If you wanted to make a few cautious generalizations about the future of tea – as I’m about to do – you could start by taking a look at the past. At its most basic, tea is a relatively simple thing, at least in comparison to something like a computer or an iPhone. Which is to say much of it has not changed over the years and will likely not do so in the future.

On the production end of things it’s probably safe to say that tea growing and harvesting is not that much different than it ever was, except for the fact that some of the key steps have been mechanized. But while some aspects of tea harvesting, for example, have been mechanized in certain regions, the delicate nature of tea leaves and the precision required to select just the right ones means that we often still see good old-fashioned non-mechanized humans plucking them. Perhaps we’ll see slightly more sophisticated machines processing and harvesting tea in the future but will it look that much different than it does now? It’s not for me say.

Then there’s that critical portion of the tea equation – making it ready to drink. Which also hasn’t changed that much over the centuries – except when it has. While we see more fancy automated gadgets as the years pass and we’ll undoubtedly see more in the future, for many people the process of heating water and pouring it over tea leaves or a bag is not that much different than it ever was.

But what about the business of conducting the business of tea? Look to the past again. The flurry of tea houses that opened in the United States and elsewhere in the last decade or so would not have seemed all that unfamiliar to Thomas Twining, who went into business in the early days of a coffee/teahouse craze that was sweeping through London in the seventeenth century.

Of course Twining and his contemporaries didn’t have Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook and so on to help them get the good word out, nor could his customers make use of online commerce to order tea and have it shipped to their front door. When it comes to figuring out what types of these technological wonders the future might hold maybe you could try looking toward science fiction.

One thing is fairly certain, no matter how far into the future you go. People will still drink tea in their homes and workplaces (which may look a bit more Jetsonish), and they will probably still gather in public places devoted to the fine arts of tea selling and consuming.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

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