The decline of tea is a notion that the media seems to like. It probably makes for good press, but is there anything to it? The first thing to keep in mind when discussing tea’s alleged decline is that it’s a matter of perspective. Here in the United States no one is likely to bemoan the decline of tea because tea has never had the foothold that it has in other places around the world. Not to mention that higher-end tea here has been on something of an upswing lately.
In places where tea is more entrenched, however, such as Britain or China, this notion is more common. Recently, a report from the British press bemoaned the decline of “the traditional British cuppa,” which means black tea, with the advance of so-called trendy teas. As the Daily Mail article noted, reporting on findings that should probably come as no surprise, “only half of those aged 16-24 regularly enjoy the quintessentially English breakfast tea compared with nine in ten of over 65s.” Younger consumers, according to researchers, are apparently turning to alternatives such as green tea and other varieties, but are also looking to other non-tea options such as tisanes, rooibos and, gasp…coffee.
The idea that the rise of Starbucks and coffee culture will be the death of tea drinking in Britain and elsewhere is also a common one. As far back as 2007, the news media was running sensational headlines like Is Starbucks Killing the British Tea Hour? while reporting on the increasing popularity of that other hot drink. Keep in mind, however, that even at the time of this report, daily tea consumption in Britain was outstripping coffee by 120 million cups to 80 million cups. Recent research indicates that the Brits now down about 165 million cups of tea a day, which adds up to 60.2 billion cups a year. Which ain’t so shabby.
In a similar vein, you can go back to 2006 for a report, in the Wall Street Journal, no less, about Starbucks “eyeing a billion tea drinkers.” The company began operating there in 1999. This type of sensational reporting was still going on earlier this year when CNN announced that the coffee giant planned to triple its total number of stores in China to 1,500 by 2015. At the end of this article is a tidbit that suggests that perhaps a billion tea drinkers can’t be wrong – in addition to its efforts with coffee, Starbucks also began offering nine new tea drinks in China, beginning in 2010.
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