘conscious consumer’, people’s tea consumption habits are based more and more on the ethical sourcing and transparency of what they buy. Are the suppliers taking care of their teas AND the environment? Who picks and processes the teas? When were the teas harvested? Consumers want to be a part of the journey from seed to cup, and appreciate naturally grown and processed teas. Wildcrafted, biodynamic –  these are terms being used more and more within the industry, as consumers demand natural, sustainable and honest teas.

In addition, consumers are thinking twice before grabbing their standard caffeinated tea bag, simply because it is ‘tea.’ People’s consumption is not a given, it is a conscious decision-making process that includes questions such as –  which type of tea or herbal? What are the health benefits? Low caffeine or naturally caffeine free? What flavour do I want at this moment and in this mood? The focus is more on health benefits and quality of the natural ingredients. Convenience and homogeneity are no longer the determining factors for tea buying.

Although there are exceptions to every age group, on the whole, different age groups have very different attitudes towards tea consumption:

  • Consumers in the 20 to 30 age group are more willing to engage in tea discovery and in a sense of generational competitiveness, will be looking for the next niche. The clear focus is on health benefits and goal orientated drinking.

  • In the 30 to 40 age group, building on the previous age group’s attitudes to tea consumption and as tastes mature, there is a real drive for quality and pleasing tastes. The clear focus is on the palette, pairing and how it fits within the whole sensory experience of the moment.

  • Consumers in the 40 to 60 age group, are currently enjoying a lifestyle revolution as more and more consumers are turning to a healthier way of life, this includes smoothies, detox drinks and most importantly healthier teas.

  • Finally, 60+ consumers mainly enjoy, within their homes, teas which have they have grown up consuming providing them with comfort and familiarity, however they are impartial to pushing the boat out on that special occasion!

As a venue what should you have in mind when selecting a tea for this audience?

The first and foremost consideration is quality (taking into account freshness, provenance and production method) – this should be consistent with your overall dining or service experience. Tea need not be an afterthought, but can be an equal component of the meal itself. The following consideration is rarity – can you provide a tea, which few or no others can? Limited production, a lesser known variety or source, makes each sip that even more special. Finally, it is worth considering teas beyond the norm which consumers might want to try if they knew existed – consumers are more likely to experiment and discover a “new favourite” if the opportunity is there, in addition to the more traditional menu options.

Are consumers more likely to engage in a premium offering or are people still seeking value over quality?

Of course, it always depends on venue and client, but overall the drive is towards quality, and premium offerings and brewing methods over value.

People are more likely to purchase at a venue if they feel that the product, the brewing and the experience is unique or special and worthy of the price. Consumers are wary of spending on something with a significant mark-up which is readily accessible to them when brewing at home. Consumers don’t want to feel that they could have done it better themselves in the comfort of their own home!

How can venues make their tea menu appealing to the modern consumer?

There are so many ways in which venues can make their tea menus more appealing to the modern consumer, here are just some of the ways:

  • Have an actual menu – a menu which reflects the thought and effort that has gone into selecting your teas, demonstrating to the modern consumer that you hold your teas in high regard, so they are encouraged to see them in the same light too;

  • Provide tea pairing menus and pairing suggestions – a growing trend which is a viable and desired alternative. Teas can be enjoyed at any point in the day and with any course during a meal;

  • Experiment with your teams in how and when they are served. In winter, serve them hot, prior to an aperitif, to warm up guests with a perfect brew.  In summer, ice them, to clear the palette. At any time of year, serve teas in cocktails and mocktails;

  • Offer rare and seasonal teas from small and single origins, even better from unusual locations (such as countries in the new world of tea) – you’ll stand out from the crowd;

  • Offer more variety – there are so many varieties within each type of tea, such as green tea (sencha, gyokuro, hojicha, kukicha, long-jing, genmaicha) and herbal infusions (such as safflower, linden, olive leaf, barley, rather than the standard peppermint and chamomile). Why not offer an oolong, white or yellow tea;

  • Include tasting notes – once primed with what to expect, consumers will more easily detect the tasting notes, enjoying the positive reinforcement of engaging with the flavours and recognising what they anticipated on their palette.;

  • Include notes on provenance and process – this way the consumer can be fully engaged, so it is not just another line of text on the menu, it has personality, and the consumer is a part of that journey; and

  • Encourage staff to offer recommendations and be aware of the story of each tea – just like any sommelier or fromagier would.

Are there any particular health benefits which your consumers are increasingly demanding from their tea?

Consumers are increasingly demanding five main health benefits from their teas, namely antioxidants, detox/purifying, immune boosting, calming and energising. Camellia sinensis cannot provide all these health benefits alone, and so consumers are turning to both herbal blends and pure herbal infusions. As science advances and more research goes into specific herbs, medically approved health benefits will gain recognition and thus be increasingly demanded.

Where do you see the UK foodservice market in 5 years? Will the rate of change accelerate and how can venues future proof their offerings?

A rather exciting time – the UK is currently going through a tea revolution. In 5 years we see the foodservice market changing in the following ways:

  • Consumers will be provided with more options so that they can truly personalise their experience, selecting types of tea, variations within types, processing methods, and brewing methods (whether traditional or ultra-modern, but perfect every time));

  • Technological advances will make the preparation of good quality loose leaf teas more convenient and therefore more accessible to the foodservice industry;

  • The catering industry offering tea pairing menus as standard;

  • A change in mindset and tea having parity with wine – tea pairing menus can be offered as standard and concepts of terroir, varieties and processing being the norm;

  • Teas being offered, marketed and grouped by health benefit and intended purpose or goal for drinking it;

  • Teas used in many different ways, such as in mocktails, cocktails, infusions, poaching, smoking, curing and any way it can impart flavour etc.

Venues can future proof their offerings by:

  • Directly discovering and sourcing new ingredients or products and analysing market trends with the help of modern technology, such as social media, online marketing and direct online commerce. Venues can make more direct supplier purchases based on informed decisions on market trends rather than relying on intermediary preferences and supply.

  • Offering more unique concepts such as rarer herbs and ancient herbal blends, and more ways of brewing; and

  • Through making your tea menu more appealing in the ways noted earlier. A consumer will only value an offering, if the offering is first valued by the venue itself.

The rate of change will accelerate with technology making information pass swiftly between producers, venues and consumers. Venues need to be aware that consumers are more sophisticated than ever. You’ve got to stay ahead of the game to be able to stay in it – anticipate, innovate and operate!